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/
The second largest group, led by Metropolitan Cyprian, is known as the Holy Synod in Resistance, also with ten bishops. It does not consider itself to be schismatic from the rest of Orthodoxy and will share the sacraments with the other Orthodox faithful, but considers the adoption of the Gregorian calendar by the Church of Greece to have been a grave error. The church’s official website can be found at http://www.synodinresistance.org/
Today the Matthewites have about 40 priests in Greece and a strong monastic tradition centered on the convent of the Entrance of the Theotokos at Keratea (300 nuns) and Transfiguration Monastery (60 monks). Their several tens of thousands of faithful firmly believe that they are the only Orthodox left in the world. The current head is Archbishop Nicholas of Athens, elected in 2003. The Matthewites in the United States have a website at http://www.orthodox-christianity.net/
In spite of these divisions, the Greek Old Calendarists think of themselves as a single movement. Although they were actively persecuted in Greece, especially during the 1950s, today they are allowed to function with greater freedom. It has been estimated that there are between 500,000 and 800,000 Old Calendarists in Greece, served by over 200 priests in about 120 parishes, including 38 in the Athens area alone, where there are also almost 100 Old Calendar monastic communities. Their churches are recognizable by the absence of electric lighting and pews, and certain practices including traditional Byzantine chant and frequent all-night vigils.
In North America, the Holy Orthodox Church in North America belongs to a small synod that was once headed by Archbishop Auxentios, centered on Holy Transfiguration monastery in Brookline, Massachusetts. It has 22 parishes in the United States, seven in Canada and one in the Bahamas. The presiding hierarch is Metropolitan Ephraim of Boston (1476 Center Street, Roslindale, Massachusetts 02131-1417). Twelve parishes in the United States and two in Canada are linked to the synod of Archbishop Chrysostomos II through Metropolitan Pavlos (22-68 26th Street, Astoria, New York 11105). Nine parishes associated with Metropolitan Cyprian’s Holy Synod in Resistance, including the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies in Etna, California, are under the jurisdiction of Archbishop Chrysostomos (St. Gregory Palamas Monastery, PO Box 398, Etna, California 96027). The Matthewites have eight parishes in the US and two in Canada under the direction of Bishop Chrysostomos (8906 Hazelton, Redford, Michigan 48239).
In May 1998 St. Irene Chrysovalantou monastery, an important Old Calendar center of the synod of Archbishop Chrysostomos in Astoria, Queens, New York, was received by the Ecumenical Patriarchate as a stavropegial monastery along with two other monasteries and six parishes associated with it. Its two founders were re-consecrated bishops at the Ecumenical Patriarchate and were given the titles Metropolitan Paisios of Tyana and Bishop Vikentios of Apameia. The monastery and its dependencies continue to use the Julian calendar.
A parallel Old Calendar movement sprang up in Romania after Patriarch Miron Cristea introduced the Gregorian calendar in 1924. Opposition centered around the abbot of Pokrov Skete in Moldavia, Hieromonk Glicherie. By 1936 he had built 40 churches, most of them in Moldavia. The Romanian government took strong measures against the movement so that by the eve of World War II, all the Old Calendar churches had been closed. But after the war Glicherie resumed his efforts and by 1950 nearly all these churches had been reopened.
The communists allowed the movement to continue, although they subjected it to periodic persecutions. In 1955 a retired Romanian Orthodox bishop, Metropolitan Galaction Cordun, joined the Old Calendarists and began ordaining priests for them. He also ordained three new bishops in 1956, including Glicherie, thus establishing a continuing hierarchy. Metropolitan Glicherie died in 1985 and was canonized by his church in June 1999. The community has not experienced the divisions that have troubled the Old Calendar Church in Greece.
Today the Old Calendar Orthodox Church of Romania declares 500,000 registered members, although the 2002 census found only 38,147 believers. In 2003 there were a total of six bishops, 160 priests, 26 deacons, 290 monks, 510 nuns and 130 parishes in the country. Alongside the seven monasteries they had at the end of communism in 1989, 42 new sketes and monastic communities have been founded. The first hierarch, Metropolitan Vlasie (elected 1992), resides at Holy Transfiguration Monastery at Slatioara, the spiritual and administrative center of the church. The church maintains an official website at http://www.mitropoliaslatioara.ro/
An Old Calendar Orthodox Church also exists in Bulgaria, where the Patriarchate adopted the new calendar in 1968. The Bulgarian Old Calendarists are headed by Bishop Photius of Triaditsa (born 1956, consecrated 1993), and have become a rather vibrant community after the fall of communism. In 2006 there were 20 priests, three deacons, 16 parishes, 20 churches and chapels, and six churches under construction. There was also a convent with 65 nuns and a monastery with four monks. The church’s administrative center is in Sofia.
The Old Calendar Orthodox churches of Romania and Bulgaria, along with Metropolitan Cyprian’s Holy Synod in Resistance were long in full communion with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. But this relationship ended with the establishment of full communion between the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia and the Moscow Patriarchate in May 2007.