The earliest records of a New Year celebration are from Mesopotamia around 2000 BC. Then about the time of Father Abraham, the new year was heralded not in mid winter, but at the Spring equinox in mid-March. Following these already ancient customs, the first Roman calendar had ten months and also recognized March as the beginning of the year. This is why September, October, November and December have their names: from March they were the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth months.
The second king of Rome, Numa Pontilius added January and February to the calender1 and in 153 BC we have the first record of January first being celebrated as New Years’ Day. The change was decreed for civil reasons (the consuls began their term at that time) but many people still recognized March as the start of the year.2
When Julius Caesar replaced the old lunar based calendar3 in 46 BC with a solar calendar,4 he also formally established the beginning of January as New Year’s Day. As the Empire fell and Europe transitioned to the new religion and rule of Christianity, the vestiges of pagan culture were purged. New Years’ Day at the beginning of January was officially eliminated at the Council of Tours5 in 597, and across Europe the start of a new year was celebrated variously at Christmas, Easter or most significantly March 25.
The date of March 25 not only connected with the most ancient celebrations of the new year at the Spring equinox, but in the Christian calendar March 25 is the celebration of the Annunciation–the announcement by the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would bear a son. The date of March 25 was determined by the Jewish belief that great men were conceived on the same day of the year as their death. Jesus Christ died on March 25, (so the theory goes) which means he was conceived on March 25. Incidentally this is also the origin for the traditional date of Christmas–nine months from March 25.
Medieval Christians understood that the beginning of the life of the Son of God in the Virgin Mary’s womb was the beginning of God’s work among mankind, the restoration and redemption of the world and the beginning of a new creation. It was therefore theologically fitting that March 25 or Ladyday (in honor of the Virgin Mary) should be celebrated as New Years’ Day. And so it was for a thousand years.
Then in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII tinkered with Julius Caesar’s ancient calendar. Because of imprecise calculations, the date of Easter had been drifting and the pope decided it needed fixing. Part of the reform was to re-establish January first as New Years’ Day. Seeing this as papal presumption, the Eastern Orthodox rejected the reform.6 Seeing this as not only papal presumption, but paganism restored, the Protestants also rejected the new Gregorian calendar. The British did not adopt the new calendar until 1752. The Greeks held out until 1923. The monks of Mt Athos still hold on to the Julian calendar.7
What about the fall of Sauron—the nemesis in The Lord of the Rings? J.R.R.Tolkien was very sly in the way he wove Christian symbolism into his epic myth. He records the dates of the great events in the cycle of the ring, and we discover that it is on March 25 that the ring of power is cast into the fires of Mount Doom, and so the destruction of Sauron heralds a new beginning for Middle Earth. Thus Tolkien gives a nod to the medieval Christian tradition that March 25 is the true New Years’ Day.
As you celebrate New Years’ Day remember that for one thousand years the welcoming of a new year was not just a calendar event, but a culturally religious event which linked the renewal of nature with the redemption of the world.
By tradition, Numa promulgated a calendar reform that adjusted the solar and lunar years, introducing the months of January and February (Livy’s History of Rome, 1:19).
The January Kalends came to be celebrated as the new year at some point after it became the day for the inaugurating new consuls in 153 BC. Romans had long dated their years by these consulships, rather than sequentially, and making the kalends of January start the new year aligned this dating.
In AD 567, the Council of Tours formally abolished January 1 as the beginning of the year. At various times and in various places throughout medieval Christian Europe, the new year was celebrated on December 25 in honor of the birth of Jesus; March 1 in the old Roman style; March 25 in honor of Lady Day and the Feast of the Annunciation; and on the movable feast of Easter. These days were also astronomically and astrologically significant since, at the time of the Julian reform, March 25 had been understood as the spring equinox and December 25 as the winter solstice. Medieval calendars nonetheless often continued to display the months running from January to December, despite their readers reckoning the transition from one year to the next on a different day.
Though all the monks on Mt. Athos follow the Old Calendar, there is a divide between those under the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (new calendar) and those who adhere to other ecclesiastical jurisdictions not in communion with the churches that follow the new calendar.
NOTE: This article is taken from the 33rd chapter of Science, Religion & Society, pp. 290-296:
Calendars represent an important arena in which religion and science have historically operated fruitfully together. Calendars typically incorporate both scientific material, such as the motions of the sun and moon, and religious concerns, such as the proper celebration of religious festivals. Because temporality is an element essential to many religious practices, properly understanding the functioning of the regular natural processes used to mark time becomes an essential ingredient in the creation of a calendar. We are not talking here about the physical object of a calendar, though that is part of the regulation and promotion of a calendrical system. Our subject is the calendar as a theoretical construct: the periodic natural phenomena used to mark time and the points in time that are set down as being important to the culture that uses the calendar. This analysis will focus only on selective aspects of the calendars of Rome and Christian Europe (the latter of which eventually became the most commonly used calendar in the world), but similar remarks apply to the calendars of many different cultures of many different periods.
Fundamentally, calendars are purely human inventions. They need not follow any particular natural processes; however, because calendars delineate recurrent events, only a limited number of reliable, periodic natural phenomena are useful for a calendar. The most commonly used phenomena are the movements of the sun and moon, and indeed these motions have been the basis of the Western calendars.
The length of the solar year is approximately 365.242 days. Because a calendar year uses a whole number, 365 days, a calendar based on the sun must periodically intercalate, or insert, an extra day to compensate for the extra time (a little less than one-quarter of a day) that accumulates with each passing year, or else the date will begin to drift in relation to the seasons or with respect to the stars. The length of the lunar month (the period between the same lunar phases, such as the full or new moon) is approximately 29.53 days, and lunar calendars typically alternate between months of 30 and 29 days. A lunar year, or twelve lunar months, is about 354 and one-third days, about eleven days short of a full solar year. Thus, to keep in line with a solar year and to deal with the fractional difference between the lunar period and whole numbers of days, an extra month or day, respectively, must occasionally be intercalated. These problems lead to serious difficulties when one tries to combine the motions of the sun and moon within a single calendrical system.
Calendars also represent human choices about important events to be marked down or celebrated. Holidays and festivals are the most obvious religious events that calendars mark. And, as we will see below, natural phenomena are often used to set down the proper date for events, either at the same time each year (using the sun, or sometimes the moon, to date the events) or on moveable dates (which typically use a combination of the motions of the sun and moon).
The Roman Calendar
The origins of the Roman calendar are lost in antiquity. The Romans, however, attributed the origin of the calendar to the first two, semi-mythical kings of Rome: Romulus and Numa. Romulus was said to have created the initial calendar, and Numa was said to have modified it and to have instituted the college of pontifici, a category of priests whose responsibilities included monitoring and regulating the calendar. Very little reliable knowledge of the precise history of the calendar of the Roman republic is available, but certain general characteristics can be gleaned from ancient sources.
The first thing to note about the Roman calendar is that it was simultaneously a civil and religious calendar. The Romans believed that the proper functioning of society arose from maintaining the proper relationship to the gods, which entailed making the proper sacrifices to propitiate the gods. Only when the divine powers were propitiated could human society function in an orderly manner. This meant that various religious festivals had to be celebrated both in the proper fashion and at the proper time throughout the year. It was the responsibility of those who held priestly offices to make sure this happened, and the calendar was one important means by which they did so.
The calendar also performed the very practical function of setting out what sorts of activities could take place on which days. Each day of the year had one or more labels applied to it, indicating what kind of activity could take place on those days (we can see similarities in the modern calendar in the way holidays or religious worship take place on certain days). The dies fas were days on which legal business could be conducted, while the dies nefas were days on which legal business was not permitted. On the nefas feriae publicae, public festivals, which included propitiatory sacrifices to the gods, took place. Assemblies (political, legislative, and so on) were held on the comitialis, and markets were held on the nundinae. Essential elements—economic, legislative and political, and religious—of the proper functioning of society were embodied in the calendar.
The Roman calendar appears to have arisen out of a lunar calendar. According to later Romans authors, the calendar reform of Numa made the year 355 days long, with months of 31 or 29 days, but 28 for February, plus an intercalated month to keep the calendar in step with the seasons. Another indication is the system of referring to dates of the year according to the kalends, ides, and nones. The kalends of a month was the first day of that month, which originally may have corresponded to the new moon. The ides would then fall close to the full moon, which meant the 13th or 15th of the month (depending on the number of days in the previous month). The full system of naming the days can be understood in relation to these two important days of the month. The ides fell on the 13th or 15th of the month; the prior days, counting backward (the Roman calendar employed backward counting when it came to naming the days), would be referred to as the day before ides, the third day of ides, and so on. In the case of the ides, this ran for eight days each month, which gets one back to the 5th or 7th day. The 5th or the 7th day was then known as the nones of that month. Similar backward counting went on for the four or six days of the nones, which got one back to the kalends on the first day. The kalends then ran backward into the previous month (for example, the last day of January would have been referred to as the day before the kalends of February) until one reached the ides of that month, and hence there could be between sixteen and nineteen kalends for a month.
Because of the difficulty of maintaining congruence between solar and lunar elements in the calendar, the Romans faced numerous calendrical difficulties, particularly when the religio-civil officials in charge of its upkeep could not accomplish their task (for example, because of war or political struggles). By the time of the late republic, the calendar was in need of reform. Julius Caesar, who had been in the college of pontifici some years previously and was now dictator of Rome, undertook such a reformation in 46 BCE. He instituted what has since taken his name: the Julian calendar. On the advice of the astronomer Sosigenes, Caesar changed the number of days in each month (and Augustus, some years later, changed them to have the modern values) to make the calendar a solar year: 365 days per year, with a day intercalated every four years to account for the extra part of a day that accumulates each year.
The Roman calendar, then, shows a mix of astronomical and religio-civil concerns. Both the moon and the sun are used to mark time through the use of measurement of physical quantities. But the reasons for doing so are quite outside what we think of as scientific: to keep society functioning properly by helping Romans to observe and preserve the inseparable civil and religious aspects of their culture that they understood to be vital to maintaining their society.
The European Christian Calendar
When the Western Roman Empire began to dissolve in the fifth and sixth centuries CE, being replaced by successive Germanic kingdoms, Christianity had already taken on a prominent cultural role within the region. To continue to make use of the Roman calendar was only natural, especially given that Christianity had become intertwined with the Roman Empire when it was made the legal religion of the empire at the end of the fourth century. But the Roman calendar was in certain ways inappropriate for a Christian community. Three particular concerns led to significant changes in the calendar during late antiquity and the early Middle Ages: the numbering of years, the problem of pagan religious festivals, and the dating of Easter. Each of these led to modifications of the calendar, though only the last required significant astronomical science (the replacement of pagan festivals sometimes was peripherally related to astronomical phenomena).
The Romans had typically referred to a year in one of two ways: either by the rulership of its leaders (for example, the consuls or the emperors) or by reference to the mythical founding of Rome (753 BCE by modern reckoning). Dionysius Exiguus, a monk living in the early sixth century CE, proposed instead numbering the years according to the birth of Christ, so that the first year of the Christian era would begin on the first day of January after the nativity. Due to a mistake in reckoning, he chose a year that was apparently three years too late, placing Jesus’s birth in the year 4 BCE, rather than 1 BCE. Some modern scholars speculate that the birth may have occurred some years prior to that. What is important, however, is not whether Dionysius got it right but that, in a conscious rejection of traditional practice, he changed the calendar to fit a cultural demand, replacing a secular event (the founding of Rome) with a religious event (the birth of Jesus) as the founding event on which the calendar would be based. By doing so, Dionysius was self-consciously incorporating religious belief into the calendar. Though Dionysius’s change was adopted only sporadically and over centuries, it eventually became common across Europe.
As the Christian church spread across the Roman world and northern Europe, it confronted older religious traditions in which festivals and observances celebrated astronomical events or were tenuously tied to celestial events to fix the time of the holiday. It was a common Christian practice to replace these traditional celebrations with Christian festivals. Certain practices of a holiday might be kept or altered, but the reason for the event was replaced with a thoroughly Christian one. One famous example is the replacement of Samhain, a Celtic holiday oriented around the position of the sun, with the Christian holiday of All Saints Day. In this case, ecclesiastics self-consciously and explicitly stated that church officials should try to replace the traditional celebrations with ones of a more Christian tenor, or at least modify existing customs to be in keeping with Christian celebration. Other examples abound, both in the patristic period, when the Roman religion was the object of attack, and in the early medieval period, when the Germanic or Celtic religions were seen as a threat. In all cases, the calendar was a means by which to convey religious beliefs and counteract undesired influences.
The final issue for the Christian calendar during this period was the dating of Easter, and thereby all the moveable feasts. A moveable feast was a religious celebration or observation that had a different date from year to year. Easter is dated according to a lunar calendar because of the biblical narrative and the sequence of the passion following the commencement of the Jewish Passover festival, the date of which was fixed by the moon. Easter was to be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox; thus the phases of the moon had to be calculated in order to know the date of Easter, and thereby to work back to the other moveable feasts of the year, such as Lent. There were controversies over how the calculation should be made; for example, Bede, in his History of the English Church and People, recounts the events of the famous synod of Whitby at which rival claimants to ecclesiastical authority debated the proper method of determining the date of Easter.
However, the Roman calendar had long ago lost its lunar character. In order to calculate the dates of Easter, the church adopted a nineteen-year cycle of lunar months, with occasional intercalated days, so that it would be easy to know when the new and full moons would occur. This cycle could then be superimposed on the Julian calendar, and one could calculate ad infinitum when Easter and the moveable feasts should fall. A nineteen-year cycle was chosen because this allowed a close correspondence between the solar and lunar calendars. This led to a new science of calendrical computation known as computus, the texts for which frequently incorporated various other elements of the physical sciences. Thus computistical works were often the vehicle by which more general scientific education could be accomplished.
The correspondence between the nineteen-year lunar cycle and solar calendar was not perfect, and as centuries passed, it also became clear that the solar calendar had gotten off track. Fairly simple observations showed that full moons and eclipses were not occurring at the times that the calendar said they should, and therefore the nineteen-year cycle was in error. Eventually it also became clear that the solstices, the most northern and southern points that the sun reaches, were not occurring at the expected times, showing that the solar calendar was in error. The calendar clearly needed to be fixed.
The Gregorian Reform
During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Latin Europe learned that the Arabic world was far more advanced scientifically, both because they had preserved the Greek science that Latin literature hinted at and because Islamic scientists had preserved and improved upon ancient science. Various Latin scholars began to seek out and translate Greek and Arabic scientific works, a process that has since come to be known as the translation movement. The appropriation of this scientific corpus had a significant effect on the Western European calendar, as scholars soon learned that errors in the calendar could be remedied. It would take centuries, however, for the reform of the calendar to be enacted, and additional centuries for the new calendar to be adopted around the world.
Some of the earliest calls for reforms came from the English scholar and ecclesiastic Robert Grosseteste. In his Compotus correctorius, probably written in the 1220s, Grosseteste argued that various phenomena showed that the contemporary calendar was in error, and that the work of the Arabic astronomers could be used to correct the calendar. He was, however, not very explicit on how the fundamental nature of the calendar might be changed to correct these errors. For example, he knew the length of the solar year must be calculated more precisely, but he did not offer practical advice for how this would be accomplished.
The problem of errors in the calendar was not merely a scientific one. The real issue was that errors could lead to the improper celebration of religious festivals like Easter. And this had clear theological implications, especially since the celebration of religious festivals was understood as important to salvation. Science might be the means to correct errors, but the goal in so using it was a religious one.
Despite repeated calls for reform, the issue of correcting the calendar did not spur ecclesiastical officials to take action until late in the sixteenth century. Pope Gregory XIII brought together a commission to resolve the issues of correcting the calendar and officially announced the reform of the calendar in 1582. The lunar cycle was modified to be more precise. A few intercalated days were removed. And to bring the solstices and equinoxes back to their “proper” dates, ten days were removed from the year 1582: October 5 through 14. Thus in 1582, October 15 followed October 4.
The Gregorian reform was not immediately adopted across Europe. In Catholic realms, it carried the weight of the pope’s official backing and was adopted very quickly. Most Protestant regions, however, refused to change their calendars for many years. Germany finally adopted a similar reform in 1700, whereas England waited until 1752 to do so. The rejection of the reform had little to do with the scientific work of Gregory’s commission but was instead due to the authority that tried to impose it: the Roman Catholic Church. Just as religious reasons were at the heart of calls for reform, the unwillingness to adopt this particular reform was fueled by religious and thereby political sentiment, namely, that the Roman Catholic pope had no authority in those places. But the practical considerations of operating under separate calendars proved too difficult, and eventually all of Europe was unified under a single calendrical system. Due to the economic and political clout of Europe in the succeeding centuries, the Gregorian calendar spread across the world and now is used nearly everywhere.
The calendar is one arena in which religious and scientific concerns by necessity run concurrently. Scientific information and analysis are vital to creating a calendar that can serve its purpose: tracking recurrent cycles of time. But in many cases, the parameters of what counts as important for the calendar—the dates that need to be figured, the cycles that need to be tracked— are not based on scientific goals or theories. Rather, the history of the Western calendar shows that religious concerns have been an important factor both in creating the calendar and in conducting scientific investigation regarding it.
Blackburn, Bonnie, and Leofranc Holford-Strevens. The Oxford Companion to the Year: An Exploration of Calendar Customs and Time-reckoning. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Borst, Anno. The Ordering of Time: From the Ancient Compotus to the Modern Computer. Trans. Andrew Winnard. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.
Coyne, G.V., M.A. Hoskin, and O. Pedersen, eds. Gregorian Reform of the Calendar: Proceedings of the Vatican Conference to Commemorate Its 400th Anniversary. Vatican City: Specola Vaticana, 1983.
Declercq, Georges. Anno Domini: The Origins of the Christian Era. Turnhout: Brepols, 2000.
McCluskey, Stephen C. Astronomies and Cultures in Early Medieval Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Michels, Agnes Kirsopp. The Calendar of the Roman Republic. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967.
Richards, E.G. Mapping Time: The Calendar and Its History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Samuel, Alan E. Greek and Roman Chronology: Calendars and Years in Classical Antiquity. Munich: Beck, 1972.
Wallis, Faith. Bede: The Reckoning of Time. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1999.
———. “Chronology and Systems of Dating.” In Medieval Latin: An Introduction and Bibliographic Guide, ed. F.A.C. Mantello and A.G. Rigg, 383–87. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1996.
Ware, R. Dean. “Medieval Chronology.” In Medieval Studies: An Introduction, 2nd ed., ed. James M. Powell, 252–77. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1992.
NOTE: The author was involved with Pangratios Vrionis (AKA Metropolitan Pangratios of the Archdiocese of Vasiloupolis, Queens, New York or Demetrios Vrionis). In 1968 Father Vrionis was a GOA priest in Pennsylvania. He was apparently suspended and defrocked for “disobedience,” and at the same time he was also charged with rape of two teen-aged boys by Dauphin county, Pennsylvania. After serving his sentence, Vrionis founded a children’s school and his own Orthodox Jurisdiction in Queens, New York (the Archdiocese of Vasilupolis). Vrionis is most widely known for his leadership role in the Holy Order of MANS. In the 1980s Vrionis accepted this new-age group into his jurisdiction, whereupon they changed their name to Christ the Saviour Brotherhood. Benedict Greene was in the Archdiocese of Vasilupolis when the Holy Order of MANS joined them and was responsible for training many of their leaders in the Orthodox tradition along with Vrionis. In 1968, Vrionis pled guilty to two counts of sodomy and two counts of corrupting the morals of a minor. He was sentenced to probation. (See: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Vrionis, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, County of Dauphin, Case Numbers 1378 and 1377). http://www.pokrov.org/wp-content/uploads/Vrionis-Criminal-RecordsX.pdf http://www.pokrov.org/?s=pangratios&submit.x=0&submit.y=0
In my early 30s, I met my husband, Alex. He was an Eastern Orthodox priest, “on leave” after a divorce. I had never heard of Orthodox Christianity before, but I liked what I heard: A mystical or symbolic interpretation of scripture; no Substitutionary Atonement; no literal burning hell, and open to the possibility of people of other religions entering heaven. It seemed to be all the good stuff minus the bad stuff, and the fact that it was the “original church” in history gave it a lot of credibility.
Alex also seemed like the right kind of Christian for me. Raised in a communal atmosphere in Berkely, he was still a hippie with hair down to his waist, a love for film and rock n’ roll, and liberal political views. He was a recovering drug addict who credited God for his sobriety, and had made his way out of a shockingly violent childhood – but he had become a pastoral counselor. He was a gentle father to his 5-year-old son, and was more intelligent than anyone I had ever met. He was deeply involved in peace issues, and very inclusive as to who would go to heaven.
I recognized a gift from God when I saw one.
But I didn’t know enough about Orthodoxy to see the red flags. He’d been ordained in a non-canonical “independent” Orthodox church in Queens that mixed Kabballah and Theosophy in with its Orthodox theology. (I found out many years later that the Bishop who had founded it – and who Alex practically worshipped – had served time twice for embezzlement and once for mail fraud).
We were engaged and moved in together a month after we met. He resisted birth control on the grounds that “I trust God about things like that.” He also trusted God so much he didn’t wear a seatbelt, and was staunchly opposed to any sort of significant savings, calling a nest egg “greedy and materialistic” and reminding me of the sparrows. He was an artist and didn’t have a “real” job, but promised to get one before we were married. He finally did get a job in IT, and our two jobs helped us to maintain a roof over our heads.
Alex was a study in contradictions. He read the Bible every day, taking copious notes. Our apartment was covered with iconography and he self-published several books on Orthodoxy. He praised God constantly, never taking praise for himself but attributing all to God. To this day I have no doubt that he really DID believe; he wasn’t faking it. But once we returned from our wedding in Queens, more problems came up.
Now that he was married, he was reinstated to the priesthood. Suddenly I was a priest’s wife, something I hadn’t anticipated. About the same time he came down with a severe illness that kept him bedridden for two weeks, so he lost his job in IT. He was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but refused to try to get disability because he wanted to serve as a (volunteer) priest for a small congregation and he knew that would interfere with getting the benefit. We were back to my small salary, and I was getting scared.
His 5-year-old son was illegitimate, having been conceived during the process of his divorce. Just after our wedding, a 2-year-old illegitimate son popped up; we had to go to court to allow his stepfather to adopt him. I wept uncontrollably during the hearing; Alex seemed to feel nothing. I asked him, “How many more kids are out there?” He shrugged and said, “I don’t know. Probably several.”
He had already informed me that I was fourth on his priority list, after God, the Church, and his son. This was true. Once, when my stepson slammed the door and a large wooden icon fell and cracked me on the head, I swore, and he flew into a rage because I’d sworn in front of the icon. He kissed it – the icon, not my head.
We became the leaders of a congregation, but with a caveat – no one could know of his former divorce or his son’s illegitimacy. So began a life of lies where I had to subtly pretend that my stepson was my own (very difficult to do when the church women ask you about his birth or your child’s earliest years), and my stepson had to stay with the program and not mention his real mom or half-sister. He’s 22 now, and I cry as I write this. What we did to him was so sick, so unfathomable, that I will never, ever forgive myself.
I began to feel more and more isolated, especially since the two congregations we eventually led were immigrants, most of whom did not speak English. I didn’t have anyone to confess my lies to.
As it turned out, two of his exes had attempted or committed suicide. I never thought about the statistics of that – Alex explained they were both “crazy.” But as time went on, he displayed more and more of his temper. He would fly into unbelievable rages – often I didn’t know what he was upset about – and scream and swear at me. He was a very large man, and I would sit on the floor as he towered over me, yelled so the neighbors could hear (they told me!), hands in fists, veins poking out of his neck. Co-workers complained to my HR department about the times he dropped me off at work, screaming hysterically at me.
These weren’t “arguments” because I was afraid to reciprocate. Instead, I would go into another room and burn myself. I’d never self-harmed before, but I had nowhere to put my emotions.
He never actually “hit” me, although he did cause two situations which left me bruised. Anyway, the yelling was worse, because for days afterward, I was physically sore as if he had. But unlike most abusive men, he never once said “I’m sorry.” He may have asked God for forgiveness, but not me.
For some years, I believed I was happy – because I felt every incident was isolated and would never recur. Our family did, in fact, have wonderful times together, but it was like taking a walk though a lovely meadow and having to avoid the landmines. Later I became unhappy, but chose to bear my burden because I didn’t want to break up the church. He had threatened me several times with a “Biblical marriage” in which he would make all decisions and I would submit, but it was that way anyway.
Yet the idea of divorce was completely foreign to me. God had brought me this man and I was going to make it work somehow. When I was feeling down he sent me to a weekend retreat at a monastery nearby with a sweet and kind bishop we both loved. This bishop was later defrocked for sexual assault.
Things finally came to a head when my company declared bankruptcy and it looked like I would be laid off shortly. I began to hint that he might look into getting another part-time job (he was working for pay one day a week as a hospital chaplain). He exploded that he couldn’t do that and the church, and the church was his priority. He screamed at me to get a job at McDonald’s, when I was already working 50 to 60 hours a week. “YOU DON’T TRUST GOD,” he shrieked.
I began to get sicker and sicker, mentally and physically. Between jaw problems and anxiety, I lost almost 30 pounds and was constantly depressed and anxious. The doctors simply put me on more and more medication. But the more depressed I got, the more angry Alex got, calling me a “selfish bitch.” He would scream and swear at me the whole way to church, then get out of the car and become “The Gentle Priest.” It was as if he was two people. Church members often told me how fortunate I was to be married to such a Godly man.
Like the Ingrid Bergman character in “Gaslight,” my husband kept trying to convince me that I was crazy, and I came to believe it. He made me flush my meds down the toilet because I was “depending on medication instead of God,” throwing me into SSRI withdrawal. At one point he attempted to exorcise the demons out of me. One minute I was praising God, a moment later the fears came back again. “You TOOK the demons back,” he screamed. “You WANT to be sick.”
By that time I was in a semi-psychotic state. And one day I was greatly relieved and calmed to hear God’s voice say, “You can come home.” I had taken to sleeping on the floor in front of the altar, and when Alex came in I happily informed him. He flew into a rage. “What will that do to the CHURCH? You will go to HELL if you do this. But if it’s what you want, fine. What should I get you – a gun or a rope!?”
The next morning I made a serious attempt – not a gesture, not to get attention. I was 100% positive that I would die and life would be better for everyone. I wrote a suicide note to the church, telling them what a good man my husband was and why they should stay in his congregation. It was all my fault, I said. Blame me.
Somehow, I survived. One doctor said he had never had a patient survive what I had done. They all expected me to be happy that I was alive. I was not. I was supposed to stay in the ward for two weeks. Alex called two days after, demanding I come home, and telling me what to say to the doctors in order to get out. It worked.
The next three years were more of the same, except that now when we argued he would pull the suicide card. And his violent behavior kept escalating. Out of curiosity I wrote the city for his police records and discovered that right about the time he’d met me, he’d been arrested and gone to court for hitting his mother.
To be 100% fair, it was two Orthodox friends (from another church) and an Evangelical counselor who told me I HAD to leave. But I was still brainwashed with my own personal religion. I kept promising them things would get better. They HAD to. I was doing this for God.
One night in our 16th year, I came home late from work, as I was dealing with my most time-consuming project of the year. He was waiting for me. When I came in, he said, “So, I suppose you were out screwing someone else.” There was something new in his eyes, something I’d never seen before. The next morning I got up, went to work and never came home.
Ironically, I still have to support him financially after the divorce. And if the State has a problem with the checks, which it sometimes does, he’s very quick to email me and demand the money (what happened to the sparrows?). MY home has been foreclosed, I’ve lost half my savings, I’ve declared bankruptcy and I have no idea where my stepson is. My father died about the same time. I was diagnosed with PTSD from the abuse. I had lost everything. Everything. I felt like a fool. Still do.
Over the next six months or so, the “feeling” I had, which I had called God, faded and faded. I knew God was gone completely when my father died. I was holding his hand as he passed away, and I felt noting – no compulsion to pray, no concerns about whether he’d gone to heaven or hell, no feeling that his spirit was anywhere at all. The chaplain came by and asked if he could be of any assistance. I said no – unthinkable in the past.
I never, never dreamed I would stop believing in God. For most of my life, even while I wrestled with dogma, God was the one thing I believed to be true. “I believe God exists because I exist,” I would say. I prayed every night before bed and throughout the day as well.
But I can’t imagine the opportunities I missed, the hell I endured, in his name. If there is a god who loves me, he has a funny way of showing it. People will say “I never really believed,” but if I didn’t, why would I have gone through all of that? I defy anyone to go through what I’ve been through and not recognize that God is either evil or a myth.
We’re on our own, and I wish I had known that 30 years ago. I truly feel I wasted my entire life in God’s name. NOTE: Amethyst7 “was married to an Orthodox pastor for 16 years, after having been disillusioned by every other form of Christianity. For her complete extimony from Orthodoxy (and religion itself), read:
NOTE: The following article is taken from the Paisios Scandals blog and St. Nektarios Monastery Tumblr page:
As a father to his daughter how can he stand by and not only watch, but allow Metropolotan Paisios get away with all of his horrendous actions?
Father Iakovos’ daughter was once a nun at Saint Irene Chrysovalantou. She became a nun at the young age of 14 and one must wonder if as a father he ever wondered about her decision and whether it was truly her own decision or not. Fast forward many years later as all this controversy surrounds the ex abbot of Saint Irene (Metropolitan Paisios) and Father Iakovos’ daughter (formerly Sister Chrystonymfi), one continues to wonder how much he really knew and whether he has acted in the best interest of his daughter or not. [Note: Young nun Christonymphi Fitzpatrick took off the monastic vows and cassock and returned to the ranks of the laity].
Father Iakovos continues to serve at Saint Irene Chrysovalantou, however not once has he openly confronted the situation regarding his daughter and the former abbot. He is as human as the rest of us though and it can be said that every individual might handle such a situation differently than the next. One way to handle this would be to channel the hurt and anger the ex abbot has brought upon his daughter, his family, himself, and the surrounding community by coming forth in acknowledgment of the situation and outwardly speaking up and leading the community in fighting against the ex abbot. Someone else however, like Father Iakovos in this specific situation has done, might handle it in a much quieter fashion, choosing to avoid the topic almost as if ignoring it ever happened.
The big question though is, how could Father Iakovos possibly continue to show up and serve in front of the very community that knows very well what has happened as they were also affected by it? How can he show up and continue to completely ignore the disgraceful events that transpired and rocked this community and this church and his family to its core? As a father to his daughter how can he stand by and not only watch, but allow Metropolitan Paisios get away with all of his horrendous actions??
One is left only to wonder what kind of a force could cause a man to keep such silence. I could think of a few things in this world that has made many a man make some pretty bad decisions, but the very first assumption that comes to mind is unfortunately money.
NOTE: Fr. Iakovos use to bring his family to St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY. The writer of the above piece makes an accusation of money buying silence. At the time when Fr. Iakovos visited the monastery (early 2000’s), he and his family lived in abject poverty. They were essentially off the grid, used solar power for their energy, etc. They lived a very Bohemian lifestyle.
The abbot of St. Nektarios Monastery once visited their property and was horrified as he had never seen anything like it before. He felt very sorry for the children who were subjected to live in such squalor and poverty. Thus, he would always make an effort to give the children sweets when they visited the monastery, as well as alms of basic surpluses to the Fitzpatrick family in general.
Fr. Iakovos also introduced another priest to the St. Nektarios Monastery, Fr. P. He was later defrocked for having carnal relations with some of the young women who went to him for confession. The monastery had hired this priest to do some carpentry work but did not pursue his services afterwards.
On December 19, 2013 Fr. Iakovos and Presbytera Deborah, along with 7 (of their 11) children, lost their home and all their belongings in a terrible home fire. By the grace of god, no one was hurt.
On September 1, 1996, an icon in a non-canonical, schismatic Greek Orthodox Church in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, began to “weep.” CSICOP paranormal investigator Joe Nickell was invited by the Toronto Sun to the site for a promised opportunity to examine the “miracle.” However, permission to conduct an examination was subsequently withdrawn, but Nickell’s observation of the icon (actually a color photographic print) persuaded him that the substance was probably a non-drying oil (e.g., olive oil) applied to the surface. It was not freshly flowing and did not emanate from the eyes.
As it happened, the priest had formerly preached at a church in Queens, New York (St. Irene Chrysovalantou Greek Orthodox Church), which had also been embroiled in a controversy over a weeping icon. Worse, he had been defrocked for having worked in a brothel in Athens, Greece.
Subsequently, Nickell was re-invited to Toronto— this time by the Greek Orthodox parent church authorities who had regained control of the church. With a police fraud squad detective standing by, and two constables posted outside, Nickell examined the picture and took samples for the lab to analyze. He told the media, “There is nothing that distinguishes this icon from a fraud.” (See Joe Nickell, “Something to Cry About: The Case of the Weeping Icon,” Skeptical Inquirer, March/April 1997, pp.19-20.)
This display shows photographs from that event. At the left is a votive candle and at right some oil-soaked cotton recovered by Nickell from the site.
1. The Holy Synod in Resistance, of which this parish was a part (under the Archdiocese of Etna (California)), united itself to the Church of the Genuine Orthodox Christians of Greece and formally ceased to exist.
2. An icon of St. Irene began crying and drawing hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, some as far away as India and Japan. More than a year later, after that icon had been investigated by NY Area Skeptics who concluded that the phenomenon was bogus, the icon was stolen at gunpoint. Supposedly, Fr. Ieronymos Katseas refused to cooperate in producing the key to the Plexiglas case that housed it and was pistol-whipped, after which the bandits broke the lock and made off with the “miraculous” icon. It was subsequently returned— minus $800,000 in gems and golden jewelry that decorated it—under conditions that still remain controversial (Christopoulos 1996).
3. Fr. Ieronymos Katseas was also defrocked in 1993 when it was learned he had previously worked in a brothel in Athens. A church document on the priest’s excommunication states that a New York ecclesiastical court found him guilty of slander, perjury, and defamation, as well as being “in the employ of a house of prostitution” (Goldhar 1996). In fact, in 1987 sworn testimony before a Greek judge, Fr. Ieronymos Katseas admitted he had been so employed (Magnish et al. 1996).
Also, shortly after this 1993 excommunication, he refused to leave the parish in Toronto to which he had later been assigned. This parish was in the midst of financial difficulties when the icon began to weep as well, and was also attacked by Greek Orthodox leaders. Fr. Ieronymos Katseas also owed C$95,000 in back taxes and mortgage payments.
Another Greek Orthodox icon seems to have caught the weeping condition while on loan to the Chicago Greek Church of St. Athanasios and John the Baptist. This began on October 17, 1990, when the icon of St. Irene Chrysovalantou, patron saint of the sick and of peace, supposedly began to cry immediately after a service for peace in the Persian Gulf. Returned to its home (the church of a breakaway Orthodox faction) in Astoria, Queens, New York, on October 23, the icon attracted additional thousands of pilgrims over the following days as it was reputed to continue weeping.2 However, the tears dried after the Gulf War ended.
Although an investigation was refused at the time, on May 11, 1991, I was able to examine the icon, under rather limited conditions, in company with members of the New York Area Skeptics (NYASk). A previous NYASk ultra-violet examination had revealed only some streaks and markings that were clearly not the result of weeping. Our examination included stereo-microscopic viewing which also failed to show traces of any tearstains.3 Subsequently, forensic analyst John F. Fischer and I obtained a videotape of the earlier, October 1990, phenomenon. At first we regarded the evidence as too ambiguous to assess, but further study indicated that there were wet-looking streaks that seemed to have been on the painted panel rather than the clear plexiglass cover. It appeared to us that the two “rivulets” flowed down the face just to the outside of the eyes and that the scale of the “tears” was greatly disproportionate to the diminutive size of St. Irene’s face. These observations suggested to us a rather crude hoax.4
A curious sequel to the story of the St. Irene icon came just before Christmas 1991. On December 23, three armed men and a woman burst into the church, forced two priests and four others to lie on the front altar, pried the icon from its case, and fled. Whether they sought the icon for its alleged powers, or for the estimated $800,000 value of its gold frame encrusted with jewels, 5 could only be speculated upon. Said Bishop Vikentios:
Only we need the icon back, we don’t care for the gold of the jewels. It is a holy icon, it is a miracle icon. She is the patron saint of peace. We don’t know why the Lord allowed this to happen.6
Within a few days, however, the icon was returned—although missing the frame and most of its jewels—anonymously through the mail.
A final (?) episode in the icon saga came when representatives of the mainstream church—the traditional Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America (mentioned earlier in the stonewalling of the 1986 Chicago weeping-icon case)—suggested that the breakaway faction that owns the icon might have staged the theft as a hoax. “We have doubts about the tears and so on,” added the archdiocese’s press officer. To what appeared as a case of the pot calling the kettle black, members of the breakaway Greek Orthodox Christians of North and South America, responded that the other church was simply envious of the icon.7
…I witnessed a different illusion when I examined the St. Irene icon in Queens, New York. The glistening varnish and certain surface irregularities created a play of light that produced the appearance of weeping. A religious supplicant predisposed to see tears could, especially if carrying a candle, see in the resultant glimmering in the tiny eyes, aided by vertical cracks and other streaks, the effect of tears.8 Aided in part by the sad expression of St. Irene, we easily experienced the illusion of seeing tears welling up in the saint’s eyes, although a low-power stereo microscope showed us the true state of affairs.9
Nickell, Joe, “Magical Icons.” Chapter 3 of Looking for a Miracle: Weeping Icons, Relics, Stigmata, Visions & Healing Cures, 1993, pp. 54-55, 57.
Mireya Navarro, “Saint’s Weeping Portrait Draws Curious and the Faithful,” New York Times, November 5, 1990.
See Joe Nickell, “Weeping Icon Revisited—Still Dry-Eyed,” The New York Skeptic (Newsletter of the New York Area Skeptics), Summer 1991, pp. 6-7.
Examination of St. Irene videotape, conducted at Gotha, Florida, by Joe Nickell and John F. Fischer, August 6, 1991.
“Congregation Prays for Return of Stolen Icon,” Newark Star-Ledger, December 24, 1991.
“Greek Factions Duel over Theft of the Icon,” Newark Star-Ledger, January 2, 1992.
Nickell, “Weeping Icon Revisited,” p. 7.
November 20, 1990: N.Y.’s weeping icon draws area faithful http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1990-11-20/news/1990324110_1_greek-orthodox-church-weeping-icon-irene
October 31, 1990: St. Irene: Looking For A Miracle http://www.qgazette.com/news/2007-06-27/features/089.html
December 24, 1991: Queens Church Robbed of ‘Weeping’ Icon http://www.nytimes.com/1991/12/24/nyregion/queens-church-robbed-of-weeping-icon.html
December 25, 1991: Faithful Pray for New Miracle To Aid Stolen ‘Weeping’ Icon http://www.nytimes.com/1991/12/25/nyregion/faithful-pray-for-new-miracle-to-aid-stolen-weeping-icon.html
December 28, 1991: Church Robbed of Icon Gets Prank Calls http://www.nytimes.com/1991/12/28/nyregion/church-robbed-of-icon-gets-prank-calls.html
December 29, 1991: Astoria Sings Joyful Praises as a Lost Symbol is Found http://www.nytimes.com/1991/12/29/nyregion/astoria-sings-joyful-praises-as-a-lost-symbol-is-found.html
December 29, 1991: ’Weeping’ Icon Returned to New York City Church http://www.nytimes.com/1991/12/29/nyregion/weeping-icon-returned-to-new-york-city-church.html
December 30, 1991: ’Weeping’ Icon Returns To Prayers of Celebration http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1994-07-17/news/9407170365_1_icon-church-sanctuary-cigna
January 1, 1992: Story of the Weeping Icon Divides Greek Orthodoxy http://www.nytimes.com/1992/01/01/nyregion/story-of-the-weeping-icon-divides-greek-orthodoxy.html
January 1, 1992: Doubt Cast On Story Of `Weeping Icon` http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1992-01-01/news/9201010099_1_st-irene-chrysovalantou-bishop-vikentios-greek-orthodox-archdiocese
July 15, 1994: Questions of Belief Arise Once Again Over `Weeping Icon’ (WSJ) http://www.skepticfiles.org/skep2/iconstol.htm
July 17, 1994: `Weeping Icon’ Goes To Court, Church Sues Insurer For Refusing Its Claim http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1994-07-17/news/9407170365_1_icon-church-sanctuary-cigna
December 23, 1996: Relic Brings Clout and Miracle Seekers to a Queens Church http://www.nytimes.com/1996/12/23/nyregion/relic-brings-clout-and-miracle-seekers-to-a-queens-church.html
August 12, 1998: Church Says Burglar Sought Saint’s Icon http://www.nytimes.com/1998/08/12/nyregion/church-says-burglar-sought-saint-s-icon.html
February 1, 2001: Astoria Greek church’s icon recovered after theft http://www.timesledger.com/stories/2001/5/20010201-archive65.html
November 9, 2010: Sister Christonymphi Speaks to Police Regarding St. Irene Chrysovalantou Monastery in Astoria http://www.monomakhos.com/sister-christonymphi-speaks-to-police-regarding-st-irene-chrysovalantou-monastery-in-astoria/
November 16, 2011: Burglary at St. Irene Chrysovalantou Church in Astoria http://ocl.org/burglary-at-st-irene-chrysovalantou-church-in-astoria/
NOTE: Metropolitans Paisios and Vikentios and their monastery, St. Irene Chrysovalantou, were not part of Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries. However, after they were received into the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America—it is rumored that they paid the Patriarch a large sum of money for the privilege—the two started to visit St. Anthony’s Monastery periodically. When they visited St. Anthony’s Monastery, they would also give sermons in the main Katholikon after a service (even Vespers). The speeches were always the same: Zionists, Freemasons, New World Order, Jewish conspiracies of world domination and destroying Greece and the Orthodox Church. The same rhetoric they used in their newsletters. Interestingly, shortly after their re-ordinations in 1998, the two Metropolitans apologized to the Jewish community for their anti-Semitic publications (see below). Yet, throughout the 2000s, they preached the very things they apologized for in the main church at St. Anthony’s Monastery.
AJC Welcomes Statement By Greek Orthodox Old Calendarist Church Repudiating Anti-Semitism
The American Jewish Committee welcomes the recent statement by leaders of the Greek Orthodox Stavropegial Church and Monastery of St. Irene Chrysovalantou which expresses regret for the use of anti-Semitic remarks and stereotypes in its Church body newspaper, The Voice of Orthodoxy.
The May 21st statement of Metropolitan Paisios, whose group is based in Astoria, New York, noted that in 1993 and 1994 “our publications did indeed reflect an unenlightened attitude toward Jews, perpetuating some anti-Semitic myths whose origins extend back to medieval times. We categorically deny these lies, and genuinely seek forgiveness for having communicated such un-Christian sentiments. We categorically reject all forms of anti-Semitism.”
Bishop Vikentios, another leader of the group also known as the Old Calendarist Church because it follows the Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar, echoed the Metropolitan’s views. “We are saddened and deeply ashamed by these past statements regarding Jews. We not only repent these statements,” the Bishop said, “but understand the true nature of our relationship to Jews and to people of other faiths.” He further acknowledged that his Church body has expressed views about Jews and Judaism “which we now know to be false.”
Commenting on these statements, Rabbi A. James Rudin, National Interreligious Affairs Director of the American Jewish Committee, said: “The expressions of regret on the part of Metropolitan Paisios and Bishop Vikentios represent a necessary first step in purging their group of the ugly pathology of religious anti-Semitism.
“What is needed now, after public repentance, is to translate the message of these statements into the daily spiritual life of the Old Calendarist Church and all its members. This is especially true in areas of preaching and teaching on the local level. Such statements issued by church leaders, welcome as they are, must always be followed by concrete actions and full implementation in all aspects of church life.”
Rabbi Rudin added: “The American Jewish Committee recalls with deep appreciation the powerful words spoken last October at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, by the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, when he repudiated anti-Semitism and called the Holocaust an ‘icon of evil.’”
An AJC Leadership Delegation met with the Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul last February.
Rabbi Rudin concluded: “The AJC also appreciates the vital efforts of Archbishop Spyridon, the Primate and spiritual leader of the Greek Orthodox Church of America, to build mutual respect and understanding between our two faith communities. For its part, the AJC looks forward to continued cooperation with the Greek Orthodox Church in the future.”