Catholics and Orthodox Christians can Have
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
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