Uncanonical


Part of my ongoing Correspondence series, featuring replies to people who contacted me and asked questions, mostly when I served as a priest (2008-2013).

Dear V.,

The Calendar was changed in 1924, and that was a big event in Greece.  At that time, about 25% of the people rejected the change, by some accounts.  Monks from Mount Athos, who did not change to the New, came down to Greece to serve the people that rejected the change.  From 1924 to 1935, no bishop was on the side of the Old.  But in 1935, three bishops couldn’t wait any longer.  They had tried to restore the Old Calendar but the other bishops wouldn’t listen. So they returned to the Old Calendar on May 13, 1935.  The other bishops who were on the New attacked them immediately, and some of them were even arrested and put in jail!  Some of the priests were taken to the basement of the New Calendar Archdiocese in Athens, and were hit and then had their beards shaved off and were dressed in civilian clothes! One New Calendar bishop came in to one of our Churches in Greece and took the chalice off the altar and dumped the Holy Communion out of it and stomped on it, saying, “you are not really priests!”  Even if they felt that way, that is a very evil thing to do. It was in this set of circumstances that our own founder in America, Bishop Petros, came to America.

Yet it was not just about a Calendar.  The Old Calendarists knew that the Calendar was just one of the things that they were trying to change.  Take a look at this letter that the Ecumenical Patriarchate wrote in 1920 “Unto the Churches of Christ Everywhere.” The title itself is a problem; the Church of Christ is the Orthodox Church only; all other Churches have broken away from it.  The Ecumenical Patriarchate is offering to change the calendar to have union with the fallen Western Churches.  There are other proposals such as exchanges of theological students, etc.  The whole context is one of the Greeks trying to soften Orthodoxy to have relations with the Westerners.

This fit in to a political situation at the time, Venizelos vs the Royalists, when Venizelos wanted to make Greece look like London.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with reaching out to other people and trying to work out our differences, but the difference here is that it is not based on the truth, but on a kind of committee discussion and compromise. That would lead to what we have in modern times, the “World Council of Churches,” where all sorts of groups of people that disagree get together and sign compromise documents. Unfortunately, many so-called Orthodox go to this and sign these documents.  They say they are trying to reach out to non-Orthodox, but really, they are not offering them the truth that Orthodoxy is the original and true Church of Christ.  That’s not really being nice to them if you think about it. You’d want your friend to tell you if your shirt was ripped, right?

So the point of the above paragraph is just to put the Calendar change in context. It was part of a bigger program of the Greek government of the time reaching out to the Westerners and using Church union as part of the plan.  The Calendar change was just the first step in many changes that would happen as time went on, which is what we now call Ecumenism.

Our New Calendar friends are the majority, and so they like to put us on the defensive. They like to say we are not “canonical” or recognized because we are on the Old Calendar and not in communion with Patriarch Bartholemew.  But really, we are the ones that did not change anything. Orthodoxy is about preserving the truth and keeping firm to the traditions, right? So how do they say that we are the ones that are unrecognized when we did not change a thing? We are the ones that on March 10, 1924, went to bed, and the next day we woke up and it was March 11, 1924.  They are the ones that went to bed on March 10, and woke up on March 24, cutting out 13 days.  We stood firm against this, and they gave in.  Yet they say we are the ones who are not canonical.

Let’s take a look at this word canonical.  It means following the canon, which in Greek means the rule, like a ruler. The canons are a collection of rules that the Church Fathers laid down for our spiritual benefit.  They say that we disobey the canons, yet which canons do they think we disobeyed?  Again, we are not the ones that changed things.  They, on the other hand, go against the holy patriarchs and churches that agreed that the New Calendar was wrong—back in 1583.  Here is that document: http://orthodoxwiki.org/Sigillion_of_1583

Basically, what it boils down to is, they changed things and began to disobey the previous Fathers and Councils, but then because they are in the majority, they say we are the ones who are obviously wrong because we are small and “fanatical.”  But their arguments center on two things usually: the first is to claim we are uncanonical, which really means we are not administratively under the Patriarch so we are not “official,” and the other is to cite various elders and saints in the New Calendar as proof that we are wrong.

I think that you both know that just because something is “official” does not mean it is true.  And official by who’s standards, exactly? The New Calendarists are the majority, so they make people think they are the Orthodox while we are just dissatisfied breakways. Their argument is that we are being disobedient to the Patriarch and so we are in the wrong.  But Christ and the Apostles said we had to follow the truth, and that there would be false teachers in the end.  Numbers aren’t what counts, but truth is.  Our Old Calendar Church is the one that has not changed things, while they did. So basically, their argument is administrative while they are breaking the same canons they accuse us of breaking. Here is a video of supposedly Orthodox bishops praying with the Pope and Protestants. This is forbidden by the canons, yet they say they can’t do anything about it because the Patriarch approves. We say that even a Patriarch is not above the law. http://www.synodinresistance.org/Publications_en/Video/Videos%20On%20Ecumenism/E4d1008Ortho1998VideoPart3Tainia-256Kbs.wmv

As far as the argument about saints, they will say that various holy figures were and are under the New Calendar such as Fr. Ephraim and others.  Yes, it is true that these people may be personally holy (I have never met Fr. Ephraim personally), but whether or not they are holy is irrelevant. Every religion has so-called holy people; our Old Calendar Church has many holy people like A. mentioned who have worked miracles.  Here is a good book about a modern saint, whom our Metropolitan Pavlos knew as a boy:

http://www.bostonmonks.com/product_info.php/products_id/686

Elder Ieronymos was very holy, and lived in Aegina.  He died in the 1960’s. He left the New Calendar and became an Old Calendar priest.  He rivals any holy person from the New Calendar.  I think that he proves the Old Calendar Church has the grace of God and is legitimate. Yes, God does allow some miracles to guide us, but always in the context of the truth, which is discerned from the Liturgy, the writings of the fathers, and the canons of the Church.

In the end, don’t let people fool you with arguments from administrative authority or appeals to holy people alone, when they themselves are not following the canons they claim they uphold. The Old Calendar Church is the Orthodox Church.  We have a valid bishopric (ordained by the Russian Church in the 1960’s after the last Old Calendar bishop in Greece died).  We haven’t changed anything. We have an entire Synod in Greece of 10+ bishops, with around 200 parishes. Our Archbishop is Chrysostomos II.

If you have any more questions or something I said didn’t make sense, please ask me to clarify.

May God bless you as you continue to develop your faith and spiritual life. Pray for me a sinner.

Fr. Anastasios

(Originally written in 2010. The present Metropolitan of America is His Eminence Demetrius and the present Archbishop of Athens is His Beatitude Kallinikos. There are now 26 bishops on the Holy Synod).


6 responses to “Uncanonical”

  1. Hi Anastasios,

    Christ is Risen!

    Great piece, though I am an Old Calendarist and don’t need persuasion. I thought, however, I should maybe play devil’s advocate and raise some points that a New Calendarist might raise in response:

    1) It’s not evident how much influence the 1920 encyclical actually had in the decision to change the calendar. For example, apart from the calendar, none of the other proposed changes were implemented in 1924, and the 1935 confession of faith of the GOC bishops does not mention the 1920 encyclical at all. It might look to a casual observer that it was not considered authoritative by either side at the time, so it doesn’t seem convincing to argue that the reforms outlined in that letter represent the true motivations of the calendar reformers, i.e. union with the Western heterodox.

    2) Even the calendar was not completely changed, but only the Paschalion, and most of the 16th century condemnations of the Papal calendar that are available only mention the Paschalion. So you could certainly argue that as long as the new calendarists keep the traditional Pascha, as they in fact do, they do not fall under the anathema of the Church.

    3) The Sigillion of 1583 is the only document I know of that explicitly includes the Menaion in the condemnation of the Western calendar, but its authenticity has been questioned, and at least to this lay observer, the arguments against it seem convincing. That would mean we have at any rate no authentic written evidence that the Church ever saw a problem in revising the Menaion, but only in revising the Paschalion.

    4) Arguments about canonicity are tricky since we all fall short of canonical perfection in one way or another. For example, we normally elect our first hierarch, the Archbishop of Athens, from among the members of the Synod, i.e. an already consecrated bishop. This violates Canon 15 of Nicea, which prohibits bishops from moving from one see to another. So we need to argue that the canons against praying with heretics are somehow more important than the canons that we routinely ignore. Since those canons touch on matters of faith, I certainly think a case can be made, but it might seem disingenuous to say that we are “canonical” if that means “obeying all the canons”, at least without some qualification.

    5) Claiming that only the New Calendar Church has “holy elders” has certainly become a popular argument among new calendarists, and I agree it doesn’t work, since we have our own holy elders like Fr Ieronymos. We are just worse at making them known, or marketing them, than the new calendarists. That being said, one might wonder just how one is supposed to know where Grace is truly present, if both sides can point to holiness in their ranks. “A tree is known by its fruits”, so what, would you say, is the distinguishing fruit of the Old Calendar Church that sets it apart and shows it to be the True Church?

    As I said, I am an Old Calendarist, but I’m often stumped when confronted with arguments such as these. The more we can hone our arguments, the better!

    • Truly He is Risen! Thanks for your comment, Jonathan. I am pondering whether to write a full response to your points as a new post…as you know, I answered many hundreds of emails over the 5 years I was a priest. I am now going back and formatting the best ones for publication. Many of these were more “pastoral” in approach. While I have the training to write more scholarly pieces, I find that there is a niche for these types of straightforward presentations with the anecdotes and folksy tone, but that naturally requires a bit of simplification and not addressing every possible angle.

  2. Bless Father,
    I have only one question. I do not believe you made yourself clear concerning NC saying they have saints under the new calendar. There point is how can a person become a saint under the NC if the NC is wrong and anathematized. How can an uncanonical calendar produce saints. Since the NC’s are schizmatic a Saint can not be produced while in schism.

    In IC XC
    PAUL

    • Hi Paul,

      Just to be clear, I am no longer a priest, having resigned last year for personal reasons, but remaining an Orthodox Christian: http://www.anastasioshudson.com/general/i-have-resigned-the-holy-priesthood/

      I agree with you that there cannot by definition be saints outside the Church. I read somewhere that those outside the Church can attain to almost all the virtues, but cannot overcome the sin of pride, because if they were humble, they would submit to the Church.

      The New Calendar Elder phenomenon (which I will address in a future post, and which Fr. Maximus has addressed here, is a distraction designed by the evil one to draw us away from the True Church.

      In Christ,
      Anastasios

      • Greetings Anastasios,
        I think I did not make myself clear. How is that we as old calendarists, and non ecumenists, accept persons such as Papa Nicholas Plannas, Elder Ieoronymos of Agina, Elder Philotheos Zervakos, Mother Irene of Chios, etc. as saints when, although they denied the New Calendar, they stayed with the NC churches, such as the State of Greece, and died within the NC churches? Which, as you know, were Anathematized by three major councils including local councils. With a clear understanding of the meaning of anathema,belonging to a heretical or schismatic church is enough to be a heretic or schismatic. One does not need to practice that heresy within said heresy or schism in order to be guilty of that heresy or schism. As long as my bishop is guilty of it, so am I. So again, how are these men and women saints and how is that they are considered to belong to us and not the NC?

        In Christ
        paul

        • Thanks for your comments. In the case of Elder Ieronymos, he left the New Calendar Church and joined ours officially. He was buried by Metropolitan Akakios, I believe. Fr. Nicholas was a commemorator, that is true, but there was no Old Calendar hierarchy when he reposed, so it’s a bit murky in his case. Our Church does not officially consider him a saint. I believe it is mostly ex HOCNA folk that venerate him. Elder Philotheos was clearly outside of our church and should be treated with caution, and not venerated as a saint. His writings may be partially good though. I am not familiar with Mother Irene.

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