Defence of the Faith

Is the "Old Calendar" question  "much ado about nothing"

A letter by Anastassy Dickson

Greetings to you in the Name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Forgive me for taking the liberty of replying to a letter which was sent to someone else, namely, Fr. David Belden.  Often friendships get in the way of serious discussion because so much of what we may say could be construed as personal criticism or name calling.  Since neither you nor I know each other as yet, I am sure you will not interpret what I may write as personal criticism, interfering with a bond of personal love.  I love you as I am bound to love all Christians, nay, even my enemies.  Further, I may find it necessary to criticize what you say, but I am loathe to criticize you.

I am writing to you fully within Fr. David's knowledge as I believe he trusts that I would correctly represent his position.  His concern that you become a so-called "Old Calendarist" is for no other motive than your salvation.  This is not to imply that you cannot work out your salvation with fear and trembling outside our jurisdiction, but that, having been on both sides of the fence, so to speak, Fr.  David would desire with all his heart to share with you the fullness of the Orthodox Faith as he now realizes it.  He certainly would not seek this unity with a partisan spirit or a desire to add one more "scalp" to his belt!  Nor would he or I believe ourselves to have "arrived", or that we, because of our position, are "holier than thou" or anyone else!  Indeed, Fr. David has always been first to praise God that it was "because of" his personal unworthiness that God, in His over-abundant mercy, has granted him the grace he has now received.  I am sure you can understand a certain warranted zeal on his part to share this blessing with those whom he loves.

Unlike Fr. David, whose history is above reproach for moral and spiritual integrity, my own history is shoddy and barren of fruit.  Once an Antiochian priest, I spent five years amongst Pentecostals and the like.  When the Lord brought me to my senses and returned me to the light of Orthodoxy, I brought with me a pious wife, who is now a true daughter of Zion, the Church.

I am truly grateful that Fr. David, as an elder brother has, unlike his counter-part in the Parable, welcomed me, the prodigal, back into the fatherly home with open arms.  It would be unjust and ungrateful of me not to mention the very positive role that Fr. John Scratch and Bishop Seraphim played in restoring me to Orthodoxy.

Rather than counter your comments point by point, I think it would be more profitable to share with you some impression as to the general outlook of both positions.  I do not want to argue: discussion is more fruitful.  I must warn that I have the greater advantage because, having once been a so-called "New Calendarist" for twenty years, I am fully aware of the positions of both sides.

First of all, calling us "Old Calendarists" is a misnomer.  It is a name which we have acquired from outsiders, in a similar way that the Society of Friends became known as "Quakers".  History affirms that the "Old Calendarists" appeared when the Church of Greece decided to use the Gregorian Calendar without submitting to the proper canonical channels to do so, namely an Ecumenical Council.  Every previous local council since Gregory VIII had unconditionally rejected the use of the Gregorian Calendar in spite of its assumed geo-physical superiority.

What amazes me is that the handful of pious and sincere churchmen, mostly laymen, who objected to this unwarranted change should be the ones to be called divisive and schismatic. Obviously, "might makes right" in this circumstance.  The fact that they were keeping unity with the historic Church was and is irrelevant to those who do not.

I am sure that you can travel through your historic memory to remember when small groups of people kept the historic Faith while waves of falsehood dominated the Church.  St. Maximus the Confessor and St. Athanasius were such minorities.  It might be remembered that St. Maximus was accused of excessive fussiness about details, just as we are accused of making a "to-do" about a minor point.  Yet, how many Ecumenical Patriarchs were condemned by the Sixth Ecumenical Council for rejecting the details St. Maximus was so concerned about!  Similarly, how many decades of iconoclasm were endured by a small handful of faithful before the true expression of the Faith re-emerged.  It is certainly no more schismatic of us to refuse to be in communion with the present Ecumenical Patriarch and the Church of Greece than it was for St. Maximus the Confessor to refuse to be in communion with the monothelite patriarchs of his day.

You might say that the "Old Calendar" question is "much ado about nothing".  Certainly, that is what I claimed three years ago.  I had no patience with these fanatics who would make such a big thing about a relatively minor issue.  If you feel this way, I certainly understand how you feel.  What I began to realize two years ago was that the calendar issue was symptomatic of a far greater malaise that has been afflicting the Orthodox world. Little by little, piece by piece, thread by thread, the very fabric of Orthodoxy is being eaten away.  Not by big issues, but by little ones.

The abandonment of the Church calendar is only symptomatic of a slow, hardly discernible attempt on the part of the enemy at impoverishing the very fabric of the Church.  The Church's musical tradition was laid aside in Russia during the nineteenth century to make way for the more sophisticated, triumphal sound of western European polyphony.  Some bishops and priests lay aside the traditional garb of the Church for the more convenient and appealing business suit.  Women feel relaxed enough to enter the presence of the Lord in the Temple with head uncovered and wearing slacks or jeans.  "The Lord doesn't bother about silly things like that."  It bothered St. Paul, however, and it should bother us.

Your friend's concern over the use of polyphony and organs in church is quite along this line.  He is reading, of course, in the fields which affect and concern him most.  He is bothered.  Forgive me Father, but I cannot see a more pharasaic attitude than to shrug off his legitimate complains as somehow of a lower or secondary order, as you say.

Should you look at the list of grievances that Patriarch Michael Cerularius posed to Cardinal Humbert on that fateful day in 1054, you would easily see that the vast majority of objections to the abuses of the Latin Church were just of this order.  To the Patriarch, the credal insertion of the `filioque' and its doctrinal implications, and the papal supremacy were seen in the same light as the use of unleavened bread or the singing rather than the common recitation of the Creed at the Liturgy.

We Orthodox do not make such classifications.  It is the western mind which would segregate and categorize phenomenon in order of importance.  It would be the western mind that would say
that anything apart from the use of the stole is permissible in relations with the non-Orthodox.  I am sure that Fr. David has reminded you often that any prayerful or liturgical participation with non-Orthodox is strictly forbidden by the Canons of the Church.

Be honest, Father.  Are we to be considered legalistic and pharasaic simply because we take these Canons seriously?  But perhaps, as you imply, we are misjudging what the Canons say.  Perhaps we are somehow psychologically and spiritually diseased if we give our literal assent to these Canons.  Perhaps we should be more attune to the more enlightened and wholistic approach that the twentieth century offers to modern man.  Or, perhaps the Church has always known what is best for us, even in the intellectually sophisticated twentieth century, and that these Canons are as applicable to us in this age as in any other.

A word of clarification is needed at this point.  I have been using the term "western mind" as though you ought to know what I mean by it.  Strictly speaking, I am referring to the legacy of the three big "A's" who were ultimately responsible for the erosion of patristic thinking in the west: namely, Augustine of Hippo, Anselm, and Aquinas.  These three, through ignorance of and lack of respect for, (especially in Augustine's case), the Eastern Fathers, fell prey to a kind of theologizing which depends on a certain intellectual trendiness.  In other words, it was their legacy to interpret the Faith according to the latest philosophical and intellectual trends of the day.  The Protestants merely fell into the same sort of theologizing and the current twentieth century religious thinkers among the Protestants, the Romans, and, sadly, among many Orthodox themselves, are simply reflective of this tradition.

You and I, Fr, David and Bishop Seraphim, as former Anglicans, must always be on guard against this kind of western thinking.  It is sad to say that the native Orthodox are frequently more abysmally unaware of how the western mind has affected their thinking.  Holy Cross Seminary, Brookline, is a fine example of how Orthodox thinking has fallen victim to the western mind; its neighbour, Holy Transfiguration Monastery, is a beacon to those Orthodox who have not.

Amongst the Orthodox there has been a longtime attraction to western theology; it goes hand in hand with the attraction to western philosophy, science, and technology.  It seems axiomatic to many Orthodox that if the West offers superior philosophy, science, and technology, it must also offer a superior theological position. Such trends produced the manualist theology of Peter Moghila or, worse yet, the Calvinist aberration of Cyril Loukaris in Constantinople.  The trend is certainly not new.  The attraction to the new, superior, more scientifically calculated calendar is a small detail in this unmitigated lust for western things.

Do not misunderstand me.  I am extremely grateful for modern transportation, medicine, and telephone service.  I work for Bell Canada!  But I am not grateful for the Pope, the charismatic movement, Teilhard de Chardin, and transcendental meditation.  We must see behind the deception the means by which the enemy seeks to entice us away from our roots in historic Orthodoxy.

Orthodox presence in the Ecumenical Movement is like this.  Rather than presenting to the non-Orthodox world our unique position as the Church of Jesus Christ, as was its original mandate in the World council of Churches, we can see the gradual conformity of some originally fine Orthodox thinkers to the trend of ecumenism.  Orthodox in the World Council of Churches, for example, heavily dominated by delegates from the Moscow Patriarchate, have become part of the forefront of the World Council's leftist political agenda.  These Orthodox are no longer representing the Church, but the Soviet government.  We become like those around us; we become part of them.

I well know that if I again pick up my old friends Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, the Franciscans, etc., and have a consistent, if not constant, diet of them, I am going to think like them and become like them.  Soon I will be indistinguishable from them.  This is why the Lord says: "Wherefore come ye out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord" (IICor. 6:17).

The Ecumenical Movement cannot be seen as a forum for Orthodox evangelism because our voice becomes one of many: take your pick. We Orthodox say much more by our absence.

You seem to have described four categories of religious faith in your letter:

     1. Orthodox believers.

     2. Non-believers (non-Christians, atheists, etc.).

     3. Heretics of old who have "defined their faith over against
        that of the Orthodox Church and in conscious opposition to

     4. An anomalous group who are Christians, but not
        exactly part of the Church, though potentially so.

I might say that categories 2 and 3 are also potentially Orthodox Christians.  However, I fail to see any hint whatsoever of the fourth category in patristic writings.  Perhaps it is specifically a category recognizable in the twentieth century with a more compassionate, more humanitarian community sense toward fellow Christians of other faiths.

Frankly Father, just scratch the surface of the fourth category and you will see the third category in disguise.  My own brother, an Anglican minister, made it very clear to me how much he was in conscious opposition to Orthodoxy when I told him that his clergy were self-ordained and not in the Apostolic Ministry. Apostolic succession depends on Apostolic Faith.

Once we start uncompromisingly proclaiming the Orthodox Faith, once delivered to the Saints, we will see that the fourth category, apart from the sweet talk disguised as Christian love, is merely a category of our own invention.

Forgive me for writing so voluminously for the first time!  I certainly  hope it will not be the last time.  In this you will have to encourage me.  I hope that we may continue future discussions and that at some future date we may meet face to face.