March 14, 2001

The Calendar Issue

The Calendar Issue

You will see references to the old calendar in many articles dealing with Russian history prior to February 14, 1918. For example, you might read that the Romanov family was captured in March {February on the old calendar} of 1917. The old calendar refers to the Julian Calendar. The, so called, new calendar is the Gregorian.

The Julian Calendar was introduced in 45 BC by Julius Cesar and was endorsed by Emperor Constantine and the First Ecumenical Council of the Church at Nicea. This calendar featured a seven day week, was slightly longer than the solar year and was modeled after the Christian sabbatical cycle. The Julian New Year is September 1st. August 31st is the feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist and marks the end of the church year. Under this system, the Nativity of Our Lord {Christmas} falls on January 7th. The Pascha {Easter Sunday} is a moveable feast. It must fall on a Sunday, but the date varies from year to year. It is determined as the Sunday after the first full moon, after the first vernal equinox, and reckoned, astrologically, at the Jerusalem meridian. This date and the following weeks until Pentecost will differ between the Julian and Gregorian calendars. (reckoning for Pascha on the Julian and Gregorian calendars)

The Gregorian calendar is the product of scientific and astrological research commissioned by Pope Paul III. He solicited various astronomers to figure out a way to correct the 'error' of the Julian calendar's reckoning. The main researcher was a Jesuit by the name of Christopher Clavius. Pope Paul III passed away before a calendar solution was formed. His successor, Pope Gregory XIII , was presented with several calendar reform options and chose the one created by Clavius. Clavius' reforms were officially adopted by the Catholic Church and most European Catholic nations on February 24, 1582, as the Inter Gravissimas or Gregorian Calendar Reform. England and her colonies did not accept the Gregorian calendar until 1752.

Until the end of the 15th century, the Russian calendar began with March 1st. The years were counted from the time of Creation or 5509 BC. Between the mid-1400's to 1700, Russian calendars placed the New Year on September 1st, in keeping with the Julian calendar. Peter the Great decided to implement the Gregorian calendar and adopt the Christian Era method of year counting. This caused quite a bit of opposition from the Russian Orthodox Church who refused to comply. As a result, Russia continued to use the old calendar but referred to the Gregorian when dealing in foreign affairs. We can only imagine how much confusion this caused for the Russian people!

Vladimir I. Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik Revolution, officially changed Russia's calendar to the Gregorian in 1918. He did this to keep in step with the rest of the world. To this day, the Eastern Orthodox Church still uses the old calendar. The first half of the Church year runs from September 1 - December 25 {Sept. 14 - Jan. 7 on the Julian calendar}. December 26 - August 31 marks the second half of the Orthodox or old calendar {Jan. 8 - Sept. 13 on the Julian}.

The old or Julian calendar was the way all the world once reckoned dates. Thanks to the Russian Orthodox Church, Russia maintained its use longer than any other country. If you have any Russian Orthodox friends and they don't open their Christmas presents until January 7th, now you know why!

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