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Among Orthodox believers the phrase ‘common Easter’ means Non-Orthodox renouncing their calendar errors and returning to celebrating the Orthodox Easter. Sadly, many use it in the opposite sense, i.e. the Orthodox Churches renouncing the canonical date of Easter in favour of a secular date, as already used by the Roman Catholic/ Protestant world, or else in favour of a fixed date for Easter put forward by secular experts. It is in this latter sense that the issue of a ‘common Easter’ has recently been raised once more, this time by a Greek MEP, Manolis Mavrommatis.

In a letter of 8 February 2006, this politician wrote: ‘The spring holiday (sic) of the European Parliament traditionally coincides with the Roman Catholic Easter. With that logic and for the benefit of all concerned, the same should be the case for the celebration of the Orthodox Easter. Of course, we will have to take into account the fact that the two celebrations sometimes coincide’. As the MEP emphasized in his letter, people from Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania and some other new EU member states in Eastern and Central Europe, do not have the opportunity to be with their families at Easter.

That a politician in the European Parliament has spoken thus comes as no surprise. More disturbingly, however, Patriarch Bartholomew, of the tiny Patriarchate of Constantinople, has since sent Mr Mavrommatis a letter, stating that he had discussed this matter with the Pope of Rome: ‘Pope Benedict XVI responded positively to the subject and when he returned to the Vatican City, he personally looked into the issue’. This news that the Pope of Rome is in favour of finding a common date for Easter is not new. I can recall the same thing being announced under another Pope in 1976. However, at that time, amid the overwhelming silence of the rest of the Orthodox world, the then Patriarch Dimitrios of Constantinople showed no interest in the concept, declaring that it was of interest ‘only to travel agents’.

What is new then is the attitude of Patriarch Bartholomew. Of course, if he personally wishes to adopt the Roman Catholic Easter, he can do so. At least one of his predecessors was a Uniat. If he adopts this new Easter, he will similarly be placing himself above the decisions of the First Oecumenical Council of the fourth century and under the anathema of the Orthodox Patriarchs of the sixteenth century. He will be ignored, followed by virtually no-one in the Orthodox world, least of all by those in his own Patriarchate on Mount Athos. In other words, he will be placing himself outside the Church in his own self-made, schismatic world.

He will at the same time be deepening the ever more numerous ‘Old Calendar’ schisms of the Greek Orthodox world, which have spilled over into Romania, Bulgaria and Russia. Such tiny groupings of ecclesiastical adventurers, careerists, fantasists and empire-builders have mushroomed over the last twenty years, especially in Western Europe and North America, where they obtain a ready audience among the naïve, the ill-informed and those who love absurd and extravagant titles. All of these little groups are out of communion with the canonical Orthodox Churches and with one another, all of them anathematizing one another and all of them claiming to be ‘moderate’ and balanced’ (!). Only on the weekend of 14/15 July 2007, one such group, composed of a few dozen Russian immigrants, met in New York to plan yet another schism of the same ilk, proclaiming the rest of the Orthodox Church to be ‘outside the Church!’ The schismatic provocations of Patriarch Bartholomew are fanatical grist to their sectarian mills.

This news contrasts strangely with that released on 11 July, when the Russian Orthodox Church reacted to the news that the Latinophile Pope Benedict XVI has officially declared that the Roman Catholic Church (sic) is ‘the only Church to have been founded by Christ’. Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad commented then that this statement was at least an honest expression of Roman Catholicism, and now any theological conversations would be able to go ahead without the myths of the moribund ecumenical movement with its clichéd ‘diplomacy’.

He added that the Orthodox Church has always thought exactly the opposite to Roman Catholicism, namely that only ‘the Orthodox Church is the legitimate successor and heir of the apostolic succession of the ancient, undivided Church’. It is good that a senior figure with authority among the Orthodox Churches can speak out in this way. He expresses the age-old viewpoint of the Orthodox Church and all ordinary Orthodox Christians, so inadequately expressed by unrepresentative ecclesiastical bureaucrats in Istanbul.

It is strange to contrast the two viewpoints - that of the Orthodox Churches, represented by Metropolitan Kyrill and the Orthodox, and the Uniat viewpoint, represented by the present Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and his little band of supporters. The former view is now expressed in terms of faith and moral authority by the Russian Church (alone representing some 75% of all Orthodox Christians), closely supported by the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, as well as the Serbian, Bulgarian, Georgian, Polish and Japanese Churches and the Holy Mountain (officially under the Patriarchate of Constantinople). The latter view is expressed by those in the Phanar in Istanbul and a tiny and ageing group of intellectuals, concentrated in Helsinki, Paris, Oxford and Washington.

This means that those in some Local Churches who have not yet made their position clear in this respect will now have to get off the fence and take a stand. Either they support the Orthodoxy of the Russian and the other Local Orthodox Churches, or else they agree with the old-fashioned ecumenist compromises of Patriarch Bartholomew. The time when, if we have not already done so, we will all have to take sides, stand up, sacrifice ourselves and confess our Faith, is swiftly drawing near.

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