The gift of a common calendar - vital to mission and witness in secular society
by Metropolitan Ambrosius of Oulu, Orthodox Church of Finland
It is God's great gift for us all in different Christian traditions to be allowed to celebrate the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord together at the beginning of the third Christian Millennium.
In my own country the Orthodox and Lutherans have experienced the power of the Resurrection on a common date of Easter since the early 1920s. At that time the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople granted the Orthodox Church of Finland temporary permission to follow the Gregorian calendar.
This has been a great blessing for our small minority church in a Protestant country. We have been able to bear common witness to the Mystery of the Resurrection. It makes us stronger. We share the profound richness of both Eastern and Western theological and spiritual insights concerning Easter in our national religious heritage.
The Eastern Orthodox liturgical celebration of Easter Matins and Liturgy, starting at midnight, is broadcast on the National Radio and Television. In fact it is the most popular religious programme in Finland during the whole year.
It is also very much visible in other mass media. National newspapers publish cover stories about and interviews of the Orthodox, who are active in national culture, and how they personally celebrate Easter and what it means to them. Even traditional Orthodox recipes for preparing special Easter food are published extensively.
These are minor examples of the ways in which the Eastern Orthodox minority, one percent of the population, has been able to bring its positive contribution to the Finnish national religious culture.
Perhaps more deeply than ever we, Orthodox and Protestant together, have learned to understand how through two feasts, Good Friday and Easter, the power of the saving and life-giving cross and the glorious resurrection of Christ can't be separated. An Orthodox hymn, already at the vespers of Good Friday - the time of suffering and death, appropriately radiates the light of resurrection: "We magnify your sufferings o Christ...show us also your glorious resurrection."
In my country we are glad to know that within the ecumenical movement extensive pursuits are being made and prayers offered towards a common calendar. We are also aware of inter-Orthodox tensions concerning this issue.
Through our experience in Finland we see the gift of a common calendar as vital to our mission and witness in a secular society. Particularly as a minority culture the Orthodox can't afford to become a religious ghetto. We have to play our role, to live out our vocation in the centre of our national common life.
A common calendar for all Christians is crucial to our everyday life throughout the church year. All children, regardless of their faith or denomination, go to the same schools. Major Christian feasts are holidays for all Finns. The special value of our "Finnish calendar" is experienced particularly in family life, because most Orthodox live in mixed marriages.
It is a gift of the Spirit that the most traditional Eastern Orthodox Hymn of Resurrection will be sung together with our Lutheran sisters and brothers, since it has recently been added to the Finnish Lutheran hymnal: Christ has risen from the dead, by death he has trampled on death and to those in the graves given life.
In early 2001, the WCC Public Information Team asked knowledgeable representatives of the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions to give a brief outline of their thinking on a common date for Easter. Metropolitan Ambrosius of Oulu tells of the experiences of an Orthodox minority church in a Protestant country.