The Liturgical Calendar
By the V. Rev. Edward W. Hughes, The Orthodox West
People sometimes ask, “Why doesn’t the Western Rite use the Orthodox calendar like everyone else?” The simple answer is: “There is no such thing as ‘The Orthodox Calendar’ which everyone else might use.”
The Church calendar, which tells us when to celebrate the great feasts and saints days, is actually a collection of regional and jurisdictional calendars that differ widely from place to place and from one jurisdiction to another. This, of course, is as true of the Western Church as the Eastern Church. There was no universal calendar that told the entire Church when and what to celebrate.
Like everything else in the Church, the calendar developed regionally and represented the regional Church's custom. As things began to become standardized before and after the year 1000, the calendars of the regional Churches began to take on the characteristics of the great Churches such as Rome, Constantinople, or Alexandria. Nevertheless, a single standardized universal calendar never developed.
In the West, the different rites and the different monastic organizations each maintained their own calendar. Local variations, according to regions, were also tolerated. In the East, the local autonomous Churches maintained their own calendars right up to the present day. While it might be understood that the Greeks and the Russians have differences in their calendars, it might be less well known that the calendars of the Romanian Church and the Serbian Church are not the same as the Bulgarian Church or the Georgian Church. All the Churches differ in which saints and holy days to celebrate and on which day to celebrate them.
I am not speaking of the difference between the so-called “old” and “new” calendars. For those Churches which maintain the traditional or “old” calendar, the dates themselves are 13 days behind those of the revised or “new” calendar. So both groups celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December, but they disagree on when the 25th of December actually falls. No one celebrates Christmas on January 7th. Some Churches understand that particular day to be December 25th, while others understand it to be the 7th of January, but it is the same. This is not the difference of which I am speaking.
I am speaking that St. Photine the Samaritan Woman, is celebrated by the Greek Church on Feb. 26th, while the Russian Church celebrates her on the 20th of March (whenever they understand that date actually to fall). St. Katherine is celebrated on Nov. 24th by the Russians but on the 25th by the Greeks. The Russians celebrate St. Sabbas I of Serbia on Jan. 12th, while the Serbians celebrate him on the 14th. The great feast of the Virgin on October 1st was dropped by the Greek Church after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 but maintained by the Russians and others. In 1952 the Synod of the Church of Greece revived it with all-new service texts celebrated on Oct. 28th in conjunction with their Ohi Day remembrances.
There are all sorts of reasons why these feasts are celebrated on different days by different churches. Some of these histories are very interesting but not germane to the point which I am making. It really does not matter why the various churches celebrate on different days. It is important to know that they do celebrate on different days.
There would have been only vague awareness of this fact in the various “old countries” from which our Orthodox people emigrated to America. There would not be any opportunity to become aware of this unless one traveled to other Orthodox communities outside of one’s own country. However, here in America, we could be acutely aware of these differences since we live side by side with Orthodox of other jurisdictions, all keeping their own peculiar calendars. (I say “could be” because I am constantly surprised by people who are actually completely unaware of this fact. People have a strange tendency to imagine that everyone else does precisely what they themselves do.)
All of this has its parallels in the historical West. Italy, France, Germany, and later England all developed their own liturgical calendars. The monastic orders—the Benedictines, the Dominicans, the Augustinians, etc.—all maintained their own liturgical calendars. Rome certainly exercised a heavy influence on all of them, but they kept their own peculiarities as well.
We do not have to spend any time looking into these particular differences because, in 1869, the Holy Synod of the Russian Church instructed us and charged us to adopt and maintain the Benedictine forms of worship, including the Benedictine liturgical calendar. In 1882 the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate concurred with the decree of the Russian Church. Therefore we must be careful not to look into Sarum or Liege or Milan or Bangor or even Rome for uses, customs, and calendars. We are absolutely committed to the Benedictine tradition as the only tradition informing and forming our Orthodox Western Rite in all of its aspects and details.
Having come to understand this, next, it is important to understand how this is applied within the Church. In the past, different jurisdictions have understood and respected these differences.
In Europe, when certain Russian groups were taken under the Ecumenical Patriarchate's pastoral care, they continued to celebrate the various feasts and saints days according to their traditional Russian calendar rather than adopting the calendar of the Patriarchate under which they were living.
The same is true here in America with the Ukrainians and Carpatho-Russians under the Ecumenical Patriarchate jurisdiction. They continue to celebrate the feasts and saints days according to their own tradition. They have not adopted nor have they been asked to adopt the calendar of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. They keep in every way the traditions and customs of their own ecclesiastical history and identity without adopting any at all of the traditions and customs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
In union with the OCA, the Romanian Episcopate always published its own ecclesiastical calendar for the use of its own parishes with no influence from the OCA itself, which follows a Russian style calendar. It might also be pointed out that these Romanian parishes maintained their own Romanian identity with all of their own peculiar customs and traditions without assimilating to the Russian style of the OCA.
This example of the Romanian Episcopate is of particular importance to our Western Rite within the Archdiocese. Because we have our own peculiar historical customs, uses, and traditions, including our own calendar, we should expect to keep all of these intact while living within the larger Archdiocese.
Not only is there no need at all for us to adopt one or another version of the Greek Byzantine calendar for the celebration of the feasts of the Church, but there is also absolutely no precedent to do so. The various Russians, Ukrainians, and Carpatho-Russians living within the Ecumenical Patriarchate have never felt any need to adopt any Constantinopolitan customs to “fit in” with the Greek parishes under the same jurisdiction. They have always felt perfectly comfortable being themselves and have made some effort to keep their historical, cultural identities strong rather than assimilating in any way with the Greek majority around them.
Our Western Rite parishes and faithful should feel just as free to maintain our own particular traditions comfortably within the Antiochian Archdiocese and make real efforts to keep our particular identity strong and not assimilate to the Byzantine majority around us.
When we allow ourselves to be tempted to adopt or imitate customs that might make us more similar in practice to our Byzantine brethren, we are weakening our presence and witness as Western Orthodox in this Western world in which we live and minister. We also weaken our identity as a particularly Western expression of historical Orthodoxy.
With its ancient progression of feasts and commemorations, our Western calendar is an important force that has helped shape our piety and form our relationship with God. It presents a liturgical year that was formed in conjunction with the shape of our liturgical worship. The conformity of the feasts and commemorations with the seasons of the liturgical year and the traditional scriptural readings of the lectionary all come together to form a harmonious whole which forms the matrix or environment in which we encounter the Living God as He manifests Himself to us, humans, here in this world in which we live.
This magnificent and monumental force, which is the traditional Western liturgical year, has hugely influenced the development of the Western civilization of which we are apart. Modernity, in its various forms, has sought to empty our culture and our civilization of the Divine content around which it was historically formed.
When we allow this traditional force to fill our lives with the presence of God, we find that His presence transforms and sanctifies us in conformity with the Kingdom of God. This transformation is so much more natural and organic when we live the Western Tradition, which fits so naturally and organically into the Western culture and civilization which is caused to come into being and formed in the first place.
There is a distinct and definite tendency for Byzantine Orthodox in this country to separate and differentiate themselves from the surrounding culture to be fully and completely ‘Orthodox.’ For us, however, when we live out our Orthodox spirituality in and through the traditional Western forms, we re-claim the surrounding culture to its own formative content and original intent.
St. Benedict, St. Gregory, and St. Martin of Tours, St. Germanus of Auxerre, St. Patrick of Ireland, St. Boniface of Germany all are said to have created Western culture and civilization out of the tribal chaos which was paganism. This is our culture and civilization. Through their prayers and with their help, we must reclaim this culture and civilization for the Most Holy Trinity for whom, in whom, and by whom it was created. Our Western Liturgical Calendar is one essential part of that mission.
A History of the Western Rite, David Abramtsov,?
Comparative Liturgy Anton Baumstark, Newman Press, Westminster, MD, 1958
Menaion, Georgiou G. Gegle, Michael Saliveros A.E. Athens, 1904
Orologion To Mega, Ekdotikos Ikos “Astir” Al. & E. Papademetriou, Athens, 1973
Saint Herman Calendar St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, CA, 1988
Srbsky Pravoslavny Kalendar, Eastern American Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Interklima-grafika, Vrnjci, Srbija, 2017
The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church, Holy Apostles Convent, Dormition Skete, Buena Vista, CO
To Mega Orologion, Ekdotis Michael I. Saliveros, Athens, 1927