‘I feel despondent that we have to serve on the new calendar’.
Fr Silvester Yanakiev, Bulgarian Orthodox Church
The secular (new, Roman Catholic or Gregorian) calendar at present runs thirteen days ahead of the Church (old, Orthodox or Julian) calendar. Thus, 12 December on the Church calendar is called 25 December on the secular calendar and 25 December on the Church calendar is called 7 January on the secular calendar. However, it has been said that the main issue for Orthodox unity today is not that a minority of Orthodox are obliged to follow the secular calendar for the fixed feasts, whereas the majority enjoy the freedom to follow the Church calendar, but that most Orthodox seem to follow no calendar at all, as their Faith is nominal. Nevertheless, for practising Orthodox the division suffered by the Greek and Romanian Orthodox who were forced by Masonic States and the Bulgarian Orthodox who were forced by a Communist State to accept the new calendar is a permanent wound. And for none more than those who, out of obedience to their hierarchies and for fear of the disaster of old calendarist schisms, serve the fixed feasts on the secular calendar, but in their hearts remain firmly attached to the Church calendar. Such were and are many holy elders in Romania and Greece. Such is the example below. These Orthodox deserve all our respect for their exemplary obedience and humility.
‘I have always supported the Bulgarian Church’s return to the Julian calendar’, declared Fr Silvester Yanakiev, rector of St Sophia’s Church in Sliven, to a journalist from a local radio.
‘I have always been interested in how contemporary man can structure his life in such a way that it does not contradict the requirements of the Faith, as well as in the issue of the new and old calendars and why the calendar change took place in our country.
Was it really necessary? Perhaps it is dangerous and harmful? I have come to a few conclusions, but I have always reflected more than speechified. The First Universal Council and the Canons of the Holy Apostles say that the Christian Easter must always be celebrated after the Jewish Passover and these rules must not be broken. When the Gregorian calendar is introduced, the Christian Easter often coincides with the Jewish Passover and sometimes even precedes it. And that is just plain uncanonical (1).
The Bulgarian Church uses the Gregorian calendar, but still keeps the Orthodox Easter. Although this eliminates the possibility of our Easter preceding or coinciding with the Jewish Passover, it does create liturgical confusion. This confusion and disorder begin from the start of Lent. For example, there are years when there is no Apostles’ Fast at all (2). For authentic Churched Orthodox (not those who are just trying to hold on to something), the return of Christmas and all the fixed Orthodox feasts to their normal dates would be a great relief. Then we would really stand out from Non-Orthodox countries where they have Christmas on 12 December (25 December on the new calendar)’, declared Fr Silvester. Below we quote his answers to the questions of the radio journalist.
Father, how long can this confusion go on for? It is not only Non-Orthodox, but also Orthodox who celebrate Christmas on 12/25 December
Yes, there are a few Churches like ours who have accepted the new calendar, but once more the question comes up, is this right? I feel despondent that I have to serve on the new calendar. I get some consolation from a conversation I had with elders on Mt Athos. They said that they accept our Church as sick, but still as a Church which is part of Holy Orthodoxy. We still have not fallen away. For instance, the Patriarchate of Constantinople accepts the Bulgarian Orthodox Church as such, but does not accept communion with the Bulgarian old calendarist schism, which keeps the old calendar, but does not share in the unity of the whole Orthodox Church. This reassures me to some extent, but I still consider that we have problems and we must solve them. There are so many liturgical problems. If you know the Paschal cycle of services, you can see that you have to do so many artificial things to make the Gregorian calendar fit in.
As a priest of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, do you support the recent petition of priests and laity to the Holy Synod asking for the old date of Christmas to be restored?
In reality the proposition concerns all the fixed feasts. Christmas should fall on 25 December on the Church calendar (7 January on the new calendar).
Do you support it?
100%. I even consider that there is someone else who supports it and who must absolutely be taken into consideration. Even the Communist internationalists, who forced the Bulgarian Church into accepting the new calendar in 1968, were not able to defeat him. This ‘someone else’ is a saint, the Great Martyr George the Victorious. And if you ask why we celebrate St George’s Day on 23 April on the Church calendar (that is 6 May on the new calendar) and not on 10 April on the Church calendar (23 April on the new calendar), then the answer is clear. It is simply because the saint does not want the new calendar, however much the Patriarch and the bishops and people interfere in Church life.
What about St Tryphon?
Yes. And then we could also mention the feast of 24 May, which has remained part of our national tradition. Basically, this is 11 May (on the Church calendar), the feast of the holy brothers Cyril and Methodius. When we return to the old calendar (if this happens, though I am sceptical about this), we will celebrate the Church feast in honour of the holy brothers (11 May on the new calendar) and the Day of Slav Literature (a Bulgarian national holiday on 24 May) on one and the same day. Christmas will return to its old date. The only problem for Bulgarians will be that we will have to fast at the New Year. But I have a different view of this. The Lord tolerates us, tolerates our mayors, our politicians, our prime ministers, our governments and our parliaments. In return we should respect Him and fast at the New Year. God does not change and our attitude towards Him should not change either. The fact that we will not celebrate when the world celebrates is not a problem for me.
(Translated and edited from pravoslavie.ru (15/12/09) by Fr Andrew)
1.In the year of Christ’s Crucifixion, the Passover fell on the Saturday. This is why Christ’s body had to be taken down before sunset on Friday, for that Sabbath was ‘an high day’ (Jn. 19, 31) and why the Myrrh-bearers bought spices on Friday before sunset (Lk. 23, 56) but could only come to anoint His body ‘very early in the morning the first day of the week’ (Mk. 16, 2). Christ’s Resurrection occurred on the third day, according to the Biblical method of counting, Friday – Saturday – Sunday. Thus, as Orthodox we respect the chronological order of events in Christ’s Life and celebrate the Resurrection after the Passover. However, this is above all a theological truth, for the New Testament follows and is superior to the Old, Grace follows and is superior to the Law and the Resurrection follows and is superior to death and hades.
2.The Apostles’ Fast begins on the Monday after All Saints Sunday and ends on the feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. The date of All Saints Sunday is dependent on the date of Easter, falling eight weeks after it. However the feast of the Apostles is fixed and falls on 29 June in the Church calendar (12 July in the secular calendar). If the feast of the Apostles is celebrated according to the secular calendar, then it will fall thirteen days too early, on 16 June (29 June in the secular calendar). This secular date regularly falls before the beginning of the fast, so creating a ‘negative fast’!