A Short Story of Easter Time

from Athens News
by Damian Mac Con Uladh

WHILE East and West celebrated Easter together in year 2010 and 2011, how did the two dates drift apart?

Just ask Leofranc Holford-Strevens, a man who spends a lot of time thinking about time. A consultant scholar-editor at Oxford University Press, he’s author of A History of Time and an expert on the art of reckoning Easter.

The dating of Easter, he explains, goes back to the Council of Nicaea in 325, when Christians decided that Easter should also follow the lunar calendar.

“Easter is the Christian continuation and adaptation of the Jewish Passover,” Holford-Strevens explained, “which was also determined by the lunar calendar.”

This agreement, which ensured that Easter was celebrated on the same day in all of Christendom, lasted until 1582, when Pope Gregory XIII abolished the faulty Julian calendar, which was getting more and more out of step with both the solar and lunar calendar.

While the Protestant world would subsequently adopt the Gregorian calendar, Orthodoxy held on until much later.

“In the 20th century some governments, including the Greek, forced their churches to accept the new dating for civil purposes and for the fixed feasts like Christmas, but not for moveable feasts like Easter,” said Holford-Strevens. “That is why Greece celebrates Christmas when we do, but the Russians don’t.”

As Holford-Strevens explained, Orthodoxy traditionally sees the imposition of the Gregorian calendar as a unilateral act by Rome. It argues that, as the calendar was established by an ecumenical council, only an ecumenical council may amend it.

The last attempt to fix an agreed moveable date, initiated by the World Council of Churches, was due to come into force in 2001, in Western and Eastern Christianity, but it ultimately failed.

“In 2001, the calculations were the same either way, but in 2002 they differed and all the Orthodox churches stuck to the old method after all,” said Holford-Strevens, who noted that the decentralised nature of Orthodoxy means that agreement cannot be imposed, as done by the pope in the past.

“And even if you could persuade the Greeks, it would be 10 times harder to do so the Russians”.

Said Holford-Strevens: “If things continue as they are, by the 6700s, the 68th century, the East will be keeping Easter while the West will be keeping Whitsun.”

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