Catholics and Orthodox Christians can Have
One Christmas

(RIA NOVOSTI by Anatoly Korolev Political Analyst)

The recent Orthodox Epiphany celebrations in Russia, meant to console religious people’s hearts, once again left them with a sense of bitterness, as the schism between Catholicism and Orthodoxy was there for all to see. Once again, Russians had to rejoice in isolation, because the rest of the world celebrates Epiphany on a different day.

The same holds true for other Church holidays. For example, Europe celebrates Christmas on December 25, while Russia on January 7. Unfortunately, Russian Orthodox Christians have to rejoice and mourn independently from other Christians in the world. This daily reality of the schism, reflected even in dates, naturally depresses any reflecting Christian, whether he or she belongs to the Russian Orthodox or Roman Catholic Church.

Incidentally, these centuries of accumulated discrepancies could be solved today. A change in the Church calendar is on the agenda of the upcoming Pan-Orthodox Council, where heads of the Orthodox Churches will discuss the issue. Unfortunately, the decision is likely to be adjourned until some indefinite date once again. The Russian Orthodox Church, so conservative in spirit, so rigid in norms and dogma, will hardly agree to change its calendar for a cordial reunion with Catholicism. The Vatican, which shows flexibility more often, will hardly choose to follow Russian ways either.

Of course, the parties could meet each other halfway. How can this be done? Is it not possible to fix some date in between their holy days that would suit both sides? In reality, the situation is not as funny as it might seem.

If one viewed the problem from a rational perspective, trustful dialogue between a Catholic (or Protestant) and an Orthodox Christian, geared toward compromise and mutual understanding, would not be a great leap of the imagination.

Catholic: The Roman calendar of Christian holy days is based on an astronomical data and a scientific approach. Take Christmas, for instance. When was Jesus Christ actually born? A thorough study of the issue, a profound analysis of historic chronicles, and centuries-long observations of stars’ and planetary movement, eventually led the Catholic world to the correct date and place – December 25, Bethlehem. For Orthodoxy, however, the date is more a result of tradition, an echo of some Byzantine and Greek beliefs. It should at least be acknowledged that it is conventional, not scientific. January 7 is purely a convention, as it appeared after the secular calendar was adopted. According to the Gregorian calendar, Christmas falls on January 7, which is not the case with the Julian calendar. It is simply a strange consequence of Peter the Great’s calendar reform.

Orthodox: Right you are. It would obviously be better for all Christians to celebrate Christmas and Easter on the same day, so that the light of faith would glow brighter. It is just as clear that the issue cannot be solved today. The exact date and hour of the Saviour’s birth is only known to God, while the Bible mentions neither December 25, nor January 7. Both dates are an invention. If Orthodox Christians and Catholics recognised this simple fact, if they ceased to insist on the scientific correctness or sanctity of their dates alone, a compromise could be reached. For example, why cannot both Catholics and Orthodox Christians agree to choose January 1 as Jesus Christ’s birthday? Why not unite the Saviour’s birth with the New Year’s Day, celebrated by all humankind? If the Vatican put forth such an initiative, it could prod Russian Orthodox Church patriarchs to change.

Catholic: Well, this idea could at least be discussed. It is clear that after fixing both Christmas holidays on New Year’s Day, Catholics and Orthodox Christians would for the first time celebrate Epiphany on the same day, and then Easter, the basis for the whole Christian liturgical cycle. However, it might take decades to agree on this.

Orthodox: There is one more factor that both Moscow and the Vatican must take into account: we no longer have centuries for reflection. The era of long discussions is over. The booming development of Islam, the popularity of Buddhism with young people in every country, a simultaneous growth of atheism in its most vulgar forms, and multiplying sects – all of these have long threatened the Christian world. Seeing this aggression, we can no longer pretend the Christian vessel is still afloat, undamaged, and will never share The Titanic’s fate