The Significance of the Change to the New Calendar by Vladimir Moss

October 08, 2014       (Source:


The adoption of the new calendar by the Church of Greece in 1924came at a very vulnerable time for the Orthodox Church as a whole. The outward position of the Church had changed radically in the previous ten years. The Russian empire was gone, and the Ecumenical and the Moscow patriarchates, to which the vast majority of Orthodox Christians belonged, were fighting both external foes (the Bolsheviks and the Turks) and internal schism (“the Living Church” and “the Turkish Orthodox Church”). Neither the remaining Eastern patriarchates, on the one hand, nor the Serbian patriarchate and the Russian Church Abroad, on the other, could take the place occupied by the Russian empire and the Ecumenical patriarchate in the preceding centuries. It followed that if, as was (temporarily) the case, none of the hierarchs of the Greek Church would reject the calendar change and break communion with the Archbishop of Athens, there was only one force remaining that could take up the banner of truth – the people.


The position of the laity in the Orthodox Church has often been misunderstood. In Orthodoxy, the laypeople are neither the inert, impotent, blindly obedient mass of the Roman Catholics, nor the all-powerful, revolutionary horde of the Protestants. There are two vital functions which can only be performed by canonically consecrated clergy: the administration of the sacraments, including the ordination of bishops and priests, and the definition of the faith, including the position of the Church in relation to heretics and schismatics. But while the laity cannot take the leading role in these two functions, they do have an important confirmatory role in them. Thus strictly speaking a bishop or priest cannot celebrate the Divine Liturgy without the presence of at least one layman. Likewise a bishop cannot ordain a priest without the consent of the people (expressed by shouting “axios!” or “he is worthy!”). And a definition of the faith that is rejected by the people will remain a dead letter. Thus we read: “I shall judge the bishop and the layperson. The sheep are rational and not irrational, so that no layman may ever say: ‘I am a sheep, and not a shepherd, and I give no account of myself, but the shepherd shall see to it, and he alone shall pay the penalty for me.’ For even as the sheep that follows not the good shepherd shall fall to the wolves unto its own destruction, so too it is evident that the sheep that follows the evil shepherd shall acquire death; for he shall utterly devour it. Therefore it is required that we flee from destructive shepherds.”


In the long struggle with the western heresies, the Orthodox had never found themselves so bereft of clerical leadership as in 1924. The signing of the uniate council of Lyons in 1274 had been largely the work of the emperor and his stooge, John Beccus; and there were many clergy who resisted the Unia, which in any case lasted only eight years (to 1282). The position after the council of Florence was more serious: St. Mark of Ephesus was the only Greek hierarch who refused to sign the Unia. And it lasted for a longer period of time (1438-80). There followed a long period in which, although there were some latinizing (and protestantizing) patriarchs, the Church as a whole remained united against the western peril. Thus when the new calendar was introduced by the Pope in 1582 in order to create divisions among the Orthodox, it was synodically condemned no less than eight times: in 1583, 1587, 1593, 1722, 1827, 1848, 1895 and 1904. Towards the end of this period ecumenist tendencies, as we have seen, began to increase in the Orthodox Churches, but opposition to the new calendar remained strong.


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