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.
Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Is there anyone who is a grateful servant?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!
Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!
If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.
To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!
Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?
Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!
[The Easter Sermon of St. John Chrysostom]