A Short Response to a Lengthy Critique of the “Old Calendarist Movement” 

Over the past year, a lengthy (double-spaced, it comes in at 50 pages minus footnotes) but unsubstantial document has been making the rounds on the Internet as a proof against True Orthodox, mostly by fans of YouTube personalities who don’t know better and see size as valuable as opposed to cogent first principles.

Thankfully,  “Panayoti M.”, the author of the document, does lay out his first principles in the document on the first page, so we don’t have to travel far to uproot the poor thinking that led to a sprawling text with fascinating citations that leads the reader in a circle but with the distinct impression that they have traveled a long way.

To quote:

Since its inception, the Old Calendarist movement has generated a substantial degree of debate. Although not all Old Calendarist groups share the same beliefs, the following three views are certainly among the most prevalent:

1) Ceasing commemoration of heretical hierarchs is obligatory (not optional)
2) Communion ought to be broken not only with erring clergymen, but also with those who, albeit Orthodox, maintain communion with them
3) Heretical clergy lose the grace of the mysteries even prior to synodal condemnations

The purpose of this paper is to critique these tenets using a range of examples from the history of the Church. Moreover, since several other matters relating to zealotry (such as the change in the Church’s Calendar) also remain highly misunderstood amongst both Old Calendarists and New Calendarists alike, they too shall be addressed.

To his credit, the author does lay out his principles at the beginning, saving the educated reader a great deal of time. It’s simple enough to answer these points rather than cherry picking from a few hundred years of history to make some sort of sense of an answer.

It is difficult to label the first point as anything but a demonic “well, actually”. The assumption Orthodox Christians have as Orthodox Christians is that they are “Orthodox”– that our faith is literally the right faith. We assume our priests and Bishops have the right faith, and that’s why we go to them. This is an implicit assumption in all the historical examples Mr. M uses, and none of the people in them would have thought they were doing anything but holding the right faith. It is an assumption between Old Calendarists and New Calendarists alike. Only the worst ecumenists see being under heretical hierarchs as an “ok thing”.

The entire history of the Orthodox Church is based upon our being willing to die for the practice of the right faith. “Right faith” is literally what Orthodoxy means. Orthodox Christians have a moral obligation to be under right-believing Bishops. Note here that I have not even laid out a principle of how to determine those Bishops: I am simply noting the underlying assumption that the overwhelming majority of Orthodox Christians of any kind around the world believe that they are under right-believing Bishops. To claim that being under heretical hierarchs is an option, not an obligation, is demonic. What does Mr. M say to the Roman Catholic who realizes his church is in error? “Well, actually, leaving your Bishop is optional, not obligatory.” With a stroke of a pen Mr. M has not simply “cancelled the Old Calendarists” but destroyed the raison d’etre of every convert to Orthodoxy from Romanism and Anglicanism on earth.

So to the first point (I am questioning whether I should even take apart the underlying reasoning to the historical examples) I must point out that the belief that one must be under Orthodox Bishops is not an “Old Calendarist” position; it’s literally the Orthodox position and to say otherwise means the true faith is really just a personal choice. I must add that this is I surmise that this is likely why no True Orthodox has answered this paper with any great amount of attention: this first principle and its defense is nauseating. No one who takes their faith seriously can begin with this as a first principle and yet this disgusting claim is shoved in our faces as though we were dogs being housebroken. And like the aforementioned dogs, we find it disgusting, though it is not our soiled papers we have to smell, but those of someone who hasn’t noticed the stench.

The second point is less a historical belief of the True Orthodox than a result of accidents of circumstance. Did the Old Calendarists in Greece demand a break in communion with the rest of the world? It is historically untenable to say so. It has been demonstrated that both the early Matthewites and Florinites (indeed, even with examples in this paper) believed that the rest of the Church would simply agree with them, and at least in the case of the Florinites later, there was some justification in doing so. However, more importantly, this again underlies the real history of the 20th century deceptively. It’s not as if the True Orthodox in Greece simply walked out of the newly minted New Calendar churches and went and did their own “thing”, taking their medieval astronomical chart with them. Old Calendarists in Greece were actively persecuted and often killed (such as the case of the New Martyr Katherine Routis, who was killed by a police officer while trying to protect a priest.) Their marriages and baptisms were delegitimized by not simply the New Calendar hierarchy, but the Greek state itself. The same is true in Romania, where those adhering to the traditional calendar, many being monastics, had fled to the forest to avoid being killed by the state. (Do we even really need to discuss Russia?– note, upon reread: apparently.) So this is really where the local nature of Orthodoxy comes into play: far from the author’s presentation which assumes the early Old Calendarists/True Orthodox probably had the internet (or at the very least, stacks of paper and postage) handy and were making grandiose declarations of whom to be in communion with all over the world, they were literally trying to maintain their faith while avoiding uncomfortable stuff like being murdered, generally limiting their condemnations to their own local church.

“Well actually, if she had just let them kill the priest she could have just gone home with her kids.”

In fact, the most uncomfortable period in True Orthodox history for anyone to deal with is the period between 1935 and 1965, because it is precisely the point where “battle lines” are starting to be drawn, while many True Orthodox were dealing with active persecution, and desperately trying to figure out not “who was still Orthodox” but in fact who it was safe to appeal to communion and for assistance. Any description of history that ignores these facts is a false history and propaganda. (Guess which category Mr. M’s critique falls under.) And in fact most of the divisions among the Old Calendarists at this time are precisely a result of the confusing times that they lived in. To claim the Old Calendarists always held a position that was in fact a result of historical circumstances is ahistorical and wrong.

Mr. M’s third point will require review of the historical claims he makes, because the alleged “Old Calendarist” position, again, is basic Orthodox teaching, and has its roots in the Canons of the Orthodox Church itself, so we are forced to make sense of the claims of his historical examples. Admittedly, as I read this, a slight headache, perhaps nausea, is setting in.

Thus the first odious example is an ahistorical defense of simony, contrasting free simoniacs in the time of St Gregory to the captive Ecumenical Patriarchate under Islam. As our author may or may not know, the Patriarchs were forced to pay the Sultan for the right to their election: this was not an option. No money, no Patriarch. It was that simple, because the governing authority imposed itself upon the Christians. Yet even in that period, some of those Patriarchs would later become Saints of the Church. It was, however unfortunate, the state of affairs in Constantinople. St Nikodemos, as Mr. M notes, decries the state of affairs but what Mr. M conveniently ignores is that since 1453 there was absolutely nothing anyone could do at the time to change the state of affairs.

Applying this ridiculous logic to today, we must indeed assume that perhaps the Anglican Bishop of Chicago (or some woman priest of his) has a gun to the head of His Grace, Nathanael of Chicago, which of course is the real reason he’s advocating for open communion for anyone who walks in.  It’s certainly a better psychological position to be in than to discount heresy being incompatible with Orthodox Christianity.

We turn to Mr. M’s next example in the service of making Orthodoxy worse and we find hesychasm in Russia and the Russian Church’s alleged failure to preserve it. He correctly cites St Nilus of Sora as the bringer of hesychasm to Russia and then implies that this was the reason he and his followers were persecuted, conveniently ignoring the entire non-Possessor controversy that led to their persecution.  Mix in Peter the Great and a citation from the Bulgakov handboook for Church servers and Mr. M concludes that the Bishops of the Russian Church were all Baarlamites while (a) never pointing to an official rejection of hesychasm at a Synodal level — because it doesn’t exist– and (b) citing examples such as St Paisius Velichkovsky who preserved the hesychast tradition while ignoring the fact that his life was contemporary with Peter the Great’s regulation of 1721: in fact St Paisus was literally born one year after it occurred! So on this example, Mr. M is just historically wrong.

We suffer on to the next example, which is from the proceedings of the Palamite Council of 1341. It is here that we can begin to see that Mr. M is starting to swim outside of his depth,  as he seems to not understand basic canonical procedure and it shows in his treatment of the proceedings as well as his understandings of True Orthodox. Mr. M shows through the Synodal condemnation of Prochoros that a trial was required and that he was subject to deposition. Further, he claims that Old Calendarists don’t understand this. Unfortunately, he is wrong on that count, and they undermine his initial claim of #3. The fact that Prochoros was found guilty of heresy confirms that his mysteries were graceless since he held it; one has nothing to do with the other. However, in canonical procedure in every single properly constituted Council of the Orthodox Church, there is what is known as a presumption of innocence and therefore a presumption of grace– but this is not the same thing as a heresy not having grace. 

In succeeding paragraphs (I’m begining to lose my patience with this), Mr. M muddles heresy and schism, Canon XV of the First-Second Synod, compares the True Orthodox to Old Believers (we’ve seen this movie before,) condemned all of Orthodoxy because haircuts (no, I’m not kidding) and inadvertently defends the name-worshippers as Palamites in what appears to be an underlying tone of “Russia is terrible” (did Jesse Dominick even read this before putting it up on Orthochristian.ru?)

I am not touching the discussion on the ROCOR anathema against ecumenism and subsequent confusion since and my reasoning is simple. Mr. M is relying on second or third-hand information; by contrast I was not only Orthodox well before the reunion of much of ROCOR with the Moscow Patriarchate, I will only say that most True Orthodox (or “Old Calendarists” as Mr. M prefers) over the age of, say, 25, are fully aware of these distinctions as well as the positions of Fr Seraphim (Rose), who reposed a year before the anathema against ecumenism anyway. What’s interesting are the parts Mr. M leaves out, but possibly that is only because he didn’t know them: he admits the Patriarch of Jerusalem in communion with ROCOR, but what he doesn’t admit is that Patriarch Diodoros of Jerusalem also concelebrated with Old Calendarists, something for which he was condemned by Constantinople before his death in 2000. That simple fact– one that used to be well-known but has vanished down the memory hole– obliterates most of the false claims Mr. M makes about the True Orthodox. All of the Old Believer claims, the claims of universal condemnations of world Orthodoxy on our part simply flush down the drain. He is unaware that much of the Orthodox world slurred ROCOR in exactly the same way as they slur True Orthodox 20 years ago. (Some folks in the EP still do by the way.)

Approaching the finish line, Mr. M attempts to settle the question of whether or not the New Calendarists split from the Church according to the early Old Calendarist condemnations, neglecting to mention that the New Calendar Archbishop of Athens came to that conclusion himself in a public position paper two years before becoming Archbishop.

Finally he dismisses Sergianism with a very long version of “muh tsars were worse.” (Jesse Dominick, are you reading this?) This sort of pro-Soviet argument was popular in the 80’s, but has long been out of fashion even among clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate itself. Mr. M is apparently of the shrinking “put the Stalin icon in the church” crowd when even the Moscow Patriarchate’s own clergy find that idea nauseating (maybe Mr. M just likes nauseating ideas) Sergianism is a real thing, but like communism in Russia, it finds fewer and fewer adherents.  By contrast, Mr. M finds having the Church subject to militant state atheism to be as good as the tsars, a position even Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent, doesn’t hold.

Like his ecumenism argument, Mr. M’s defense of Sergianism is ahistorical, because it’s not about today. Today ecumenism is in decline because ecumenism always leads to religious indifference– as one can reasonably predict. Tradition is back on the rise, and Orthodoxy is coming back. The ecumenists in America have their foothold, but there is less and less to hold onto. Likewise there is a religious revival in Russia and other places– certainly not quite as large as expected, but religious fervor is returning. Meanwhile there are still lots of True Orthodox around the world, and the overwhelming majority of them are in communion with each other. Moscow and Constantinople are no longer in communion. People are thinking again.

Mr. M’s paper is a dated script from the 80’s and it’s long past its expiration date. And I for one look forward to the day when the issues dividing Orthodox are long gone. But until that day, I’m going to stick with my Bishops. After all, according to the oft-forgotten Canon XIV of the First-Second Synod– they’re not preaching heresy, so Mr. M’s paper, while preaching to some aging section of the choir, has nothing to offer this miserable Old Calendarist schismatic, so-called. We’re either going to get antichrist, or this is going to work out somehow. Those are the only options.