On the western/Gregorian calendar, Easter (or Pascha) is March 23 this year, although on the eastern/Jullian calendar, it won’t come until April 27. The discrepancy is the result of a calendrical adjustment made by Pope Gregory XIII in the 16th century made to keep the calendar year in better sync with the actual solar year. As might be expected, non-Catholics didn’t embrace the pope’s reform. Protestant England didn’t adopt the Gregorian calendar for another 200 years when, in 1752, Wednesday, September 2 was followed immediately by Thursday, September 14 to bring the English system into alignment. This move spawned heated protests, with Englishmen demanding, “Give us back our eleven days!” Eventually, however, all western nations adopted the Gregorian system. If they hadn’t, Ash Wednesday would still be about a month away.
Orthodox churches still use the Julian calendar for calculating the date of Easter. I believe the Baptist churches in the Republic of Georgia do the same, which makes perfect sense if you’re keen to convince your Orthodox neighbors that you in fact belong to a Christian church after all and not some strange cult.
Concerned as I am with Christian unity, I cannot help but be troubled by the fact that we can’t even seem to agree on when to celebrate our holiest days. There is at least one proposal on the table that would correct this, however. In 1997, a consultation of the World Council of Churches met in Aleppo, Syria, to see what might be done. They arrived at two recommendations:
The first has to do with achieving a consensus as to how the date of Easter/Pascha should be calculated:
In the estimation of this consultation, the most likely way to succeed in achieving a common date for Easter in our own day would be
(a) to maintain the Nicene norms (that Easter should fall on the Sunday following the first vernal full moon), and
(b) to calculate the astronomical data (the vernal equinox and the full moon) by the most accurate possible scientific means,
(c) using as the basis for reckoning the meridian of Jerusalem, the place of Christ’s death and resurrection.
The second recommendation is that the various church bodies study and discuss this proposal with a view toward implementation:
This consultation also recommends that the churches now undertake a period of study and reflection towards the goal of establishing as soon as possible a common date for Easter/Pascha along the lines set forth above. In the year 2001 the paschal calculations now in use by our churches will coincide. Together, Christians will begin a new century, a new millennium, with new opportunities to witness to the resurrection of Christ and to proclaim their joy in his victory over sin, suffering and death. The unity that will be reflected as Christians celebrate Easter/Past on the same date will be for many a sign of hope and of witness to the world. This celebration of Easter/Pascha on the same date should not be the exception but the rule.
Of course, Easter 2001 has long since passed, and Easter has been observed on the same day in both calendars on two years since (2004 and 2007). The next time Eastern and Western Christians celebrate Easter/Pascha on the same date will be April 4, 2010. Although there is no reason the various churches couldn’t adopt the Aleppo recommendation at any time, but when these conjunctions come around every few years, it ought to spur us to pray for Christian unity‚Äîand repent for how we have contributed (personally or ecclesiastically) to damaging that unity.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent for those of us who follow the western/Gregorian calendar. Here is a sampling of good introductory reading on Lent and Ash Wednesday that I found in my feed reader this morning:
- What Is Ash Wednesday? (Mark D. Roberts)
- Beginning Great Lent (Vindicated)
- For Ash Wednesday: The Prayer of Manasseh (Internet Monk)
- Ashes, Ashes (The Way of the Fathers; link to some good Ash Wednesday readings)
- Wilderness (The Owl’s Song; not strictly Lenten but a brief meditation on Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness)
Lent is a season of renewed discipleship. It’s a time to get serious about the things that are holding us back spiritually and explore ways not only to get us back on track but even to advance in holiness. My Lenten plan this year will include some work on memorizing more of the Psalter as well as devotional reading from the Desert Fathers, as well as the usual stuff about listening more attentively to people when they’re talking and taking better care of my body. I don’t know what your goals are for Lent, but I would challenge you to make some!