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.