Return to Home Page

The Old Calendarist Schism in the History of the Orthodox Church (1924-2008)

A young St Petersburg author, Alexander Slesariov, has just had his book on the many Old Calendarist schisms published in Russian under the above title. Appearing in the series ‘Materials on Church History’, which is published by ‘Krutitskoe Povdorie’, it is the first major academic work to appear in Russian on this fringe issue.

The book relates how what was at first a local ‘Greek schism’ in the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Church of Greece later spread elsewhere. Today, altogether, there may be as many as 100,000 Old Calendarists worldwide, many of them sincere, naïve, but misled, others of them misleaders. The youthful author relates how, prompted by State interference in Church matters, followed by secularist compromises among a few higher clergy in the Local Churches concerned, Old Calendarists justified their actions with talk of a conspiracy and the apostasy of their hierarchies uniting all religions into one. This was fed by a blind fundamentalism and pseudo-theological debate, self-justifying talk of the end of the world, together with suspicion and mistrust of Church authorities, who bred ill-will towards themselves.

The book records how Old Calendarist leaders on the fringes of the Church preached asceticism without love, the application of akrivia (the strict and literal interpretation of the canons) and never ikonomia (pastoral dispensations). This deprived the faithful of spiritual vision and dried up and hardened hearts. Without the Holy Spirit, ironically therefore under the influence of hypocritical Western moralism and the Protestant-style quoting of canons, instead of chapter and verse, the schismatic groups were often marked by pride and hatred, ill-will and a sense of exclusive possession of the truth. The author also associates with Old Calendarism theological ignorance, a lack of sense of the Tradition and its replacement by mere worldly conservatism made into dogma. For the Church Fathers the calendar question has never been an issue of dogma, as it is for Old Calendarism.

The writer describes the origins, history and developments of the many tiny Old Calendarist groups, which sprang up in virtually all the Local Orthodox Churches, except in the Russian Church, which had been enslaved to Communism after 1917. Although the author is inexperienced in the Orthodox life in the Diaspora, his book is welcome. The Old Calendarist schisms, with their continual new sub-divisions around arcane details and absurd personality cults (Matthewites, Chrysostomites, Cyprianites etc etc), often mystify Russians inside Russia, as indeed elsewhere.

Fortunately, in Russia the Communists never managed to do what they did in Romania and deliberately create a calendar schism, which they could then exploit, according to the old pagan dictum of ‘divide and rule’. In Russia the faithful then were not subject to the causes of Old Calendarism – the modernist compromises of hierarchs who joined masonic lodges, tampered with the calendar, abolished fasting, fiddled with the text of the liturgy (inspired by ‘personal revelations’ - or rather spiritual delusions) or openly gave communion to Non-Orthodox. However, representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate, for example in England and in Rome (and ‘secretly’ in Novgorod) openly did such things outside Russia during the woefully compromised Soviet period. One can be sure that if Russian hierarchs tried to do any of this openly inside Russia today, they would soon be faced with much worse than mere schism, as we know from the history of the Old Ritualists or, more recently, the defrocked Bishop Diomid.

The book also describes the tortuous, decades-long relations of the episcopate of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) with various Old Calendarist groups. On the one hand, the ROCOR episcopate wanted to support those who appeared to be defending Orthodox piety and the purity of the Tradition against the scandals of ecumenists and modernists. On the other hand, it could not understand or accept Old Calendarist extremism and its spirit of self-division into rival, mutually excommunicated Synods. The line the ROCOR episcopate steered often seemed to zigzag, as it became more and more aware of the complex, underlying realities of the various Old Calendarist groups..

This inability to understand the Old Calendarists included their final refusal to enter into communion with their Local Churches, once the opportunity had been negotiated for them to re-enter canonical order with them while keeping the Orthodox calendar (1). As we know, the tight-rope which ROCOR bishops walked for decades in their desire to help Old Calendarists find canonicity, but keep the Orthodox calendar, ended in 2006. This was when the more moderate Old Calendarist groups, with whom some of the ROCOR bishops (but virtually none of its priests and faithful) had been in contact, rejected canonical solutions. The result was inevitable. After 2007 the Old Calendarists then took their ‘revenge’, as they saw it, recruiting dissident individuals from ROCOR into themselves.

One day, when people are finally ready for the truth which alone will set them free, it is to be hoped that this serious study will be matched by another study. This could perhaps be called, ‘New Calendarism in the History of the Orthodox Church (1924 -)’. This would have to include all the sad details of the scandalous and immoral conduct of those who were indeed ‘Soviet hierarchs’. It would also include the acts of those Russian bishops and senior clergy in the Diaspora in various Western European and North American cities who rejected the canonical jurisdiction of ROCOR and the Tradition of the Russian Church in favour of their own compromises, gross immorality, spiritual delusions and personality cults.

Clearly, the termination date of such a work will have to be after 2009. Only today we have heard that the Sacred Community of Mt Athos has expressed its profound concerns about the secret talks being held on Cyprus between ‘the Mixed International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and Roman Catholicism’. According to the Athonite monks, these talks concern ‘the role of the Bishop of Rome in Church unity in the first millennium’. It considers that the only situation in which such issues can be raised is when Roman Catholics return to the Orthodox Faith and the catholicity of the Orthodox Church, and not in a situation of adherence to a ‘unity in diversity’ of dogmas.

As long as the ecumenism and modernism of New Calendarism exist on the fringes of the Orthodox Churches – and are allowed by some hierarchs - it is clear that the sectarianism and fundamentalism of Old Calendarism will continue to justify themselves on the fringes of the Orthodox Churches, however many negative books are written about it. Ultimately, like it or not, it is the sins of the fathers that lie behind the sins of the children, however guilty those children may become with the passing of the generations. The liberal and conservative traditions of men are mere worldly, secular, political categories. The Orthodox Tradition, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, reigns over all of them.

May the liberal New Calendarist ecumenists and modernists and the conservative Old Calendarist sectarians and gurus, who will both have to answer for their errors and insults to the simple Orthodox Faith, simple Orthodox Tradition and simple Orthodox people at the Last Judgement, repent before time. They should recall the terrible words of the Saviour concerning the betrayal of the innnocent: ‘And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and he were cast into the sea (Mk. 9, 42).

Archpriest Andrew Phillips

25 September/8 October 2009
St Sergius of Radonezh


1. Equally, the Old Calendarists could never forgive St John of Shanghai for allowing converts the use of the secular (‘new’) calendar for fixed feasts as a measure of pastoral dispensation in the 1950s, or the presence in its jurisdiction of Romanian new calendar parishes in France and Germany right up until 1989.

  to top of page