A Common Date of Easter?

 — Oct. 24, 202224 oct. 2022

Statement at Forum 6 during the International Meeting of World Religions for Peace “The Cry for Peace” organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio

“La Nuvola” Congress Center, Rome, October 24, 2022

1. “If there is no resurrection of the dead, neither is Christ risen! But if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty, your faith also empty “(1 Cor 15:13 ff). With these words, the apostle Paul affirms with absolute clarity that the Christian faith stands or falls with the paschal mystery. The early Church condensed this fundamental conviction in the formula: “Take away the resurrection and you will immediately destroy Christianity.” Given the central importance of the paschal mystery in the Christian faith, it is understandable that Christians wish to celebrate it on a common date.

2. It is enough to glance briefly at history to see that the search for a common date had already begun in the early days. Even in the early Church, in fact, the date of Easter was disputed. Therefore, different dates can be found: some Christians, especially in Asia Minor, always celebrated Passover in conjunction with the Jewish Pesah on the 14th of the month of Nisan, regardless of the day of the week; for this, they were called Quartodecimans. Other Christians, especially in Syria and Mesopotamia, celebrated Easter on the Sunday following the Jewish Pesah; they were then given the name of protopaschites.

In this difficult situation, the merit of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea held in 325 is to have found a uniform rule according to which: “All the brothers and sisters of the East who until today have celebrated Passover with the Jews, d ‘now onwards they will celebrate Easter in agreement with the Romans, with you and with all of us who have celebrated it with you from the earliest times.” Although the original acts of this Council no longer exist, subsequent reports document that it imparted a decisive impetus to the search for a common date of Easter among all the Christian communities of the empire at that time, establishing as the date for the Easter celebration the Sunday following the first full moon of spring. Since at the same time it was decided that the Passover was to be celebrated after the feast of the Jewish Pesah, the common date of Passover between Christians and Jews was abandoned.

3. A new situation arose in the history of Christianity in the sixteenth century with the fundamental reform of the calendar by Pope Gregory XIII, who introduced the Gregorian calendar, according to which Easter is always celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon of spring. The consequence of this decision is that, since then, the Churches in the West have calculated the date of Easter according to this calendar, while the Churches in the East continue to celebrate Easter according to the Julian calendar, which was used throughout the Church before the reform of the Gregorian calendar and on which the Council of Nicaea of ​​325 was also based.

4. In the meantime, various dates have been proposed and discussed for a common celebration of Easter. The simplest solution would undoubtedly be to take April 7, AD 30 as the day of Jesus’ death, so that Easter is always celebrated on the second Sunday of April. The World Council of Churches has proposed celebrating Easter on the Sunday following the first full moon of spring; in this case, the city of Jerusalem should be the reference point for calculating the full moon. Another noteworthy suggestion is that of the Ecumenical Patriarch Meletios IV (1921-1923), who recognized and accepted the accuracy of the Gregorian calendar and at the same time respected the Easter date established by the early Church. The Meletian calendar is therefore, at least at first glance, identical to the Gregorian calendar, but the date of Easter must be calculated as if the Julian calendar were still in force.

5. The Catholic Church commented on the question of the date of Easter at the Second Vatican Council in an appendix to the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy “Sacrosanctum Concilium” adopted and promulgated in 1963, “taking into account the desire of many to see the feast of Easter assigned on a specific Sunday and to adopt a fixed calendar.” Two criteria are mentioned to define a new calendar. In the first place, the Council shows itself willing “for the feast of Easter to be assigned to a specific Sunday in the Gregorian calendar,” provided that “there is the consent of those who are interested in it, especially the brothers separated from communion with the Apostolic See.” Secondly, the Council also declares its willingness to “introduce a perpetual calendar into civil society,” on the condition, of course, that the seven-day week with Sunday is preserved and protected.

The willingness to find a common date for Easter, provided that all Christian Churches are in agreement, also exists today. Pope Francis has expressed himself in this sense in various statements. The same willingness has been affirmed by leaders of other Christian Churches, including the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Pope Tawadros II.

6. The 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea, which occurs in 2025, offers a special occasion to resume this theme, especially since in 2025 the Churches in the East and the West will be able to celebrate Easter together again on the same day, that is on April 20. It is, therefore, understandable that the desire has awakened to take this great anniversary as an opportunity to intensify efforts towards a common Christian Easter. The anniversary of the Council of Nicaea, which formulated the Christological confession common to all Christians, prompts us to reflect again on its decision regarding the date of Easter and reconsider it in today’s conditions.

In this regard, however, I would like to underline an important difference between the current situation and the time of the Council. In the fourth century, the departure from Judaism grew more and more; also, in light of this development, it is understandable that the temporal and, subsequently, the content link between the Christian Passover and the Jewish Pesah could be dissolved without major theological problems. Today, however, when looking for a common Easter date, one must absolutely take into account the link with the Jewish Pesah. Not only in the light of the difficult history between Jews and Christians, but also in the awareness of the central importance of the Old Testament in the rich Liturgy of the Word in the celebration of the Easter Vigil, it would be a negative sign if the Jewish roots of Passover were forgotten when the question of the calendar is faced today.

7. The effort to find a common date for Easter is an important pastoral goal, especially for couples and families of different confessions and in view of the great mobility of people, especially during the holidays. With a common Easter date, the Christian faith’s deep conviction that Easter is not only the oldest but also the most important holiday in Christianity could be expressed even more credibly. The fundamental importance of Easter would be highlighted by a common date, which would also impart a new impetus to the ecumenical journey towards the restoration of the unity of the Church in the East and the West in faith and love.

Posted: Oct. 24, 2022 • Permanent link: ecumenism.net/?p=12648
Categories: News, OpinionIn this article: Date of Easter, Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, Kurt Koch, Nicaea
Transmis : 24 oct. 2022 • Lien permanente : ecumenism.net/?p=12648
Catégorie : News, OpinionDans cet article : Date of Easter, Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, Kurt Koch, Nicaea

  Previous post: Ancien article : Patriarch Kirill on war
  Newer post: Article récent : Ahead of COP27, Christian leaders commit to fighting hunger caused by climate change