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Religious Tolerance logo

THE CHRISTIAN ORIGINS OF EASTER

Finding a common date for Easter

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Two dates for Easter:

As described elsewhere, Eastern Orthodox churches generally use the Julian calendar, while Roman Catholics and Protestants use the Gregorian calendar. Methods of calculating the date of Easter differ. Thus Easter is celebrated on the same day in Christianity only about once every three or four years. In other years, the Orthodox Easter -- called Pascha -- is delayed by one, four, or five weeks from the Roman Catholic/Protestant date: 1

Year Easter
(Gregorian calculation)
Easter
(Julian calculation)
Matching dates?
2001 APR-15 APR-15 Yes
2002 MAR-31 MAY-5  
2003 APR-20 APR-27  
2004 APR-11 APR-11 Yes
2005 MAR-27 MAY-1  
2006 APR-16 APR-23  
2007 APR-8 APR-8 Yes
2008 MAR-23 APR-27  
2009 APR-12 APR-19  
2010 APR-4 APR-4 Yes

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Attempts to merge the dates of Easter:

In 1920, the Patriarchate of Constantinople suggested that the Orthodox churches discuss a common date for Easter.

In 1923, the Pan Orthodox Congress decided to revise their calendar. This prompted several schisms among Orthodox churches.

Also in the 1920s, some secular groups were proposing a fixed date for Easter; the Sunday following the second Saturday in April was one suggestion. This would help commercial and public groups plan more easily. But it would sever the linkage between Easter and the Jewish Passover. Also, it would probably further split Christian observance of Easter as some churches adopted a fixed date, and others continued to use the current pair of dates.

Orthodox churches resumed discussion in 1961 during preparations for the Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church.

The Roman Catholic church discussed a common day at the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council, in 1963.

Since 1965, The World Council of Churches has discussed the topic repeatedly. In 1997, the World Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of Churches sponsored a meeting in Aleppo, Syria. Participants included the Anglican Communion, Armenian Orthodox Church, Ecumenical Patriarchate, Evangelical Churches in the Middle East, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, Lutheran World Federation, Middle East Council of Churches, Old-Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht, Orthodox Church in America, Patriarchate of Moscow, Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Seventh-day Adventists, and Syrian Orthodox Church. The group issued what has since been called "The Aleppo Statement." It said in part:

"By celebrating this feast of feasts on different days, the churches give a divided witness to this fundamental aspect of the apostolic faith, compromising their credibility and effectiveness in bringing the Gospel to the world. This is a matter of concern for all Christians. Indeed, in some parts of the world such as the Middle East, where several separated Christian communities constitute a minority in the larger society, this has become an urgent issue. While there has been some discussion of this question, it still has not been given the serious attention that it deserves." 2

They recommended that the original Nicene formula be continued: that Easter falls on the Sunday following the first full moon following the Spring Equinox. They recommend three changes in the method of calculating the date, to take effect in the year 2001:

  1. Abandoning use of MAR-20 as the nominal date of the equinox, and adopting the actual date, which may range from MAR-19 to MAR-21.
  2. Abandoning the use of what they call "conventional tables" to determine the time of the full moon, and use the actual astronomical predictions.
  3. To base the day on the meridian of Jerusalem, where Yeshua was executed.

They concluded that a fixed date for Easter would not work. Some faith groups would reject the idea, and the end result would be two or three Easter dates each year.

The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation formed in 1965 by the U.S. Catholic bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of America endorsed the Aleppo Statement in 1998-OCT. 3

In 1999-MAY, the Anglican Journal commented: "The [Anglican Communion's] Lambeth Conference com-mended [sic] the Aleppo proposal for consideration by member churches. The Conference of European Churches plans to do the same, and other groups, including Baptists, Methodists, Old Catholics, Presbyterians, Societies of Friends and Free Churches, have reacted positively. Except for the Greek Orthodox Church, most Orthodox churches also welcome the initiative but won't yet commit to action." 4

In 2000-MAR, a dialogue established by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA) recommended adoption of the Aleppo Statement. 5,6

Easter for year 2001 came and passed. The World Council of Churches is currently promoting adoption of the for 2004, when Easter will once more be celebrated on the same day throughout the world. Some have suggested that a common Easter date be explored on a regional basis. One example would be in the Middle East, where the dual Easter dates are of particular concern.

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Attempts to agree on a fixed date for Easter:

According to Encyclopdia Britannica:

"In the 20th century attempts were made to arrive at a fixed date for Easter, with the Sunday following the second Saturday in April specifically proposed. While this proposal has supporters, it has not come to fruition." 7

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References:

  1. "Table for finding Easter/Pascha dates," Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, at: http://www.elca.org/ea/
  2. "Toward a Common Date for Easter," World Council of Churches / Middle East Council of Churches Consultation, 1997 at: http://www.elca.org/ea/
  3. Jerry Filteau, "Catholic-Orthodox Consultation Urges Common Easter Date," at: http://www.orthodoxinfo.com
  4. "Christians work toward common Easter date," Anglican Journal, 1999-MAY, at: http://www.anglicanjournal.com
  5. "Dialogue Seeks Common Date For Easter," Evangelical Press News Service, 2000-MAR-20, at: http://www.mcjonline.com/
  6. "US Orthodox - Lutheran Dialogue Backs Common Date for Easter (revised)," Worldwide Faith News, 2000-MAR-14, at: http://beta.wfn.org/
  7. "Easter," Encyclopdia Britannica, Page 2, at: http://www.britannica.com/

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Copyright 2003 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-APR-20
Latest update: 2006-MAR-29
Author: B.A. Robinson

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