During the early 20th Century a schism arose in Greece and other places with the introduction of the Revised Julian Calendar but the Patriarchate of Constantinople and its acceptance by the churches in Greece. A number of faithful and clergy separated from the established Church hierarchy claiming that the hierarchs had fallen away from the Tradition of the Church because of this change. The change in calendar was also understood by them as linked with what became known as “ecumenism”, a growing movement among those seeking better relationships with other calling themselves Christians beyond the communion of Orthodox churches.
These in the Old Calendar (OC) movement consider themselves as preserving the Tradition of the Church correctly and often call themselves “True” or “Genuine” Orthodox Christians. They claim that they maintain the canons of the Church properly in the face of modernism and ecumenism, both of which are claimed to be a denial of the Church as the Church. While being called Old Calendarists, these groups are to be distinguished from those Orthodox still using the Julian (Old) Calendar such as the churches in Russia and Serbia and the monasteries on Mt Athos; these may use the Julian calendar yet, while doing so, remain in communion with the churches using the New Calendar (NC) and they are not in communion with the OC groups (with the odd exception).
The Old Calendar groups are often correct on many points at issue with “New Calendarists”, such as the problems with modernism and ecumenism taken beyond a certain limit. They often maintain Church traditions and doctrine better than many in the NC churches and as such they are a useful reminder of the Tradition of the Church and our need to be faithful to it. Many of the OC faithful are pious and sincere in their faith. However these groups tend to be “tunnel visioned” on one aspect, usually ecumenism, and fail to have a balanced approach to Christian life. This is often experienced as a type of zealous, but yet “graceless”, correctness.
While claiming Apostolic Tradition through a line of continuous bishops, the OCs have separated from the communion of bishops of the Orthodox Catholic Church. In this matter, they are not consistent with the canons and they have missed the principle of the canons, even if claiming to maintain a conformity to them. This is evident in two areas: the first is the number of bishops required to ordain another bishop; and the second is in the reason for separation from a bishop of the Church, who was initially universally recognised as such.
The first matter concerns the quorum for ordaining a bishop. This is canonically set at a minimum of two or three bishops gathering for the ordination as set out in the first Apostolic Canon: “A bishop shall be ordained by two or three bishops.” The OC groups, initially being without bishops, claim to have had their line of bishops ordained by a gathering of three bishops. This can be accepted as true. However, there are other canons on the matter that have not been followed. Firstly, while three is a minimum quorum for an ordination, the rule is rather that all the bishops of a province need to affirm the ordination of a new bishop and this must be done by the metropolitan of the province. This was established in the fourth canon of the First Ecumenical Council:
“It is most fitting that a Bishop should be installed by all those in his province. But if such a thing is difficult either because of the urgency of circumstances, or because of the distance to be travelled, at least three should meet together somewhere and by their votes combined with those of the ones absent and joining in the election by letter they should carry out the ordination thereafter. But as for the ratification of the proceedings, let it be entrusted in each province to the Metropolitan.”
It is not canonical for any three bishops to gather for an ordination without the metropolitan and the consent of the whole synod. The principle behind ordination of a bishop is not having three bishops as three bishops but as having the consent of the all the bishops in the region and, by extension, all bishops universally as recognising the new bishop as bishop. In the case of the Old Calendar movement, its bishops were not ordained by the consensus of the regional synod in its specific territory and not even three bishops of that territory ordained them. Rather three bishops, from another jurisdiction, itself of questionable legitimacy, without either their metropolitan’s or synod’s consent, performed the ordinations of the first bishop. Thus, the ordinations of the OC bishops, while correct as a quorum by one canon, failed to be canonical according to another canon on the matter and infringed a core principle of a bishop’s ordination being universal consent and recognition manifest through the unanimous consent of the synod with the metropolitan. At least, they should have had the full synodal approval of the synod of another region, if their claims that their own synod had fallen from the Church, but this was not the case. The other synods still all recognise the NC bishops as in the Church.
The next problem for the OC movement, although the previous is sufficient to demonstrate that they are schismatics apart from the Church and hypocritical in regard to following the canons, is the manner in which they use the canons of the Council of 1861. These canons, while not of a council recognised as an ecumenical council, have been given very much general recognition by Orthodox churches and carry a degree of universal standing. These canons decree that one must remain in communion with his bishop as a presbyter or cleric, metropolitan, if bishop, and patriarch, if a metropolitan; to do otherwise is to go into schism and separate from the Church. This rule though is not absolute in that one can depart from one’s bishop, metropolitan or patriarch if they teach a heresy that has already been condemned. This is not teaching what may become a condemned heresy, but teaching a heresy that meets the criteria of one that has already been condemned, such as Arianism or Nestorianism. Also, when speaking of previously condemned, the implication is that it is so by an ecumenical council or general council, or at least by a council of the jurisdiction in which one is located. (Other local councils are not binding on any jurisdictions but their own.) The point of this is that any heresy has to be judged as such by a council of bishops in whose jurisdiction one is located. Thus, the judgement of the heresy has to have already been made and one is only acting in regard to the bishop, metropolitan or patriarch in that they are publicly preaching what has been condemned, as in stating the “catch” statements that define that heresy, and so stand condemned by the previous judgement. There needs to be no confusion or doubt about the matter. The issue of ecumenism has not been directly condemned as such at an ecumenical level and those involved, even if acting uncanonically, do not, in general, publicly preach the doctrines and opinions of those divided from the Church. So, the OC movement is unjustified in its separation from the Church; it cannot meet the standards required. Even given these standards, the creation of a parallel church structure with being integrated into the churches of another region or patriarchate is uncanonical and not permitted, as is not Apostolic Tradition. So, while claiming to be rigorous regarding ecumenism and modernism, and often with justifiable reason, their separation from the bishops of the Church is not canonical. Rather they were better to remain a voice of protest within the Church rather than going outside the Church.
Having said the above, the OC movement does have a point to make in regard to much that is happening in the Church and while uncanonical and schismatic as a movement, those in the Church should take heed of some of the justified reasons behind their position and repent of those things that are not part of the Tradition. They should be regarded with empathy and love and not with violence or anger, even though one needs to be firm that they are in schism. Those reacting too strongly against them are those usually involved in the practices that they rightly condemn.
Fr. Patrick (Eastern Orthodox) – Fr Patrick (John Ramsey) was born in 1970 in New Zealand. He attended University of Waikato in Hamilton New Zealand, completing Bachelor degrees in Science, majoring in Mathematics, and in Law with honours. He then completed a Master of Theology in Orthodox Studies at the University of Wales, in 2010 followed by a PhD in Orthodox ecclesiology in 2015 at the University of Winchester, England. He presently works as a distance tutor for the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies in Cambridge, England. He serves as a priest in the Western Rite deanery in the UK under the Russian Church Outside Russia. He has enjoyed engaging on Facebook discussions for a number of years after contributing to Orthodox blogs before this.