Phanar-Vatican unification is taking shape

21 November 2022 19:00
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Phanariots and Catholics intend to establish a common day for celebrating Pascha in the near future. Photo: UOJ Phanariots and Catholics intend to establish a common day for celebrating Pascha in the near future. Photo: UOJ

Patriarch Bartholomew's intention to set a common date for the Pascha celebration with the RCC opens up a new phase of unification. Why the Orthodox must not agree to this.

Patriarch Bartholomew told reporters on 10 November 2022 about the intention to set a common date with the Catholic Church to celebrate Pascha (Easter). The Phanar head spoke of common efforts with Pope Francis to celebrate the 1700th anniversary of the First Ecumenical Council, held in Nicaea in 325, recalling that among the Council's decisions was setting the date for the Pascha celebration.

"Unfortunately, for many years we no longer celebrate it together, for many centuries. Therefore, within the framework of this anniversary, the subject of our joint efforts with the Pope is to find a solution to this issue. It may not be time to talk about any details yet, but I’d like to emphasize that there is this good intention from the Orthodox and Catholic sides to finally set a common date for the celebration of Christ's Resurrection," said Patriarch Bartholomew.

In other words, we are facing the first parameter of the Phanar-Vatican unification, which (unification) Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew have been talking about for years: the celebration of Pascha on the same day.

Why the 1700th Anniversary of the First Ecumenical Council is so convenient for unification

On the pages of the UOJ, the idea has repeatedly been advocated that the anniversary of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea is the best opportunity to launch the project of unification of Orthodoxy and Catholicism. The fact is that this Council did not resolve the question of the procession of the Holy Spirit at all, and it is precisely this disagreement that is one of the main stumbling blocks that divided the Orthodox and the Latins.

The Orthodox may believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, the Catholics – from the Father and the Son, but both would be formally (again, formally) consistent with Nicene theology. The second of the major issues that have divided Orthodoxy and Catholicism is the question of the primacy of the Pope, his supremacy over the whole Church. There is also a nuance here. During the Arian controversy, when theological disputes about the begetting or non-begetting of the Son of God raged in the East, the West (and especially the Pope) were alien to these disputes and firmly adhered to Orthodox teaching. The opponents of Arius appealed to the Roman bishops, wrote letters to them and asked for protection of the true faith.

Even the First Ecumenical Council, which Emperor Constantine had originally planned to hold in Ancyra of Galatia, was moved to Nicaea "because of the arrival of bishops from Italy and other places in Europe". This shows how much the opinion of the Roman Church was valued at the time. If this situation is extrapolated to today's times, then the Pope will play a leading role at the upcoming 1700th Jubilee celebration in the absence of the Roman emperor, and that too will be in harmony with the Council of Nicaea itself.

The third question to consider was the date of Pascha celebration. The point is that in the extant decrees of the Council of Nicaea there is no solution to this problem. That it was at the First Ecumenical Council that this problem was solved and an appropriate decision was made, we know from other, later sources, referring to this Council.

The text of the decree is as follows: "When the question relative to the sacred feast of Pascha arose, it was universally thought that it would be convenient that all should keep the feast on one day... It was declared to be particularly unworthy for this, the holiest of all feasts, to follow the custom [the calculation] of the Jews."

As is easy to see, the text of this resolution requires that Pascha be celebrated by all Christians on the same day, but it does not specify which day. Moreover, it does not even include the criteria by which this day is to be determined. This circumstance is also extremely convenient for the Vatican-Phanar unification project: they seem to declare the fulfillment of the requirement of the First Ecumenical Council to celebrate Pascha on the same day, but they can define this day as they see fit.

In order to understand how legitimate this is and how important for the consciousness of the faithful the date of Pascha itself (or better said, Paschalion, or the Orthodox Paschal Calculator), we need to briefly describe the essence of the matter.

The Paschalion issue

There has been disagreement in the Church since apostolic times about when Pascha is to be celebrated. Gradually two main traditions emerged:

  • Minor-Asiatic, according to which Pascha was celebrated on the 14th day of the month of Nisan (roughly corresponding to March-April in the Gregorian calendar), regardless of which day of the week the feast fell on;
  • Western, which considered Pascha to fall on the first Sunday after the Jewish Passover, calculating its date as the full moon after the vernal equinox.

Prominent ecclesiastics of the time attempted to agree on a single day to celebrate Pascha. In 155, for example, the martyr Polycarp of Smyrna negotiated with the Roman bishop Anicetus, but to no avail. A few decades later, Pope Victor began to demand that the Churches in Asia Minor abandon their tradition and adopt the Western tradition. Otherwise, he threatened to break the eucharistic communion with them. In 325, the Council of Nicaea required everyone to celebrate Pascha on the same day but did not formally define the day itself. The formula now in use appears later in written sources.

Matthew Blastares writes in his “Syntagma Alphabeticum”: "Regarding our Pascha, we must pay attention to four injunctions, two of which are found in the Apostolic Canon and two derive from unwritten tradition. First, we must celebrate Pascha after the vernal equinox; second, we must not celebrate it with the Jews on the same day; third, not just after the equinox, but after the first full moon that occurs after the equinox; and fourth, after the full moon no other way than the first day of the week". As we see, here Blastares refers the formula for calculating the Paschal date to an oral tradition.

It seems to have been decided or accepted by default at the Council of Nicea that the bishop of Alexandria should calculate each year on what day of the current year Pascha should be celebrated and announce it to all the Churches at a certain time. Over time, these epistles were replaced by a special canon, the Computus (Paschalion), in which the day of Easter was calculated several years in advance. The first Paschal tables were compiled in 388 by Timothy of Alexandria. Cyril of Alexandria then issued a new Paschalion for 95 years and so on.

The Local Council of Antioch in 341 adopted a rather strict rule against those who disagree with the celebration of Pascha according to the decision of the Council of Nicaea: "All those who dare to violate the decree of the holy and great Council of Nicaea <...> concerning the holy feast of the salvific Pascha, let them be excommunicated and excluded from the Church if they continue to rebel against the kind order".

After such a strict definition, it remains for us to find out who adheres to the Paschal date of Alexandria, approved, in fact, by the Council of Nicaea, – the Catholics or the Orthodox.

There have been moments in history when the Church of Rome, because of the lack of constant communication with the Church of Alexandria, had to calculate the Paschal date itself. Because of this, it happened that in Rome Easter was celebrated on different days. But on the whole, one could say that the Paschal Calendar of Alexandria was used all over the Christian world until the end of the 16th century when Pope Gregory XIII introduced a new paschal calendar, followed by the Gregorian calendar.

The reason for the reform was that the calendar year under the Julian calendar did not coincide with the astronomical year. The astronomical year, also known as the tropical year, is now 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 45.19 seconds, the value that changes over time, albeit very slowly. In 325 A.D., when the Council of Nicaea made its decision, the vernal equinox fell on 21 March, while in the sixteenth century it was 10 days earlier. The calendar reform was meant to correct the Paschal Calendar. In fact, it only caused confusion, which, by the way, was and still is acknowledged by many Western scholars and theologians. For example, in some years, Peter’s Lent disappears from the annual circle of liturgical life altogether. But the most important problem with the Gregorian Paschal date is that Catholics began to celebrate Easter often before the Jewish Passover, or even on the same day, which the Orthodox Churches were so strongly against, both before and after the First Ecumenical Council.

When in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII approached Patriarch Jeremias of Constantinople with a proposal to adopt the Gregorian Paschalion together, the latter convened a Council, later called the Great Council of Constantinople (1583), which made a very sharp decision: "That whosoever does not follow the customs of the Church as the Seven Holy Ecumenical Councils decreed, and the Menologion which they well decreed that we should follow, but in opposition to all this wishes to follow the new Paschalion and Menologion of the atheist astronomers of the Pope, and wishes to overturn and destroy the dogmas and customs of the Church which have been handed down by the Fathers, let him be anathema and outside the Church of Christ and the assembly of the faithful….”

In order not to fall under this anathema (as well as for other reasons), some Local Orthodox Churches have switched to the so-called New Julian calendar, which will fully coincide with the Gregorian calendar for several more centuries. Thus, these Churches celebrate all the non-transitory Church Feasts together with the Catholics. However, the Paschalalion in all such Churches has remained traditional Alexandrian, based on the Julian Calendar. The Latins, on the other hand, changed the Paschal dating, falling under the anathema of the Council of Antioch, not to mention the Council of Constantinople of 1583.

Suspicious synchronicity

Both on the pages of the UOJ and other resources it has been suggested that the running-in of the Phanar-Vatican unification will take place in Ukraine on the example of the UGCC and the OCU. The Uniates are an integral part of the Catholic Church, while the OCU is subordinate to the Phanar in matters described as "important" according to the 2019 Tomos.

Back in December 2020, the head of the UGCC, Sviatoslav Shevchuk, said that his religious structure wanted to switch to the new calendar together with the "Orthodox brothers" of the OCU. At the same time, he made no secret of the ecumenical aspect of this action. "Ukraine has its own special context, in particular ecumenical, traditional, there are certain historical moments that are still subconsciously in our hearts somewhere, and it requires not a single person but a nationwide inter-church, ecumenical discussion and movement," Shevchuk said then.

And now the subject of synchronous transition to the Gregorian calendar is actively thrown into the information space. In mid-October 2022, the OCU "synod" announced a "test" celebration of Christmas on December 25 "in order to study the real church need to implement calendar changes in the near future.” And the UGCC made a similar statement about calendar reform in the Polish Metropolis of the UGCC.

On October 20, 2022, "Archbishop" Nestor of Ternopil and Kremenets (UGCC), stated that the desire of the faithful is enough to celebrate Christmas according to the Gregorian calendar, i.e. on December 25, "further decisions are not needed”. That is, if the parishioners want, they can celebrate Christmas on December 25, and then ... celebrate it again on January 7, as on this day Christmas will be celebrated in all parishes of the OCU, regardless of whether there was a service on December 25.

And in November, many OCU and the UGCC parishes already announced not only the celebration of Christmas according to the Gregorian calendar but also the complete transition to the new style. Among them is the "priest" from Mamaivtsi, Ivan Chokalyuk, who is said to be the native uncle of the head of the OCU. All this indicates that the process of switching to the New Julian (or Gregorian) calendar is top-down. So far, unofficially. But there is no doubt that as soon as some of the parishes start live according to the new style, the full transition of these confessions will be announced.

Against the background of such events, Patriarch Bartholomew declares that they are talking about the synchronization of the Pascha celebration. Can this be called a coincidence?

Conclusions

Firstly, judging by the tone and the letter of Patriarch Bartholomew's statement about his intention to synchronize the celebration of Pascha with the Catholics, he is positioning himself as a representative of the entire Orthodoxy. He is not talking about his Constantinople Church, but about Orthodoxy in general, calling it "the Orthodox side". This is a promotion of the Phanar's "first without equals" ideology, according to which the Patriarch of Constantinople is the head of the Orthodox world. This ideology, of course, contradicts the Orthodox understanding of what the Church is and Who is its true head. But Patriarch Bartholomew ignores this fact and seeks to involve the whole Orthodox world in the project of unification with the Catholics. And now comes the time when it depends on each Local Church, and by and large on each Orthodox Christian, whether Orthodoxy will be involved in this project or not.

Secondly, before our eyes, the project of unification is entering its decisive phase, being specified. The first outline has already been made – this is the synchronization of the Pascha celebration. The others are expected to follow.

Thirdly, it can be assumed that the Vatican may well return to the Alexandrian Paschalion in this matter, presenting it as a concession to the Phanar. The practice of some Local Orthodox Churches of using the New Julian (and in fact Gregorian) calendar in conjunction with the Alexandrian Paschal Calendar has proven that this is quite possible. All the more so since Rome used this Paschalion until the sixteenth century. However, for this alleged concession the Vatican can demand a concession from the Phanar in the so-called primacy issue, i.e. demanding that the Roman pontiff be given primacy in the future unification. In this case, the second most important disagreement, the Catholic doctrine of the filioque, can be put aside altogether, i.e. it can be accepted that both Orthodox and Catholics can be united on the existing controversy on this issue. This, of course, clearly goes against the Church's traditional view of what is heresy and how it should be dealt with.

However, perhaps the Vatican will have the strength to force the Phanar to accept its Catholic Paschalion.

Fourthly, there is every reason to believe that the synchronous statements of the OCU and the UGCC about the transition to the Gregorian/New Julian calendar do not appear by themselves, but as part of more global unification processes taking place at the Phanar-Vatican level.

What does all this mean for the UOC?

For the UOC these processes, on the one hand, look threatening. If the UOC and the UGCC switch to a new style, there will be a new argument for persecution in society. The calendar issue will be added to the question of language and general "non-patriotism". The Julian calendar will be declared the "Moscow calendar", and those who adhere to it will be called Muscovites and traitors who do not want to celebrate feasts "with the entire civilized world”. But on the other hand, while the Phanar and the Vatican (and their satellites) are shaping unification, faithfulness to the Julian calendar and the traditional Alexandrian Paschalion will be another feature that identifies the UOC as the Orthodox Church (as opposed to other Ukrainian religious organizations).

Today the UOC is under pressure from various sides to unite with the OCU, presenting it as the unification of Ukrainian Orthodoxy. And for many non-church people, such a vision seems quite logical, especially in the context of the war with the Russian Federation. But there are now increasing signs that a new global RCC-Phanar union may emerge in the next few years. It will be presented as an unprecedented success of Christian unity. But in reality, it will be a takeover of some Orthodox Christians by Catholics. And it looks like 2025 will be the marker year in this process.

Yes, the Church calendar and even the Paschalion of Alexandria do not refer to the Church’s dogmas, but in today's religious landscape loyalty to them may prove to be a sign of faithfulness to Orthodoxy as such.

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