So Many Calendars, So Little Time
With different ‘old-calendar’ and ‘new-calendar’ dates for Nativity, an early Lent, Easter candy at the supermarket already, and a new iPhone that I can’t seem to synch with my Outlook calendar, I have to admit I have calendar vertigo. It started when I attended a festive party on December 26th and listened to a certain lawyer, a young priest and a smart seminary graduate debate the Old Julian and New Gregorian Ecclesial calendars regarding the date of the Nativity Feast. Honestly, it was confusing: Why is it that we Antiochians just celebrated Christmas on the 25th with the Western Catholic church and our American Protestant culture, but the Russian church downtown is still fasting? For the sake of unity can’t we be on one calendar? If unity is what you want, we should switch to the Old Julian Calendar because North American Orthodoxy is the minority compared to worldwide Orthodoxy. Does it really matter if one calendar is 13 days off five hundred years from now? On and on the conversation went with a spirit of love, fun and debate, but no real resolution.
Soon we talked of other things, but I left that night thinking about calendars and the rhythms they create in our lives. When one takes a moment to reflect on the rhythm of our days, weeks, months and years, one starts to realize that the calendar one lives by, or, more accurately, the many calendars one lives by, give a rhythm to your life. Calendars are intertwined with one’s personal walk with Christ and certainly are crucial to one’s own theosis. I looked around and noticed the many calendars that influence the rhythm of my own life.
Our house has one of those calendar eraser boards where you can fill in the activities of the family. Next to it there is another calendar on which we write stuff for my eleven- year-old son’s schedule – full of musicals, recitals, chant lessons, play dates with friends and much more. An average young Tween calendar, I am sure. Around the corner in my office I have the dates of all the school calendar events for the other two kids: Spring breaks, Teacher In-Service days, picture dates and retakes. Oh, look, my wife is traveling out of town this month for work and it’s taped to the computer monitor so I can put it in my Google calendar. On the fridge we have the monthly calendar from our parish with the services and meetings for the month. To my shame, I know in the car there is the calendar with the Icon on the top and the tear off ecclesiastical calendar sheets with the saints and fasting rules that Teen SOYO gives out every year. Wait, that’s not all. There are more calendars I live by. My computer has the NFL playoff schedule, our family budget calendar shows when bills are due, there is the schedule of virus protection updates, the e-mails of daily scripture readings, and now tax season has started. So many calendars, so little time.
Sometimes I think it would be easier if I were a nineteenth-century Russian peasant on a farm near a small village and a church, or a simple shop-keeper in Byzantium’s Golden Age listening to St. John Chrysostom’s sermons. Those options, however, are not available to an indigenous North American convert to Orthodoxy enmeshed in a secular, modern western culture. This culture makes many attacks on my faith, directed at where I spend my time, what I watch on TV, what I buy and, really, all my life-priorities. Our Priest warns every month or so of these secular attacks as he exhorts us to come on time to liturgy and even attend a weekday service of some feast that never seems to fit into my schedule. I want to say, “Father, don’t you know how busy my life is? Look at all the calendars and schedules I have to attend to.” I know when I start thinking this way that I have lost the battle and secularism has gouged its ugly hooks into my soul again.
The great struggle for the indigenous North American Orthodox Christian is not how to fit all the ecclesiastical feasts and fasts into this beautiful American life, or even to solve the Old and New Calendar debates, because we cannot. No, the main struggle rests in us answering the question of which calendar events have priority over others. I must choose to wake up Sunday morning and show my children that being on time to the miracle of the Liturgy where angels are present is more important than forty extra minutes of sleeping. I must order a salad at the next Wednesday business lunch because I should fast on the day Judas, with his all too familiar sinful, ambitious heart, betrayed the Lord. Or to bring my children to the Teen SOYO event instead of dropping them off at the movie theater. An earnest Orthodox person must make the hard choices of ‘Church life’ over ‘school life’ or ‘work life.’
We must all remember there is only one life and we have been bought by Christ’s blood and the Father’s love. God redeemed us to live a new life with Him at the center. We must give the ecclesiastical calendar and the Life of the Orthodox Church, which is the Life of God here on earth, the priority over the other calendars claiming our time. The Lord once said to Martha, a woman who had many tasks and, as a Jewish woman in a Roman culture, was definitely mindful of many calendars, that “only one thing is needful.” The one thing that was needful was to sit at the feet of the Lord and be in His presence. To let the “things of God” be ever-present in our calendars: Yes, this is a great struggle for the North American Orthodox person with all the technology that is supposed to help us manage our time better. I am sure it was hard in old Russia and Byzantium for Christians in many ways, but the battle over which calendar gets priority is a serious struggle for us here in modern America. I am not talking about the Julian vs. Gregorian calendar debates anymore. No, I am suggesting that the Ecclesial calendar is the calendar that should hold the top priority and give a rhythm to our modern lives, a rhythm that is in time with the Life of God and His priorities, and helps us with the spiritual struggle of theosis as we battle the modern secular influence on our lives. Since we can’t go back in time or live in another culture, maybe someone could write an iPhone app to help us all out.
God have mercy on us all as we try to remember “only one thing is needful” in the upcoming new year, even though the Ecclesial New Year starts September 1st.
R. Leo Olson
Member of St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church
Grand Rapids, Michigan