A common date for Easter discussed

Ekklesia reports on an international ecumenical seminar discussing how to bring Eastern and Western churches together around the date of Easter which the two traditions calculate according to different calendars and they think that now is the time to act because in 2010 and 2011 both the calendars of both traditions will coincide.

The problem is almost as old as the church itself. As Christianity started to spread around the world, Christians came to hold differing opinions on when to commemorate Jesus Christ's death and resurrection, due to the different reports in the four gospels on these events.

Attempts to establish a common date for Easter began with the Council of Nicaea in the year 325. It established that the date of Easter would be the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox. However, it did not fix the methods to be used to calculate the timing of the full moon or the vernal equinox. Both traditions follow the Nicean method but the Eastern Churches use the Julian Calendar and the Churches of the West use the Gregorian Calendar, and the differences between the two calendars can be as much as five weeks.

In 1997, the World Council of Churches proposed a compromise, which was to keep the Nicaea rule but calculate the equinox and full moon using the accurate astronomical data available today, rather than those used many years ago.

Participants at the seminar expressed the hope that the years 2010 and 2011, when the coincidence of the calendars will produce a common Easter date, would serve as a period during which all Christians would join their efforts "to make such coincidence not to be an exception but rather a rule" and prepare for an Easter date based on exact astronomical reckoning and celebrated by all Christians on 8 April 2012.

Read the Ekklesia report here, a helpful background paper here, and the WCC proposal here.

Comments (6)

If they get it done, this would be wonderful news. Different dates for Easter (and Christmas) illustrate our shocking divisions, and exist for no good reason. The People want to celebrate on the same day all around the world.

Pope Paul VI tried to get some movement on this same issue back in the 60's and kept bumping into roadblocks with both the Orthodox and Catholic bishops, neither of whom wanted to give into the other side. For them, it seems power was more important than unity. I hope that we can overcome it this time around.

Wow. I regard this as a difference in individual identity that doesn't divide the church -- until we try erasing the difference and threatening the identity. I've always found these sorts of differences enriching, not harmful, to the body of Christ.

I agree that it does not divide the church, but what does it say about our witness to the rest of the world that we cannot agree about a date for our most sacred festival? What message does that send to others?

Churches have been debating the date of Easter at least since the 2nd century. It would be wonderful if everyone could agree on this; it is, after all, a celebration of our core identity, and it would be a strong witness to the world.

When I was in Jerusalem this year for Orthodox Holy Week, I met an Armenian woman from Los Angeles. Although the Armenian Church in Jerusalem keeps the Orthodox date of Easter, the Armenians in LA follow the Western calendar so that they are in sync with the dominant churches in their context. This woman was trying to explain to a friend how she could celebrate Easter in LA one week, then go to Jerusalem to celebrate Easter the following week. The woman finally told her friend, "Jesus is risen in my heart every day." Would that we could remember that simple truth in the midst of our disagreements.

By the way, the Ekklesia report notwithstanding, the problem was not in its origins the different reports in the gospels about the timing of Jesus' crucifixion in relation to Passover, but rather a question of whether to celebrate on the feast of Passover (which always falls on the vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere), regardless of the day of the week on which it fell, or on the Sunday following the vernal equinox.

Very interesting issue. I would be curious to see if the timing of Passover would be taken into account in a new dating system. Though like Ruth pointed out, the timing of the crucifixion in relation to Passover would be a further point of debate....

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