Sunday, May 5, 2024

Its Easter!

While it is still Easter for those in the West, for those in the East, Easter is today.  While most years the distance between the dates is smaller, this year it is very significant.  In 2024, the Christian world of the rest celebrated Easter on March 31 but the Orthodox celebrate Easter today, May 5.  The difference is due to the fact that most Orthodox churches use the Julian calendar introduced by Julius Caesar in 45 B.C. and the West uses the Gregorian calendar introduced by Gregory XIII’s 1582 papal bull Inter Gravissimas (“Among the Greatest Concern”).  Developing an accurate calendar is not a simple task since the time it takes the earth to make a complete revolution around the sun cannot be neatly organized into days and months. Such a revolution takes nearly a quarter of a day longer than 365 days, so every calendar has had to adjust for this difference or be increasingly off year after year.  Both the Julian and Gregorian calendars were efforts to account for the movements of the sun and the moon, with the Gregorian calendar being the more successful effort to do so.

Easter, the celebration of the resurrection of Our Lord, is the most important feast of all liturgical times but from the earliest centuries, the Christian churches celebrated it on different dates. The First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea of 325 determined to resolve the issue by decreeing that the universal Church would celebrate Easter on the first Sunday after the full moon following the beginning of Spring.  By this reckoning, the earliest possible date for Easter could be March 22 and the latest April 25.  The Julian calendar used at that time missed the calculation of the year by 11 minutes and 14 seconds.  Although the Church was aware of this fault, they attempted to follow the Council of Nicaea anyway.   To correct the problem, Pope Gregory XIII removed 10 days from the calendar in 1582 so folks went to bed Oct. 4 and woke up Oct. 15.  The Julian calendar trails behind the Gregorian calendar about 13 days (slowing increasing to 14 days in 2100).

Roman Catholic countries tended to follow the new calendar right away; Protestant countries began adopting it in the 1700s, including colonial America in 1752.  The holdouts in the East included Russia, which remained on the Julian calendar until 1917, and Greece, which remained on the Julian calendar until 1923.  No one likes the difference.  Both Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew seem to be supportive of a common date but the problem is exacerbated by divisions within the Orthodox church community (in 2018 the Russian Orthodox Church severed ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople after Bartholomew sided with the independence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine).   If it does progress toward an agreement, it is more likely that it will unfold step by step with different Orthodox jurisdictions instead of everyone jumping on board at the same time.

Thought you might want to know. . . 




No comments: