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The Old Calendar Orthodox Churches

After World War I various Orthodox churches, beginning with the Patriarchate of Constantinople, began to abandon the Julian calendar for some purposes and adopt the Gregorian calendar (known as New Julian in the East), which is 13 days ahead of the Julian. At present most Orthodox churches (with the exception of Jerusalem, Russia, Serbia, and Mount Athos) use the new calendar for fixed feasts but the Julian calendar for Easter and movable feasts dependent upon it. A similar diversity exists among Eastern Catholics where, for instance, the great majority of Ukrainian Greek Catholics use the Julian calendar.

When this reform was introduced in the Church of Greece in 1924 by the Holy Synod with support from the government, strong opposition immediately arose, mainly among the lower clergy and laity. The group claimed that such a decision could only be taken by an ecumenical council with the participation of all the Orthodox churches. While the calendar question was the issue at hand, the opposition saw the adoption of the new calendar as only one result of the fledgling ecumenical movement and the influence of other churches which, in their view, compromised the purity of the Orthodox faith.

In May 1935 three bishops of the Church of Greece returned to the Old Calendar and assumed leadership of the movement. They quickly consecrated four additional bishops. One of the three bishops and two of the new ones returned to the Church of Greece. The Holy Synod of the Church of Greece immediately deposed the other four bishops, deprived them of episcopal rank, and sentenced them to terms of exile in distant monasteries. The Holy Synod also asked the government to either use effective means to suppress the opposition or agree to a restoration of the Julian calendar. The authorities refused to take decisive action, however, in part because most of those opposed to the reforms supported the monarchy which was weak at the time. The four deposed bishops quietly returned to Athens a few months later.

Those opposed to the new calendar became known as the Old Calendarists, or the Church of True Orthodox Christians of Greece. In the early years they were led by Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Florina. Soon the community was plagued by divisions, usually over the question of the validity of the sacraments of the Orthodox Church of Greece. A small, ultra-conservative group known as the “Matthewites” (led by Bishop Matthew of Bresthena), insisted that there was no such grace in the sacraments of the official church.

After the death of Chrysostomos of Florina in 1955, the mainline Old Calendarists were left without bishops. But in 1960 new bishops were consecrated for them by bishops belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. In 1963 Bishop Auxentios Pastras of Gardikion was elected primate with the title of Archbishop of Athens. Beginning in the 1970s Auxentios’ synod disintegrated into several groups, some of them very small.

The largest of these groups today is the Church of Genuine Orthodox Christians of Greece, headed by Archbishop Chrysostomos II of Athens. It now has ten bishops, and considers the Church of Greece and the other mainstream Orthodox churches to have apostasized. This church maintains a website at http://www.ecclesiagoc.gr/



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