"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity (5)

As of today, Ash Wednesday for the Latin Church, both Eastern and Western Christians have now begun the journey to Pascha which, happily this year (as with last, and 2007 also) is observed by all Christians on the same day. That raises the question of calendars, and so, continuing our sampling of articles from John McGuckin, ed., The Encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, we turn now to the article entitled simply "Calendar."

I had a discussion with my students recently about differing calendars used by different Christians, and the maddening incomprehensibility of some Eastern Christians who simply do not understand that fixed feasts are not in fact celebrated on different days: Christmas is December 25, and that's that. But this is so simple for some that they fail to grasp it, and so they tell you that Christmas is January 7. No, it isn't. Liturgically the place of Christmas in the sanctoral is December 25 whether you follow the Julian or Gregorian calendar. Calendars are among the most absurdly silly and superficial things over which Eastern Christians have shamefully divided amongst ourselves--to say nothing of the alienation (these past few years notwithstanding) from the West.

Helping us sort out these issues, and the equally vexed question of the Paschalion, is McGuckin's article on the Calendar. Here, as in all the other entries of his I have read to date, one finds wonderfully lucid prose which calmly states its case, notes diversity of practice--especially in Western traditions--and treats such diversity with greatly dispassionate respect.

There is one problem with the article when McGuckin says that because there has not been a consensus on adopting the Gregorian calendar, the so-called Revised Julian calendar has been adopted to allow "all the Orthodox [to] observe Pascha together" (96; my emphasis; cf. pp. 96-97 where he says that "none of the Orthodox ever adopted the Gregorian fully"). But in fact the Orthodox Church of Finland is the one exception to this: their official website notes that "The church observes the New, or Gregorian Calendar." This is confirmed by Ron Roberson's magisterial The Eastern Churches: a Brief Survey, which says of the Finnish Church that "This is the only Orthodox church that uses the western dates for Easter and fixed feasts."

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