Armenian, Russian and Greek Christmas traditions

Why Armenians celebrate Christmas on January 6 >

The exact date of Jesus’ birth has not been recorded in the Gospels and is not historically known. Despite this mystery date, Christian churches before the fourth century celebrated Jesus’ birthday on January 6.

According to Associate Director of the Eurasia Research Programme at the University of Cambridge Hratch Tchilingirian, Roman Catholic sources hold that the date was changed in the fourth century to December 25 to override a pagan feast dedicated to the birth of the Sun, which was celebrated on December 25.

To undermine this pagan practice, the Church hierarchy designated December 25 as the official date of Christmas and January 6 as the feast of Epiphany.

“However, Armenia was not affected by this change for the simple fact that there were no such pagan practices in Armenia on that date, and the fact that the Armenian Church was not a satellite of the Roman Church,” Tchilingirian writes. “Remaining faithful to their Church traditions, Armenians continue to celebrate Christmas on January 6th until today.”

The ‘arch-heresy of ecumenism’ >

While Armenians may celebrate Christmas on January 6, Russian Orthodox and other Old Calendarists celebrate it on January 7. Or rather, they celebrate it on January 7 by the Julian calendar, which translates to December 25 on the Gregorian calendar.

In the mid 16th century, the Roman Catholic Council of Trent adopted the Gregorian calendar, which most of the world presently uses.

The Eastern Orthodox Church used the Julian calendar all the way up through the early 20th century, after which some of its members, including Greece and Cyprus, moved to a revised version of the old calendar, known as the Revised Julian calendar. The Russian Orthodox Church, the largest Orthodox jurisdiction, as well as a number of other Orthodox jurisdictions, including the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Mount Athos, did not adopt the Revised Julian calendar. Along with the majority of Orthodox Christians worldwide, these jurisdictions still use the Julian calendar for religious observation, although all the the countries where Orthodox Christians live have adopted the Gregorian calendar for secular purposes.

In Greece and Cyprus, Old Calendarists maintain that they have not branched off from the mainstream Church not only over a mere calendar. The calendar, in their view, is merely a symptom of what they refer to as the “arch-heresy of ecunemism”.

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