The Revised Julian calendar or, less formally, New Calendar, is a calendar, originated in 1923, which effectively discontinued the 340 years of divergence between the naming of dates sanctioned by those Eastern Orthodox churches adopting it and the Gregorian calendar that has come to predominate worldwide. In 2800 the two calendars will diverge again, though more slowly than the Julian and Gregorian do.
The term "Revised Julian" is informative primarily in describing the fact that it replaces the de facto Orthodox endorsement of the Julian calendar, and has the effect of avoiding any implicit recognition of Pope Gregory XIII's promulgation of a system with the same goals and general approach in the Gregorian reform of 1582.
The Revised Julian calendar was proposed for adoption by the Orthodox churches at a synod in Constantinople in May 1923. The synod synchronized the new calendar with the Gregorian calendar by specifying that the next 1 October of the Julian calendar would be 14 October in the Revised Julian calendar, thus dropping thirteen days. It then adopted a leap year rule that differs from that of the Gregorian calendar: Years evenly divisible by four are leap years, except that years evenly divisible by 100 are not leap years, unless they leave a remainder of 200 or 600 when divided by 900, then they are leap years. This means that the two calendars will first differ in 2800, which will be a leap year in the Gregorian calendar, but a common year in the Revised Julian calendar. This leap year rule was proposed by the Serbian scientist Milutin Milanković, an astronomical delegate to the synod representing the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.
Milanković selected this rule, which produces an average year length of 365.242222... days, because it was within two seconds of the then current length of the mean tropical year. However, the current vernal equinox year is slightly longer, about half-way between the two lengths, so for a few thousand years the Revised Julian calendar will do a marginally worse job than the Gregorian calendar at keeping the vernal equinox on 21 March; it will be on 22 March more often than the Gregorian calendar will put it on 20 March. However the Revised Julian calendar is more accurate regarding the length of the mean tropical year when compared to Gregorian calendar. But the length of a day is increasing by about 1.7 milliseconds per century (see tidal acceleration), so the number of days per year decreases by about 0.0001 each millennium. This means that in the long run, the Revised Julian calendar will also be inaccurate even if the mean tropical year is the basis.
The synod also proposed the adoption of an astronomical rule for Easter: Easter was to be the Sunday after the midnight-to-midnight day at the meridian of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (35°13'47.2"E or UT+2h20m55s for the small dome) during which the first full moon after the vernal equinox occurs. Although the instant of the full moon must occur after the instant of the vernal equinox, it may occur on the same day. If the full moon occurs on a Sunday, Easter is the following Sunday. However, all Eastern Orthodox churches rejected this rule and continue to use the Julian calendar to determine the date of Easter (except for the Finnish Orthodox Church, which now uses the Gregorian Easter).
The Revised Julian calendar has been adopted by the Orthodox churches of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Greece, Cyprus, Romania, Poland, and Bulgaria (the last in 1963), called the New calendarists. It has not been adopted by the Orthodox churches of Jerusalem, Russia, Serbia (including later on the resurrected, though uncanonical Macedonian Orthodox Church), Georgia, and the Greek Old Calendarists. Although Milanković stated that the Russian Orthodox Church adopted the Revised Julian calendar in 1923, the present church continues to use the Julian calendar for both its fixed festivals and for Easter. A solution to this conundrum is to hypothesize that it was accepted only by the short-lived schismatic Renovationist Church, which had seized church buildings with the support of the Soviet government while Patriarch Tikhon was under house arrest. After his release, on 15 July 1923, he declared that all Renovationist decrees were without grace, presumably including its acceptance of the Revised Julian calendar.
While the Revised Julian calendar has been adopted by many of the smaller national churches, a majority of Orthodox Christians continue to adhere to the traditional Julian Calendar, and there has been much acrimony between the two parties over the decades since the change, leading sometimes even to violence, especially in Greece.
Critics see the change in calendar as an unwarranted innovation, influenced by Western society. They say that no sound theological reason has been given for changing the calendar, that the only reasons advanced are social.
The argument is also made that since the use of the Julian Calendar was implicit in the decision of the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea (325) which standardized the calculation of the date of Pascha (Easter), no authority less than an Ecumenical Council may change it. The adoption of a new calendar has broken the unity of the church, undoing the whole purpose of the council of Nicea, so once again, "on the same day some should be fasting whilst others are seated at a banquet."
Liturgical objections to the New Calendar stem from the fact that it adjusts only those liturgical celebrations that occur on fixed calendar dates, leaving all of the commemorations on the moveable cycle on the original Julian Calendar. This upsets the harmony and balance of the liturgical year. This disruption is most noticeable during Great Lent. Certain feast days are designed to fall during Lent, such as the feast of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. The Feast of the Annunciation is also intended to fall either before Pascha or during Bright Week. Sometimes, Annunciation will fall on the day of Pascha itself, a very special concurrence known as Kyrio-Pascha, with special liturgical practices appointed for such an occurrence. However, under the Revised Julian calendar, Kyrio-Pascha becomes an impossibility. The Apostles' Fast displays the most difficult aspect of the Revised Julian calendar. The fast begins on the moveable cycle and ends on the fixed date of 29 June; since the Revised Julian calendar is 13 days ahead of the traditional Julian calendar, the Apostles' Fast is 13 days shorter for those who follow the New Calendar, and some years it is completely abrogated. Furthermore, critics of the New Calendar point out the advantage to celebrating Nativity separately from the secular observances of Christmas and New Year, which are associated with partying and alcohol consumption.
Critics also point out that proponents of the New Calendar tend to use worldly rather than spiritual justification for changing the calendar: wanting to "party with everyone else" at Christmas; concern that the gradual shift in the Julian Calendar will somehow negatively affect the celebration of feasts that are linked to the seasons of the year. However, opponents counter that the seasons are reversed in the southern hemisphere, where the liturgical celebrations are no less valid. The validity of this argument is questionable, since the feasts of the Orthodox Church were not changed no matter where they were celebrated, and Orthodox services were held in the southern hemisphere with little issue centuries before the introduction of the Revised Julian Calendar.
Proponents also argue that the Revised Julian Calendar is somehow more "scientific", but opponents argue that science is not the primary concern of the Church; rather, the Church is concerned with other-worldliness, with being "in the world, but not of it", fixing the attention of the faithful on eternity. Scientifically speaking, neither the Gregorian Calendar nor the Revised Julian is absolutely precise. This is because the solar year cannot be evenly divided into 24 hour segments. So any public calendar is imprecise; it is simply an agreed-upon designation of days.
From a spiritual perspective, Old Calendarists also point to a number of miraculous occurrences which occur on the Old Calendar exclusively, such as the "descent of the cloud on the mount" on the feast of the Transfiguration. After the calendar change was instituted, the followers of the Old Calendar in Greece apparently witnessed the appearance of a cross in the sky, visible to thousands on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, 1925, of which eyewitness accounts were recorded.
For their part, supporters of the Revised Julian Calendar can point to what may well constitute a divine sanction of that calendar. An icon of the All-holy Theotokos, the Virgin Mary, located in Saint Nicholas Albanian Orthodox Church on the north-west side of Chicago, began weeping on the feast of St. Nicholas, which is the patronal feast day of the temple, according to the Revised Julian Calendar — namely, on 6 December 1986. Presumably, if God disapproved of the New Calendar, the Heavenly Queen would also disapprove, and presumably in that event her icon would not have started weeping on 6 December, but instead 13 days later, which would have been the patronal feast of the parish had the parish been observing the Julian Calendar.
Supporters of the Revised Julian Calendar can also point to certain pastoral problems that are resolved by its adoption.
(1) Parishes observing the Julian Calendar are faced with the problem that parishioners are supposed to continue fasting throughout western Christmas and New Year, seasons when their families and friends are likely to be feasting and celebrating New Year's, often with parties, use of liquor, etc. This situation presents obvious temptations, which are eliminated when the revised Julian Calendar is adopted. Opponents counter that these temptations were dealt with by confessors centuries before the introduction of the Revised Julian Calendar -- which is not in fact accurate, since the specific problem only arises in places where the civil authority has adopted the New Style calendar, a situation which results in civil New Year occurring during the Old Style Nativity Fast.
(2) Another pastoral problem is the tendency of some local American media to focus attention each year on the 7 January (N.S.) / 25 December (O.S.) celebration of Christmas, even in localities where most Orthodox parishes are following the Revised Julian Calendar. So too, in all likelihood, do certain non-Orthodox churches profit from the Orthodox remaining Old Style, since the 7 January observance of Christmas among the Orthodox tends to focus attention on ethnic identifications of the feast, rather than on its Christian, dogmatic significance; which, in turn, tends to foster the impression in the public mind that for the Orthodox, the feast of Christ's Nativity is centered on an ethnic identification, or even more, on the observance of the Julian date of the feast, which appears to many as a practice that is charming and quaint, but also anachronistic, unscientific and hence ultimately unreasonable and even cultish. Opponents counter that the change of the calendar, primarily in missionary lands, has in fact created this impression, and that Revised Julian Calendar jurisdictions still deal with the struggles of ethnocentricism; to link such problems to the calendar is a red herring.
(3) Some Orthodox themselves may unwittingly reinforce this impression by ignorance of their own faith and by a consequential exclusive, or excessive, focus on the calendar issue: it has been observed, anecdotally, that some Russians cannot cite any difference in belief or practice between their faith and the faith of western Christians, except for the 13-day calendar difference. Opponents counter that the New Calendar in many jurisdictions has done nothing for the improvement of Orthodox self-understanding; on the contrary, many Orthodox do not cite any difference of belief or practice with western Christians at all.
Against the Revised Julian calendar, the argument is made that inasmuch as the use of the Julian Calendar was implicit in the decision of the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea (325), no authority less than an Ecumenical Council may change this decision. However, it is significant that the "decision" was not really an explicit decision, or even a decision at all, but rather an implicit acceptance of the civil calendar of the time, which happened to be the Julian calendar (the explicit decision of Nicea being concerned, rather, with the date of Easter). By virtue of this, defenders of the New Calendar argue that no decision by an Ecumenical Council was or is necessary today in order to revise (not abandon) the Julian calendar; and further, that by making the revision, the Church stays with the spirit of Nicea I by keeping with the (reasonably accurate) civil calendar in all its essentials — while conversely, failure to keep with it could be seen as a departure from the spirit of Nicea I in this respect. Lastly, it is argued that since the adoption of the Revised Julian calendar evidently involves no change in or departure from the theological or the ethical teachings of Orthodox Christianity, but rather amounts to a merely disciplinary or administrative change — a clock correction of sorts — the authority to enact that change falls within the competency of contemporary, local episcopal authority. Implicit acceptance of this line of reasoning, or something very close to it, underlies the decision to adopt the New Calendar by those Orthodox Churches which have done so.
This argument leaves out of account both the undivided practice of the Church for 1,600 years and various sigillions, the most notable being the Sigillion of 1583, which declared no change was to be made in any part of the calendar, the penalty for such being anathema.
It follows that, in general, the defenders of the New Calendar hold the view that in localities where the Church's episcopal authority has elected to adopt the New Calendar, but where some have broken communion with those implementing this change, it is those who have broken communion who have in fact introduced the disunity, rather than the New Calendar itself or those who have adopted it — although most would agree that attempts at various times to mandate the use of the New Calendar through compulsion, have magnified the disunity.
To the objection that the New Calendar has created problems by adjusting only the fixed calendar, while leaving all of the commemorations on the moveable cycle on the original Julian Calendar, the obvious answer, of course, is that the 1923 Synod, which adopted the Revised Julian calendar, did in fact change the moveable calendar as well, and that calendar problems introduced as a result of the adoption of the (fixed) New Calendar alone, would not have existed had the corrections to the moveable calendar also been implemented. This was reversed due to the condemnation of the council of Nicea (see above).
According to the defenders of the New Calendar, the argument that the 25 December (N.S.) observance of Christmas is a purely secular observance and is therefore an unsuitable time for Orthodox Christians to celebrate Christ's Nativity, is plainly inaccurate, since the 25 December observances of Christ's birth among western Christians (and today, among many Orthodox Christians) obviously occur overwhelmingly in places of worship and involve hymns, prayers, scripture readings, religious dramas, liturgical concerts, and the like. Defenders of the New Calendar further note that, to the extent that 25 December is a secular observance in the western world, 7 January (i.e. 25 December O.S.) appears to be becoming one as well, in Orthodox countries that continue to follow the Old Calendar. In Russia, for example, 7 January is no longer a spiritual holiday for Orthodox Christians alone, but has now become a national (hence secular) holiday for all Russians, including non-Orthodox Christians, people of other religions, and nonbelievers. Where this will lead in the end remains to be seen. Opponents point out that in modern Russia the feast of the Nativity is eclipsed by the celebration of Novy God.
Among other arguments made by the defenders of the Revised Julian calendar for their view, are those made on the basis of truth (notwithstanding that the detractors of that calendar make the claim that the Old Style date, 7 January / 25 December, is the true celebration of Christ's Nativity). Arguments from truth can take two forms: (1) If a calendar is a system for reckoning time based on the motions of astronomical bodies — specifically the movements of the sun and moon, in the case of the church calendar — and if precision or accuracy is understood as one aspect of truth, then a calendar that is more accurate and precise with respect to the motions of those bodies must be regarded as truer than one which is less precise. In this regard, some of those who champion the Old Calendar as truth (rather than for pastoral reasons, as seems to be the case with the national Churches that adhere to it) may appear, to those following the New Calendar, as the defenders of a fiction. (2) Some defenders of the Revised Julian calendar argue that the celebration, in any way or form, of two feasts of Christ's Nativity within the same liturgical year is not possible, since according to the faith there is only one celebration of that feast in a given year. On this basis, they argue that those who prefer to observe a "secular" feast of the Nativity on 25 December and a "religious" one on 7 January, err in respect of the truth that there is but one feast of the Nativity each year.
- M. Milankovitch, "Das Ende des julianischen Kalenders und der neue Kalender der orientalischen Kirchen", Astronomische Nachrichten 220 (1924) 379–384.
- Miriam Nancy Shields, "The new calendar of the Eastern churches", Popular Astronomy 32 (1924) 407-411 (page 411). This is a translation of M. Milankovitch, "The end of the Julian calendar and the new calendar of the Eastern churches", Astronomische Nachrichten No. 5279 (1924).
- Eusebius, Vita Const., Lib. iii., 18–20. On the Keeping of Easter. Accessed 4 June 2007.
- Liturgical Havoc Wreaked by the "New Julian" Calendar by Hieromonk Cassian
- The Essence of the Church Calendar
- Paschalia—Notation of time by S. V. Bulgakov, Handbook for Church Servers, 2nd ed., 1274 pp. (Kharkov, 1900) pp. 635-6, explaining the liturgical differences between the Old Calendar and the New Calendar
- On the Question of the "Revised Julian Calendar" by Father George Lardas