The New York Times - Monday, May 4, 1998

One Calendar or Another, Greek Orthodox Heal Rift

Orthodox groups settle a 27-year-old dispute about counting days


Amid the airs of a brass band, the pealing of church bells, sonorous Byzantine incantations, and the jubilant cries of a thousand faithful, a 27-year-old rift that separated 30,000 Greek Orthodox from their 1.5 million brethren in the United States was healed over a couple of hours on Sunday in a corner of Astoria, Queens.

The dispute was over a 13-day lag -- the difference between the Gregorian calendar, the one used throughout the Western world and by the Greek Orthodox Church, and the old Julian calendar, to which a smaller movement of Orthodox traditionalists adheres.

But it meant far more than simply which day one celebrates Christmas. The so-called New Calendrists rolled their eyes at Old Calendrists they saw as behind the times; Old Calendrists scoffed at New Calendrists for having lost touch with their roots. The rift made for difficult engagements, questioned loyalties, flaring tempers. Priests from one group could not visit a church of the other.

The reconciliation, approved by the Synod in Istanbul on April 7, was simple. Neither group had to give up its method of counting the days. The Old Calendrist clergy were reordained last month. The sacraments that they had celebrated, the countless weddings and baptisms, were deemed retroactively proper.

St. Irene Chrysovalantou, the headquarters of the Old Calendrist church in the United States, was named a patriarchal monastery, reporting directly to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the leader of the world's 300 million Eastern Orthodox. Archbishop Paisios Loulourgas, one of two founders of St. Irene, was named Abbot of the monastery.

Bishop Vikentios of Avlon, St. Irene's other founder, said that he felt he had been brainwashed growing up in Greece under Old Calendrist bishops. He said that in recent years, he had become convinced "that we were on the wrong way. I feel sorry for my past work."

For remaining outside the Greek Orthodox Church, he hastened to add -- not for sticking to the Old Calendar.

He said that his reordainment in Istanbul last month had been a spiritual rebirth. "It's a resurrection for us," he said.

Sunday, May 3rd, was for celebrating the reunion. Hundreds of parishioners and priests from as far away as Chicago and Florida, and from as near as Bay Ridge and the Bronx, crowded the street outside St. Irene Chrysovalantou, at 23d Avenue near 36th Street, in the shadow of a railroad trestle. Four flags, the insignia of the new Patriarchal Monastery, flew on new flagpoles. A 14-piece brass band played "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Archbishop Spyridon, the leader of America's Greek Orthodox Christians, arrived at 5 P.M.

Helen Drivas, 10, dressed in the traditional amalia of her mother's native Sparta -- long-tasseled cap, embroidered red vest, blue satin skirt and white sash -- and Kostas Gavrielatos, 8, waited with bouquets of flowers.

"Today, we're doing away with an ecclesiastical schism," the Archbishop announced. "We can all be very proud."

Soon after, inside the tiny cathedral, which seats 250 comfortably, about 500 men and women looked on as Archbishop Spyridon solemnly stepped to the ornately carved, red-carpeted throne.

As he sat down, the congregants burst into applause, and a cry went up: "Axios!" Worthy!

[ EKKLISIA |  -  May 4, 1998 ]