Why change Orthodox Christmas date? Change the whole calendar!


I don’t know about you, but after December 25th comes and goes, the remaining time between then and Orthodox Christmas January 7th doesn’t feel as much like the Christmas season, because most of the world has stopped celebrating it as such. The lights begin to come down, the movies and the songs revert back to normal, and everything else just reminds us Orthodox that we celebrate Christmas on a different day. And so, it is natural that around this time of year many of us begin to think about the Christmas date and whether we should be celebrating it all together at the same time. This idea particularly made waves when Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Church discussed it with a congregation in Canada when he visited back in September, 2014. And the reaction to this was very heated, with many alarmed and even angered by such a suggestion, while others absolutely loving it.

Here is what I say to everyone: Let’s not just change the Christmas date, but let’s adjust the entire Coptic calendar! 

Why the difference?

Many a time has this question been asked, and many a time this has been answered. It comes down to astronomy and math. People make this so much more than it is—they make this about Faith and Tradition, when all the difference has to do with is getting the MATH and ASTRONOMY right. After all, calendars were implemented based on those two pillars, and the attempt was made to make the calendar accurate; when inaccuracy is discovered, the original intention for accuracy merits a calendar change.

About 40 years before Christ was manifested in the flesh, emperor Julius Caesar directed there to be an accurate calendar created. Based on knowledge of astronomy and math at the time, that calendar (as does the ancient Egyptian calendar which the Copts used) assumed the year was 365.25 days long (365 days for three years, with a leap year having 366).

The problem is, and what Pope Gregory XIII of Rome realized some 1500 years later, is that the year is actually slightly shorter: 365.242199. Seems small, but after a long time, the difference adds up. In fact, after his scientists checked astronomicaly and mathematically (not based on Faith or Tradition) that the calendar was inaccurate, they realized they were off by 10 days from what the day should be.

Initially, many countries, and most of the Orthodox Christian world, refused to comply with the new dating right away. The Copts are no exception, and today the difference has grown to 13 days. If you check the difference between December 25th and January 7th, you’ll notice that  is exactly the number of days apart they are.

 Many Orthodox have already re-calibrated their calendars

Many may not realize that the Eastern Orthodox created a New Revised Julian Calendar, proposed for adoption in a synod held in Constantinople in May 1923. How would they deal with the 13-day discrepancy ? On October 1 of the Julian Calendar, they would declare that to actually be October 14th of the New Revised Julian Calendar, and then life would go on, astronomically and mathematically accurate. (Note, not everyone follows this new calendar, and it actually has caused much unnecessary strife among many in the Orthodox world).

Pope Tawadros II’s view

The Good News Canadian Journal interviewed His Holiness and here is what he had to say about this

This problem has nothing to do with religion. It is an astronomical issue. The West follows a calendar and the East follows a different one. It is similar to temperature reading either in Fahrenheit or Celsius. I fully understand that this is a problem for the Copts in the West and am pleased to tell you that we as a Coptic church took the initiative to call for unifying the dates for Easter and Christmas between the two Calendars or at least start with one of the two. So far, Easter unification seems to be easier, but that step is done, we can then move into unifying Christmas as well.

How some react to the Pope’s suggestion

Here is one exemplary comment I found on CopticWorld.org, left by an anonymous individual, shortly after the Pope made this suggestion publicly in Canada:

anonymous member Sept. 15, 2014, 9:42 p.m.

Keep Christmas January 7th…why the hunger for change/unity. Not at the expense of our Orthodox Faith and brothers [and] sisters.

What I think the Coptic Church should do

First, we need to stop treating this like we are changing the Orthodox Creed. All we are doing is FIXING a CALENDAR issue to match what we have found NEEDS FIXING.

There was a time when we Egyptians were known for our astronomical prowess. Many credit the Egyptians for being the first, or one of the first civilizations to create and utilize a calendar. The Egyptian people’s skill in figuring out the calendar was so well known that we were relied on by all of Christianity for it! In the early Church, in fact, several archbishops and bishops decided to ask the Archbishop of Alexandria to send a letter out to everyone telling them what day the Resurrection Feast (a.k.a. Easter) should be. Out of sheer pride for our cultural heritage we should re-calibrate the calendar!

And don’t be fooled by those who claim we will no longer be united with other Orthodox churches. Today, so many of our feasts now actually DIFFER from the Orthodox celebration of the same feast by, you guessed it, 13 days (for those Orthodox who follow the New Revised Julian Calendar)!  We often talk about “unity” and “our Orthodox brothers and sisters,” when keeping our calendar as is actually causes a divergence on almost all feasts. For example (using 2016 dates):

  • Feast of St. Mark’s Martyrdom: EO – April 25 | Copts – May 8
  • Feast of Transfiguration: EO – Aug 6  |  Aug 19
  • Feast of the Cross: EO – Sept 14  |  Copts – Sept 27
  • Annunciation Feast: EO – Mar 25  |  Copts – April 7

Unfortunately too often we call something “Faith” and “Tradition” when it is not. The way our priests dress, our language, the way our icons look, the way our churches are built, the tunes of our hymns, etc., are all near and dear to our hearts as being small “t” traditions passed on within our various churches, and that is well and dandy (I’m a huge fan of such traditions). But they are not capital “T” Traditions that have to remain in order for us to be practicing Christianity in an Orthodox manner pleasing to God. Add to the list of small “t” traditions the calendar. We Orthodox now are split between Coptic and Julian calendar, and the New Revised Julian Calendar, yet we Copts would not look at the Eastern Orthodox as heretics!

Out of pride for our Egyptian heritage and our skill at astronomy, and also to match what science has shown us is correct, we should change our calendar. An INCIDENTAL fact is that we will be aligned with “the West” and with many Orthodox jurisdictions. To simply hate this idea because it happens to be similar to the West, or the Catholic Church, is a poor reason for not doing something correctly; it’s that same reasoning that has lead us to Protestantism.

Implementing this would be easy. I say we just subtract 13 days from the end of the Coptic New Year and declare the new year to begin on that date. So, for example, instead of celebrating Tute 1 (the Coptic New Year) on September 11th in 2016 (as is usual), we celebrate the first of Tute 13 days earlier, on August 29th. And then we need to calculate leap years in a manner that will fix the cause of discrepancy that will otherwise remain in place (preferably by adopting the Gregorian calendar methodology, which differs from the New Revised Julian Calendar).

On top of that, I agree wholeheartedly with the notion brought forth by many, including Pope Tawadros in a message sent directly to the Pope of Rome, that all Christians calculate the Feast of the Resurrection the same way so we all celebrate on the same day. I think that our Lord deserves that such major events in His life, particularly His triumphant resurrection, be celebrated by all together. Such calendar adjustments and feast calibrations were important to the early Church, and they should be important to us too. Let’s stop seeing this as a threat to Orthodoxy, but rather an opportunity to fix an astronomical discrepancy.

– – – – – – – – – –

P.S. Updated 1/9/2016 – I originally posted here my disgruntlement that the Coptic Church seemed to have celebrated Christmas a day early during leap years (Kiahk 28th) in order to align with the January 7th date since it is a national holiday in Egypt. In the comments below we discovered from a note by HG Bishop Raphael that this is actually a Coptic rite and is even found in the midnight praises. The Adam Nativity Psali says, “The day of Nativity is twenty-ninth of Kiahk and on leap-years on the twenty eighth.” According to HG, this is due to a desire to align with exactly 9 months from the annunciation. See the comments below for more detail. Thanks to Anon and Reda for the valuable information.

– – – – – – – – – –

Update again 1/9/2016 – More explanation about the Nativity 2-day celebration and how it can be fixed – From my friend Rafik Hanna
The reason why the Coptic Year is off by 1 day in 2016 (and every 4 years) is that the extra day is added to the little month directly before the Juliam leap year and not during it (1731 AM is the leap year, not 1732!). That is why the Nayrouz was on Sep. 12, 2015, a day late, as well as all other feasts in this period (Jan 8, Jan 15, Jan 20, and Feb 16, see below). To rectify this, all they need to do is add the extra day on the correct year (i.e. 1732+4n)! Doing this will result in Coptic Feasts falling on the same exact Julian day every single year.
The Easterns do not face this problem on leap years. Here are their Feasts for this period, which ALWAYS fall on the same day every year:
Nativity Jan. 7/Dec. 25
Circumcision Jan 14/Jan. 1 (8th day)
Theophany Jan 19/Jan. 6 (13th day)(12 days of Christmas celebrated between Nativity and Theophany, a fast free period)
Presentation Feb. 15/ Feb. 2 (40th Day)




Religion and Law in Cyprus, By Achilles C. Emilianides









* Note: my original post inadvertently used the word “astrology” instead of “astronomy.” Thanks to Anon for pointing that out. I’ve updated the post to reflect the term I intended.



36 thoughts on “Why change Orthodox Christmas date? Change the whole calendar!

  1. Thanks John for summarizing the issue in a simple way for those who can’t go beyond the first emotional response. The more people learn about the root cause of the discrepancy and the simplicity of the solution, the more likely it would happen. This would have been significantly more difficult 20, 15 or even 10 years ago, but with fast and wide spreading of information, more people can learn quickly. Ignorance is a tough enemy

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “…after December 25th comes and goes, the remaining time between then and Orthodox Christmas January 7th doesn’t feel as much like the Christmas season, because most of the world has stopped celebrating it as such. The lights begin to come down, the movies and the songs revert back to normal, and everything else just reminds us Orthodox that we celebrate Christmas on a different day.”

    Fair enough, but many of these movies, songs, etc are secularized and present a distorted version of Christmas. For MANY Copts, the main attraction of a 25th December Christmas is so that Santa Claus can give their kids presents on the same date. I find it terrifying that such spiritual immaturity is being given a voice on when we celebrate the Glorious Feast of the Nativity. Btw this is one of the reasons people are much more interested in changing Christmas than Easter (you’ll notice people always ask Pope Tawadros about Christmas and he always apologetically says “we’ll start with Easter”). No spiritual reason behind prioritising Christmas date alignment over Easter, the only reason is that the Easter Bunny is much less important to their 2 year old kid than Santa Claus. We have to fight to keep such immature secularized thinking outside of our Church decision processes.

    “It comes down to astrology and math. People make this so much more than it is—they make this about Faith and Tradition, when all the difference has to do with is getting the MATH and ASTROLOGY right.”

    Of course, our dates have been drifting for centuries, so there is nothing sacred about the 7th of January. But indirectly it is about Faith and Tradition. Pope Tawadros has stated numerous times that this is an ecumenical gesture. It is very naive to consider the calendar question apart from its ecclesiological implications. We haven’t had the same dates as some of our OO sister churches for centuries. Yet no-one cared. But when it comes to Westerners, like Catholics and Protestants, who we are not even in communion with, and (perhaps – for the Catholics) have heretical elements in their theology, we rush to celebrate all our Feasts with them. We Copts have a deep cultural inferiority complex which presses us to identify with the supposedly culturally superior West. This attitude is most pronounced among those of high socioeconomic status and who therefore have a big voice in the Church, and are often Protestant-influenced. Why are the same people who are obsessed with uniting with the Catholics too often not even capable of listing the other six OO Patriarchates? Again, no spiritual maturity here at all.

    Anyone who thinks this is about date accuracy is seriously deluded. In fact, Pope Tawadros’ most recent policy is for a fixed date for Easter on the 2nd/3rd Sunday of April. So it’s definitely not about “getting the MATH and ASTROLOGY right.”

    “We often talk about “unity” and “our Orthodox brothers and sisters,” when keeping our calendar as is actually causes a divergence on almost all feasts.”

    The CopticWorld commenter is spot on because he understands the motivation for the change, and therefore how it will be interpreted by the congregation, and thus affect the Church’s praxis, theological and spiritual direction in the future (“I’m going to take communion in the Catholic Church next door since Pope Tawadros said it’s all the same and anyone who tells me not to is a fanatic”). And keeping the calendar as is does not cause a divergence with the Ethiopians or the Russians, the two largest OO and EO Patriarchates respectively.

    So this paragraph is totally false. Aligning our dates with the West is CENTRAL not INCIDENTAL to the current calendar reform:
    “An INCIDENTAL fact is that we will be aligned with “the West” and with many Orthodox jurisdictions. To simply hate this idea because it happens to be similar to the West, or the Catholic Church, is a poor reason for not doing something correctly; it’s that same reasoning that has lead us to Protestantism.”

    “Unfortunately too often we call something “Faith” and “Tradition” when it is not. The way our priests dress, our language, the way our icons look, the way our churches are built, the tunes of our hymns, etc., are all near and dear to our hearts as being small “t” traditions passed on within our various churches, and that is well and dandy (I’m a huge fan of such traditions). But they are not capital “T” Traditions that have to remain in order for us to be practicing Christianity in an Orthodox manner pleasing to God. Add to the list of small “t” traditions the calendar”

    I think we need to be careful about making a sharp distinction between “t” and “T”. There’s a reason why the Church has utterly refused to consider changing the priest’s uniform: http://lacopts.org/story/the-power-of-the-priestly-cassock/ and https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=eMltSdBSwQ4#t=86
    See here for why small ‘t’ traditions should not be changed lightly: http://returntoorthodoxy.com/dangerous-distinction-t-vs-t/. Although I don’t think improving accuracy is really changing anything, although moving to a fixed date for Easter *is* definitely a change.

    In my opinion, if we think that date unity is important, we should first try to get on the same date as those who we are actually in communion with. (Traditionally, not being in communion with someone implies that they are not Christian. That’s why non-theological schisms are such a tragedy.) Then the EO because we should be in communion with them. All the while focusing on theological dialogues with the RCs and some Lutherans and Anglicans. The current approach seems to be disordered, and appears to lessen the importance of the theological dialogues, implying that communion can be built on unity of dates alone, which is dangerous for a Coptic congregation who already has an unhealthy aversion to theology.

    So in many ways, this is a threat to Orthodoxy, though not because of the mere fact of changing the date.

    PS it’s “astronomy”, not “astrology”.

    Forgive me if any of my rhetoric was too heated. It’s not addressed at you but at dangerous currents I see throughout the Coptic community.


    • Hey Anon – Thanks for your point of view. While I disagree with your view, I appreciate you sharing it. And again, what I was saying is that we fix the calendar, and I was much less focused on Christmas. You have elevated this to being a threat to Orthodoxy, and it simply isn’t. I do not care as much about our dates aligning as much as I care about us fixing our calendar. The incidental aspect of doing so will happen to cause us to align with many denominations, but I do not care much about that. I agree that treating date alignment as a sort of “dialogue of unity” with non-Orthodox should not be the main objective as it gives the sense that theology underpinning our differences is not as important. But again, my point is: CHANGE THE CALENDAR because it is WRONG. That’s it. The implications you speak of are overly exaggerated. It’s a visceral response that so many have. How come you aren’t upset that the Coptic Church has aligned with the national Egyptian holiday of January 7th rather than sticking with Kiahk 29th? What about the national holiday here in the U.S. being December 25th.

      What I feel you are doing is taking my post and responding to a naive view of changing the dates, that view being “let’s change to be like the West.” I agree that that view should not be our impetus for change. Again, my view is simple: change the calendar because it is WRONG. The Eastern Orthodox synod that decided to create a New Revised Julian Calendar was on the right track. The fact that not all Orthodox agreed doesn’t tell me that those who dissented are right, but speaks much more to me of their unnecessary rigidity, which is far too common among the Orthodox. I’m all for strict adherence to Orthodoxy, but not unreasonable adherence. The calendar is inaccurate. That’s my point. I care nothing about aligning with the West. I would love for all the Orthodox to fix their calendars and do what the Eastern Orthodox proposed in their recent synod. I would love for all Orthodox at minimum to align. If that means all who call themselves Christian happen to align as well, then that is just another feature of this. You tell me this is not just incidental but central. My beloved friend, you seem to be arguing with someone else because I am telling you that my view is not founded on a desire to align with the West. It is centrally focused on fixing a calendar discrepancy. Those who you seem to argue against, who have views that seem to focus on being like the West, or see this as a gesture of “unity among Christians,” should not be focused on that or be confused by that. I agree wholeheartedly. If we treat this as a calendar discrepancy, as the Eastern Orthodox recognized in their recent synod finally after 400 years, then it makes sense, and our explanation of our actions will be solely founded upon fixing an anomaly rather than aligning with those who are theologically divergent from the Orthodox Church. We cannot be closed-minded, rigid, and inflexible, simply for the sake of fearing that any change is a bad change. We were much more malleable to change in the early Church than this, in many regards; but the things that mattered most (how we understand the Trinity, for example), understandably required much more rigid resilience.

      In any event, thanks for sharing your thoughts, and also thanks for pointing out my misuse of the word astrology when I meant astronomy. I’ll be updating the post to fix.


      • Hi John,

        I agree wholeheartedly with your clarification but it does not seem to sit well with this paragraph in your post:
        “On top of that, I agree wholeheartedly with the notion brought forth by many, including Pope Tawadros in a message sent directly to the Pope of Rome, that all Christians calculate the Feast of the Resurrection the same way so we all celebrate on the same day. I think that our Lord deserves that such major events in His life, particularly His triumphant resurrection, be celebrated by all together. Such calendar adjustments and feast calibrations were important to the early Church, and they should be important to us too.”


      • Agreed. You have a good point. To clarify, while I don’t think the primary impetus for changing the calendar should be motivated as being a gesture for Christian unity, as that requires actual dialogue and change in theology, but I do think it would be beautiful for Christ’s major life events to be celebrated all at the same time. Imagine 1/3 of the globe celebrating the Resurrection on the same day. By no means should this be treated as an indication of unity in theology. But we do not need to wait for Christian unity for us to fix something wrong with our calendar. It reminds me of a Synaxarion story that basically described a Solar Eclipse. For years many of us must have realized what was written is not some divine event but rather a natural occurrence. Why wait to take that story out after we realize by what we understand in science that this was just nature taking its course?


      • Also, the comparison between the 25th December and the 7th of Jan national holiday in Egypt is not 100% accurate. In Egypt, the Coptic Orthodox Church “owns” the public holiday (in the West it is “owned” by Western Christians). It would look really silly for the Muslim government to graciously provide Copts with a public holiday and for the church to just ignore it, and would risk the Church losing this privilege. This is on a background of disadvantage and discrimination against Copts, including lack of respect for their religious traditions (e.g. exams deliberately set during church feasts, etc.)

        All these elements are not present in the American context, apart from the fact that it’s a public holiday celebrating the same event. If all we were after was a public holiday, then the 1st of Jan would be equally acceptable.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Actually, according to Bishop Raphael, celebrating on the 7th of January this year has nothing to do with the national holiday in Egypt: للتذكرة (وللمرة الثالثة بسبب تكرار سؤال الناس)
        في السنة الكبيسة القبطية يكون عيد الميلاد لمدة يومين هما ٢٨ و ٢٩ كيهك وهذا الأمر مذكور في إحدى إبصاليات عيد الميلاد. وليس له علاقة بالإجازة الرسمية في الدولة،
        والسبب في ذلك هو :
        ١- التاريخ الأصلي لميلاد المسيح هو ٢٩ كيهك.
        ٢- الفترة ما بين عيد البشارة (٢٩ برمهات) وعيد الميلاد (٢٩ كيهك) هى ٩ شهور بالضبط.
        ٣- في السنة الكبيسة تزداد هذه الفترة يومًا لذلك يُبدّر العيد يومًا ليظبط فترة الحمل الألهي في بطن العذراء.
        فيكون الاحتفال بالعيد (٢٨ كيهك)
        ٤- ثم نحتفل مرة أخرى بالعيد في ميعاده الطبيعي (٢٩ كيهك) ليظبط الأعياد التالية والمرتبطة به وهى أعياد الختان (اليوم الثامن من الميلاد) ودخول المسيح الهيكل (اليوم الأربعين من الميلاد)
        هذه القاعدة لا تنطبق على عيد الغطاس لأنه غير مرتبط بأعياد قبله أو بعده ولذلك يُحتفل به هذا العام يوم الأربعاء ١١ طوبى الموافق ٢٠ يناير ويكون القداس يوم الثلاثاء ١٩ يناير مساءً.
        هذا الأمر يتكرر كل أربع سنوات ، وليس لأول مرة ، وليس صدفة، وفي كل مرة يكون الوضع المستقر في الكنيسة هو ما شرحته أعلاه.


      • Thanks for sharing. I can’t really understand what was written. Do you mind translating? Or having someone translate? My assumption about the national holiday is what I heard a clergy person, I believe, explain. But I can’t recall for sure.


      • HG’s explanation from what I can decipher from Google Translate is that Nativity should fall on 28th Kiahk every 4 years to maintain the 9 months from Annunciation to the Nativity.


      • Hey Anon,

        I love and respect HG Bishop Raphael, but that honestly seems quite suspect. I have my suspicions that this explanation has come about much later in time and is a way to back into explaining our current situation. I have NEVER heard of Christmas, among the Eastern Orthodox or in Coptic history, as being a variable date. It’s been fixed since it has been celebrated. Pope Christodoulos (patriarch of Alexandria between AD 1047–1077) established a canon (referred to as Canon 15) where he gave the following instructions: “Likewise the fast of the holy Nativity shall be from the feast of St. Mina [15th of the Coptic Month of Hatour corresponding to roughly November 25 or 26] to the twenty-ninth of Kiahk.” I have trouble believing this explanation without finding much earlier evidence of it, especially since such variability is nonexistent in any Orthodox jurisdiction and the explanation just doesn’t make sense.


      • Below is the translation of the message of Bishop Anba Raphael (which Anon shared and requested an Arabic-speaking native to translate):

        As a reminder (and for the third time due to the repeated questions from people)

        In the leap Coptic year, the Nativity Feast is for two days which are the 28th and the 29th of Koiahk. And this is mentioned in one of the Psalis of the Nativity Feast. This has not related to the official state holiday.

        The reason for this is:
        1. The initial date for the Nativity of Christ is Koiahk 29th.
        2. The period between the Annunciation Feast (Paramhat 29th) and the Nativity Feast (Koiahk 29th) is exactly 9 months.
        3. In the leap year this period increases by one day, therefore the feast is brought one day earlier to adjust the Divine gestation period in the Virgin’s womb and therefore the feast celebration is on Koiahk 28th.
        4. Then, we celebrate the feast again in its normal date (Koiahk 29th) to adjust the feast that follow it and are related to it. These are the Circumcision Feast (the eighth day after the Nativity) and the Entrance of Christ to the Temple (the fortieth day after the Nativity).

        This rule does not apply to the Epiphany Feast because it is not related to feasts that precede it nor succeed it. Therefore, it is celebrated this year on Wednesday Tobit 11th which corresponds to January 20th and its liturgy is on the evening of Tuesday January 19th.

        This situation is repeated every four years, and not for the first time, and not a coincidence, and in every time the stable rule in the Church is what I explained above.


      • Awesome Reda!

        John, what HG said about the Psali is actually correct. To confirm go to CopticReader on the Feast of Nativity, and view the “Adam Nativity Psali on Monday Theotokia” in Midnight Praises, near the end of the Psali there’s a verse that says:
        “The day of Nativity is 29th of Kiahk and on leap years on the 28th.”


    • Wow. See, this is what I’m talking about–I learn a great deal from you guys! This is great! Sorry Your Grace for doubting you 🙂 I’m updating my post to take way reference to this. Thank you.


  3. OK, but what you’re saying only applies to Nativity, where a move to the Gregorian calendar would result in a 25th of December Christmas.

    However, for Resurrection, which is what was referenced in your post, “fixing” the calendar would result in changing to a new Gregorian Orthodox Easter date which is currently only celebrated by the Orthodox Church of Finland. This would contradict the spirit of the council of Nicea which stipulates that all Churches (i.e. all Orthodox Churches – they were more “fanatical” in their use of terminology back then) should celebrate the Resurrection together. And it would not align us with the West either.


    • Correction, I’m wrong about the Church of Finland. There is no church to my knowledge that uses the Gregorian calendar (including for the Paschalion) with the Orthodox method of calculating Easter.


    • Easter isn’t a fixed date. Determining when Easter is is not affected by subtracting thirteen days from the Coptic calendar. We can do both: subtract thirteen days and also calculate an Easter date that matches our prerogative. Since Easter is variable depending on the manner we choose to derive the date each year, for sure I think we should align with the Orthodox on this if we have to choose between them and the West. But if we could get everyone to align that’d be great!


      • “Determining when Easter is is not affected by subtracting thirteen days from the Coptic calendar.”

        It actually is affected. It’s just that those Orthodox Churches that switched to the Gregorian calendar in the 1920s retained the Julian Paschalion, including the 13 day misalignment. The technical term for this arrangement is “Revised Julian Calendar”.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hey Mounir. The early Christians didn’t always celebrate the Feast of the Resurrection on the same day. They came together at various times and tried to find one common, acceptable date. If you are implying that God honors what the Orthodox have chosen, then I agree with you 100%. However, if you extend that argument further, think of this: if the Orthodox change the date, I believe 100% God will honor this date by this miracle. Christ told the disciples that what they loose or bind on earth will be loosed or bound in heaven. And He was speaking about forgiving sin (and often this verse is seen as extending far beyond simply that). If God honors what His overseers loose or bind, I believe full-heartedly that a change in date would not impede the Holy Fire in Jerusalem.


  4. The discussion about the reasons for the calendar correction has covered many aspects: the “misguided” emotional side, the “blind unity” side, the “scientifically more accurate” aspect, etc. However, may main motivation is based on my children’s future Orthodoxy! If I presume there is a likelihood that they will have mixed-race marriages, (they and) their spouses and their families would be unnecessarily conflicted if the only explanation for a separate celebration date is only justified by inexplicably sticking to a mistaken calendar just because it worked several centuries ago. That would undermine the value of Orthodoxy. It would make it equal to “stubborn” as opposed to “correct”. I personally was guilty by “explaining” Orthodox by saying “We have not changed for 2,000 years” forgetting that “ORTHO” means “CORRECT, STRAIGHT, UPRIGHT or RIGHT”. We would be lying to ourselves and to others if the truth is that we have become INCORRECTLY celebrating the Nativity of the Lord.

    My worst fear is that an inconsistency like this could only undermine all the other REAL differences that distinguish the CORRECT Orthodoxy from all other denominations which makes it the pearl to seek after.

    When the Coptic Church was isolated for centuries and sheltered from the world, it would have not mattered much (and it didn’t). However, now, we are not sheltered nor isolated. The Copts in the Diaspora form a great percentage of the entire Coptic population. The spread of Orthodoxy in the West is a breath of fresh air that is drawing many to its authenticity. We should definitely strive to maintain this authenticity, but not by perpetuating earlier (now proven) mistakes.

    The travesty of celebrating the Nativity today, January 7, 2016 (28 Koiahk) instead of tomorrow, January 8, 2016 (29 Koiahk) because of the Egyptian government granting a national holiday on that secular day (as opposed to the Church’s CORRECT calendar day) just adds salt to the wound. There would be no issue to have the national holiday follow the Church CORRECT calendar as is the case with “Sham El Nessim” (the spring national holiday) which is determined as the Monday following the Feast of the Resurrection (no matter when that glorious feast is calculated to be by the Church).

    Nothing is lost by correcting the Calendar and everything is gained.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well said! Honestly, you and Anon should be the ones writing blogs–not me! I learn so much from such comments that often my views are further shaped, refined, adjusted, and sometimes changed from what I read. While I especially enjoy seeing someone agree with me because of my own ego problems (pray for me) 🙂 I also appreciate greatly those who don’t.


      • I would like to point out that in Book V, Chapter 24 of HE, this exact problem happened in the early church, where Feasts where celebrated on different days. I think we should all check it out, I’m always fascinated by how the early Church dealt with the same problems we do and they provide us with an archetype to solving our problems.


      • Hey Peter. Just read what you pointed out. Your characterization of this being the same “exact problem” about feasts being celebrated on different days is not entirely accurate. They were discussing Easter. The mode of response seems to have been heavily reliant on “peace” and “unity” among Orthodox jurisdictions. They sought a unified day. Most agreed, yet some stubbornly held onto what was passed down to them in their jurisdiction even though it went against being united with the majority. If anything, what I learn from this episode is that stubbornly holding onto our incorrect calendar is a bad thing, that I think the majority of these individuals in the early Church would have frowned upon. I also learn that unifying the Easter feast was of pivotal importance, with the goal of keeping peace and unity among those within the Church. In that regard, I think that the Orthodox should work together on unifying this date among all who call themselves Christian.

        But Peter, that’s my take from reading Eusebius’s Church History. What about you?


  5. That’s great insight. What I got from it was what Ireneus said, “And this variety in its observance has not originated in our time; but long before in that of our ancestors. It is likely that they did not hold to strict accuracy, and thus formed a custom for their posterity according to their own simplicity and peculiar mode. Yet all of these lived none the less in peace, and we also live in peace with one another; and the disagreement in regard to the fast confirms the agreement in the faith.” So he says that although some hold on to an inaccurate feast date, it’s not important as long as we live in peace and agreement of faith. He actually says, it doesn’t matter if you stubbornly hold on to what was passed down. Many congregants in my church have no idea what the difference is between us and say a Catholic Church, or an Eastern Orthodox Church, or Protestant Churches. I think it would be dangerous to unify the feast dates before our people understand the differences between our church and theirs.


    • Peter, thank you. Very good discussion and a very good point to bring up. Thank you for sharing that.

      Here’s my two cents for what it’s worth:

      Irenaeus was dealing with the practice of fasting and when it should end in order to celebrate Easter. Easter calculation is a different matter altogether from fixing a calendar anomaly. There will be no lack of peace among the Church simply because we FIX what has been made clear by a better understanding of astronomy. Easter though, had a lot of various aspects considered… Let’s not celebrate with the Jews, it has to be on Sunday not the Jewish Passover, etc. And even if there were two strongly opposing views: “NO WAY will I celebrate with those Jews,” and then someone else says, “you’re racist, that’s ridiculous,” if we end up with different dates we should all still focus on being peaceful nonetheless.

      If anything, Irenaeus supports concerns that may arise if we FIX the calendar. The calendar (I’m not talking about faith, tradition, anything)… is INACCURATE. What Irenaeus tells me is, fixing the calendar should NOT cause us to lose our peace. He seems to subtly undermine those few who “did not hold to strict accuracy” and “formed a custom” according to “their simplicity and peculiar mode.” I read this as saying, Coptic simplicity and peculiarity is the reason we do not hold to strict accuracy of calendar dating. That doesn’t sound like something to be lauded. HOWEVER, if we change our calendar, or even keep it the same, other Orthodox Churches shouldn’t cause discord. EITHER way, peace should prevail. What I’m seeing though in the way Copts treat this issue is, when we try not to be peculiar and simple, and try to hold to strict accuracy of the calendar, this viewpoint is treated with strife rather than peace.

      I agree to an extent that many things don’t matter if we stubbornly hold on to them, but that seems like a CONCESSION, not the preferred mode that Irenaeus was suggesting. He was trying to keep the peace among people, while it appears Victor from Rome was stirring up controversy. We do not know if Victor was simply trying to exert supremacy of the church of Rome. I think we can liken it to our Church hierarchs indicating to all the Oriental Orthodox who do not follow our method of changing the calendar as being unfit to remain within the Oriental Orthodox fold, because they do “not hold to strict accuracy” and remain in simplicity and peculiarity. THAT is what Irenaeus would say is wrong. I also think he would say that our losing peace because we change our calendar to be more accurate is also wrong.


  6. Hello,

    I happened on your blog from Orthodox Collective web site, and then I happened on this post! I think the following article would be helpful:


    Particularly, the sentence, “The last time we (Eastern) Orthodox made substantial changes in the calendar, a tremendous schism resulted which remains unhealed to this day.”

    I don’t think the scientific inaccuracy of the Coptic or Julian calendars is a sufficient reason to change the calendar. Others have said it, and I agree – I don’t see why scientific accuracy is needed or even desired. So far as I understand, none of our feast days are on scientifically accurate anniversaries of the events they celebrate, and they are not meant to be. That’s why “Christ IS risen”, not “Christ WAS risen”. So again, as far as I know, we neither need nor actually want our feast dates to be accurate.

    So what other reason do we have to change dates or calendars?

    In my humble understanding, for the Orthodox (both Eastern and Oriental), our inertia is against any change of any type of tradition. In other words, we resist change immensely so as to test if it is really necessary and true and if it is really what was believed by most at most times in most places. Part of this test is close, honest, and most importantly humble examination of our motivations for change.

    Certainly, when I was a young man, well influenced by years of modernist education, I did think it was nonsense to maintain this calendar, when with the Gregorian, we could get scientific accuracy and conform to the rest of the world. Now as an older Christian, I realize that neither is needed nor desired.

    BTW, I’m Oriental (Ethiopian) Orthodox.


    • Thank for taking the time to share your thoughts. I agree with the sentiment of being cautious with introducing change in the Orthodox Church. However I do not agree with inhibiting all change, especially when it makes sense. In this situation I think of the following example: imagine that there is a clock in a church that has been around for 2,000 years, and as time went by the clock completely inverted so that what was morning was actually afternoon and what was afternoon was actually morning. Then we realize that instead of having liturgies in the morning we are having them at night. And feast vigils were in the morning. I can certainly say, let us respect the 2,000 year old clock. Now imagine that the inventors of the clock, their blood descendants, are the members of that church. For me, changing that clock makes sense as a matter of scientific accuracy, the practical benefits, and out of pride for the heritage of being known as the descendants of the inventors of the clock.

      The calendar is similarly situated in my mind. Resisting change is the common reaction because it is uncomfortable. It took us in the Coptic Church decades before we were comfortable with English during the liturgy, and at first it was met with much passionate resistance. I bet it took a while before people were comfortable with Arabic when it became the prevalent language of the church-goers in Egypt. But some changes make sense. Not all of us share the same opinions on what is sensible. So I respect other opinions, but mine is at the moment quite firmly in favor of changing the calendar for similar reasons I would want to change the clock.


  7. Hi John,
    Question on feast days drifting over centuries making days inaccurate of sorts and more symbolic as corrections are complicated? For example if a feast day was set sometime during drift of 1 day up to current 13 days and further in years to come then the feast day needs if even possible corrections on set date that drifted when calculated and then correction for sudden changes when transitions took place at different points in various places. Further with leap days if counted before or after for corrections makes for hindering accuracy seemingly may only get close off by a day or so up to 13 days plus or minus days when calculated further spreads as moving forward in space time? Then there is issues of many experts for example that Christmas was likely sometime in September harvest season corresponds better for crossing dessert in winter rather than in summer? Also Easter is also debated with experts with at least 2 calculations along with more by experts in minority with both days regardless drifting for centuries that if not corrected would circle entire year?

    Thanks, Yours,
    John James


  8. Hi Mr. Habib,
    Fr. Youhanna Nassif wrote a thesis along the lines of adjusting the Coptic calendar, and changing the date of the Nativity feast. I wonder if you had read his thesis, but it is in Arabic as I understand, and most of it agrees with what you had said anyway.. the truth is it’s a snare from the devil for us to forget the Lord’s works in the Coptic church. Please read my “very long” response to his thesis, here (I can also send you a PDF file if that is easier).. there you go:


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