Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Don't know if this would solve the Christmas "problem"

As we draw closer to our Lord's Nativity, born in the flesh for us and for our salvation, the more articles on people's home pages and news reports talk about last minute shopping for gifts and the economic effects of said purchases. Along with that, we see a counterpunch, mainly lead by American evangelicals and others, to that materialism reminding Christians to put the Christ back into Christmas or put the Mass back into Christmas or to remind us that Jesus is the reason for the season or that December 25 is Jesus' birthday (I really HATE that one), etc.. Catch phrases are just that, catchy. They really have no substantive value and what is even more ironic is that while these statements decry the rampant commercialism which they (rightly) say debases Christmas, they are making a mint from selling these on bumper stickers, billboards, T-shirts, etc.

For the Orthodox Christian, it is very difficult to observe this time of preparation with fasting, (increased) prayer and alms-giving. It is very easy to give money. All we do is sign a check or give a credit number or drop a few dollars into the salvation army bucket, but when it comes to prayer and restricting our diet from the more salivating courses we see our friends and family offer at get-togethers this year, it is very difficult. And for many of us, who are alone in our Orthodoxy (i.e. we are not married and have no family or close friends who are Orthodox), the struggle is even greater, especially as we are asked to simply "give-in" and just "go with the flow" with regards to the days before the Nativity. Many of us will break the fast and many more of us will not pray except when we go to church on Nativity Eve. So, is there a solution? I think I have one.

If we are pulled so much by the secularization of Christmas, even by other Christians, in order to separate ourselves from it, we should celebrate our Lord's nativity when the vast majority of the Orthodox world does--on January 7. Of course, I am referring to the Old (Julian) Calendar.

Oh, no, not another calendar debate. I don't want to get into a shooting match as to which calendar is better, though I do sympathize with the Old Calendarists. 70% of the world's Orthodox Christians are Old Calendar and those jurisdictions who have "opted" for the New Calendar have only done so since 1923, though the Church of Bulgaria only adopted it in the 1960s. But regardless of whether or not individual jurisdictions have the "right" to change the calendar or whether or not a decision should only be decided by ecumenical council, let me posit two very good pastoral reasons for doing this while debunking a specious reason for keeping things as is.

1) On the Old Calendar, Nativity would be 13 days later than the Western Christmas so there would be less and less temptation out there to divert us from the path of preparation by fasting, prayer and alms-giving. If the rest of the world is getting back to their "normal" practices, that gives us ample opportunity to be ignored and to let us practice our faith from outside intereference. Of course, regardless of what season it is, there will ALWAYS be temptation to steer away from our praxis. Such temptation does not soley come from our non-Orthodox friends and family, but the evil one, I'm sure will redouble his efforts. Still, what a wonderful opportunity this would be for witnessing as well.

2) As I said earlier, about 70% of the world's Orthodox Christians will celebrate our Lord's Nativity on January 7. Why don't we celebrate this feast with them? The only feasts we celebrate together are Pascha, Ascension and Pentecost, no others since they are fixed dates and differ by 13 days. We are told, mainly by (liberal) Western Christians that we should celebrate Christmas with them so as not to give a divided witness to the world! News flash: we are giving a divided witness to the world. Many (by no means all), a great many of Western Christians deny, absolutely deny, the coming of our Lord in the flesh. Or they deny that Christ is God. Modern day Nestorianism, condemned at the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D., is running rampant as is Apollinarianism, also condemned. For many Western Christians, Nativity is not about Christ as it is about themselves, about how they can better themselves and do good, while forgetting and/or denying that it was Christ's coming and God's work which allows us to be good in the first place! That is not the Orthodox way of celebrating Christmas.

And many of our hierarchs still give into this. The council called in 1923 with its canons needs to be rescinded. Why is it more important to celebrate our Lord's death and Resurrection together, when we hold to the same theological importance and not our Lord's incarnation? Why are we worried more about giving a divided witness to the world with western Christians when we are actually giving a divided witness among the Orthodox?

I believe that the adoption or, more accurately, the readoption of the Old (Julian) Calendar can solve more issues than leaving things as they are among the different jurisdictions. I am not calling New Calendarists heretics but we really need to honestly take a look and see if this calendar is what we should be using when there is nothing wrong with the old calendar. So what if it doesn't correspond to the civil calendar? It might be harder to get Orthodox Christmas off than Western Christmas but if we're worried more about days off than worshipping our one God in purity in truth, then nothing is going to be solved.

It's an idea, one that is unpopular, I grant especially with our hierarchs, many of whom don't want to offend the Western Christians by doing things differently. But the fact is this: We Orthodox Christians are different from western Christians.


  1. But I would hate to have yet another wedge driven between us. Note that it is difficult for Western Christians too who are determined to keep an Advent fast. But it can be done. In any case, a blessed Fore-feast to you and may the birth in the flesh of the Eternal Word fill your heart with joy and peace!

  2. Fr. William,

    I'm more concerned with Orthodox unity, which really needs to be addressed. The calendar issue does get extremely divisive and for some, it has caused schism. We really need to redress that first BEFORE we start trying to talk unity with the oriental churches (which, following an ecumenical council to clean up our mess, would be the ones to pursue since they are closest to us in doctrine and practice) and then with the western confessions. We need to attend to our own house first.