The first New Calendar Christmas for the Antiochians in America

It’s almost Christmas for those of us on the New Calendar, but of course, our Old Calendar brethren will have to wait an additional 13 days. Originally, of course, all Orthodox Christians celebrated Christmas on the same day, because we all followed the same calendar. In 1923, an Inter-Orthodox Congress met at Constantinople under the presidency of the infamous Ecumenical Patriarch Meletios Metaxakis and voted to adopt the New Calendar. Over time, a lot of the world’s Orthodox Churches went along with the switch, but many refused and continue to use the Old Calendar. Hence the current discrepancy.

The thing many people don’t realize is that not every Orthodox Church that uses the New Calendar adopted it in 1923. According to Dr. Lewis Patsavos of Holy Cross, the latest Church to make the switch was Bulgaria, which did so in 1968.

Another thing people don’t realize is that some Orthodox in America were already following the New Calendar prior to its official 1923 endorsement. A couple of years ago, I wrote about how a Greek community in Columbia, SC arbitrarily adopted the New Calendar in 1914. That group didn’t have a priest or a formal church, but even earlier, in 1900, a Syrian colony in Fort Wayne, IN celebrated Christmas on the New Calendar’s December 25, and they were joined by a visiting priest from New York. (Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, 12/25/1900.) I’m not sure, but it’s possible that the priest was St. Raphael Hawaweeny. If it wasn’t him, it must have been one of his subordinates.

On the flip side, the Antiochian Archdiocese didn’t celebrate a New Calendar Christmas until 1940. The New York Times (1/6/1941) reported, “Departing from an ancient custom, the Syrian Orthodox Antiochian Church, which formerly followed the Julian calendar, celebrated Christmas on Dec. 25 this year…” That’s a full 17 years after the 1923 Inter-Orthodox Congress. And — someone correct me if I’m wrong here — the OCA waited until 1982 to switch calendars.

Anyway, to all of our New Calendar readers, we wish you a joyous Christmas. To our Old Calendar readers, happy St. Herman’s day!

This article was written by Matthew Namee.

UPDATE: In the comments below, William Kosar has pinned down when the Metropolia/OCA began making the switch from the Old to the New Calendar. William writes, “After a little research, it was at the Thirteenth Sobor of November 14-16, 1967 that the decision was made permitting parishes, upon approval of their diocesan bishop, to use the new calendar.” The 1982 date that I cited seems to refer to when then-Bishop Herman Swaiko of Eastern PA forced all the parishes in his diocese to adopt the New Calendar. Up to that point, it appears that parishes could choose. See the comments for more on how the process of choosing worked.

11 thoughts on “The first New Calendar Christmas for the Antiochians in America

  1. Depends:if it is forced on everyone, as happened in Greece, Romania, etc…it can be a complete disaster, and set unity back. If both are allowed, as happened (for the most part) in the OCA, where most parishes were left to decide, it can become a non-issue. It won’t go away as an issue until Orthodoxy as a whole decides on it (and there are indications that Moscow, the one that really counts, is not dogmatically opposed to the Revised Julian calendar).

    • I agree with Isa. If our Assembly of Bishops is successful here in America, I think the most likely scenario would be that parishes would have the option. Even if the bishops agreed on the New Calendar, it would still be a bad idea to force it on individual communities.

  2. I totally disagree with Matthew and Isa, but perhaps they have not felt the effects personally. The calendar is a huge issue for unity in America if you actually care about real unity of worship. How can a parish be in real communion with the parish on the other side of town if while one is fasting the other is feasting? It causes a problem if we want to have any kind of social or liturgical interaction in the summer or winter. Furthermore, if real unity is achieved and there is only one bishop per metropolitan area, how is that bishop supposed to be in real liturgical communion with all of his parishes? This is already a problem in the OCA. What I mean is, even if it is not a time when feasting/fasting overlap, there is still the issue of many important feast and saint days that are either repeated or, more likely, missed by traveling between parishes if your life’s work requires you to travel. If the calendar issue isn’t addressed it will result in either the Old Calendar churches being neglected/isolated from rest of Orthodoxy or in parishioners compromising their piety. Both of these are already plaguing our churches in areas where both calendars are present.

  3. Regarding the 1982 date for the new calendar, as I remember the twelfth American Sobor approved the use of the new calendar with provisos that a majority of the parish asks for it and the diocesan bishop approves.

    In the late 1960s I was a member of the St. Andrew mission in Suffolk County when we voted some 90 percent to use the new calendar but Metr. Ireney would not approve it – he did not reject it either – until we had a meeting with him at the 2nd Street cathedral!

    At the time Father John Nehrebecki, whose parish in Paramus was well organized, had submitted their request immediately after the Sobor and the Metropolitan approved it immediately. Perhaps , for the rest of us, he felt taken by surprise as many of the “English” parishes in the New York City area that wanted to use the new calendar all had a hard time getting approval, such that representatives of these parishes held a number of meetings trying to figure a way to get Metr. Ireney’s approval.

    I notice that the Orthodoxwiki article (http://orthodoxwiki.org/All-American_Sobor) on the All-American Sobors does not mention the authorization scheme to use the new calendar. The 1982 reference may be to the act by Bishop Herman to command the use of the new calendar in his diocese in the early 1980s that caused the defection and split of a number of parishes.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Liz. These are important points, and I didn’t mean to marginalize the issue. I just don’t see a magic-bullet sort of solution: everyone isn’t going to return to the OC, but (as you suggest) it’s unfair and wrong to expect the OC folks to just capitulate to the NC crowd. Thus, there has to be a compromise — a coexistence of two calendars in a single diocese. You make great points about the problem with such an arrangement, but what other option exists?

    One possibility to at least make things slightly better, I suppose, might be for each diocese in a hypothetical unified American Orthodox Church to have one OC hierarch and one NC hierarch. So I guess you’d still have overlapping jurisdictions, but it would be uniform and limited — two bishops per diocese. That might at least mitigate the problem. But I really don’t know what the right answer is.

  5. On the question of coexistence, we have a laboratory experience on-going. At St. Nicholas Cathedral in Washington two services, and in effect two communities, have been ongoing for more than ten years – one English and the other Slavonic, the English under the new calendar and the Slavonic under the old! This even during the time of Metr. Herman!! No further comment!!

  6. After a little research, it was at the Thirteenth Sobor of November 14-16, 1967 that the decision was made permitting parishes, upon approval of their diocesan bishop, to use the new calendar.

  7. William, I’ve updated the article (above) with your find about the 1967 Sobor. Thanks for that, and for the stories about the parishes under Metropolitan Ireney.

  8. Pingback: OrthodoxHistory.org » Blog Archive » Christmas, the New Calendar, and the Russian Church in 1923

  9. Somewhere around here I have a copy of some of the correspondence sent to priests/parishes from the Metropolia Chancery concerning the New Calendar, and it’s definitely from 1967. I’ll see if I can get it scanned and posted.

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