Date of Easter

One of the most common questions I get this time of year is, “Father when is Easter.” Well that is not an easy question to answer. This year Orthodox Easter falls on the 27th of April while Western Easter is much earlier on the 23rd of March. “So why do we have different dates” is the usual response. I have many families of mixed marriages and they do not understand, neither do I by the way, why we have different dates. While in seminary we discussed this in class and there was a very complicated answer and mathematical formula used to determine this date. So it was always very confusing to people, me included.

Today I was reading an article in the local paper about the start of Lent and what people were going to do. Low and behold at the end there was an explanation that was so simple even I understand it. So here it is let’s see if you can stay with me on this and I will try not to get lost myself.

Both churches determine the date of Easter using this calculation. Easter should be celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon that occurs on or after the vernal equinox. With me so far? Western churches use the Gregorian calendar while we Orthodox use the Julian calendar. Okay so far so good. Now we complicate things a little more. We also use a different way to calculate the vernal equinox. We Orthodox set the date for Easter based on the actual astronomical full moon and the actual equinox as observed along the meridian of Jerusalem. Okay not so bad, I get it. The Western Churches used the fixed date of 21 March for the vernal equinox and define the full moon on ecclesiastical calculations that were used by church leaders many years ago.

Okay so it seems that we are all confused. I have been an advocate of a fixed date for Easter. I think it would make things a little easier on all of us. For example, the local schools usually have a vacation close to holy week but this year it will not be so it would appear that the kids will be in school on Good Friday, for both Good Fridays unless the parents keep the kids home.

Anyway I am not going to be able to make this decision, and church leaders don’t usually call me and ask my opinion on anything so I guess I will only be able to make my views know here.

I hope this has helped clear things up a little.


  1. “I have been an advocate of a fixed date for Easter.”

    So were also the Vat. Counc. II and the Pope Paul VI.

    SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY HIS HOLINESS POPE PAUL VI ON DECEMBER 4, 1963″ has attached the following declaration:
    “The Second Ecumenical Sacred Council of the Vatican, recognizing the importance of the wishes expressed by many concerning the assignment of the feast of Easter to a fixed Sunday and concerning an unchanging calendar, having carefully considered the effects which could result from the introduction of a new calendar, declares as follows:

    1. The Sacred Council would not object if the feast of Easter were assigned to a particular Sunday of the Gregorian Calendar, provided that those whom it may concern, especially the brethren who are not in communion with the Apostolic See, give their assent.
    2. The sacred Council likewise declares that it does not oppose efforts designed to introduce a perpetual calendar into civil society.

    But among the various systems which are being suggested to stabilize a perpetual calendar and to introduce it into civil life, the Church has no objection only in the case of those systems which retain and safeguard a seven-day week with Sunday, without the introduction of any days outside the week, so that the succession of weeks may be left intact, unless there is question of the most serious reasons. Concerning these the Apostolic See shall judge.”

    Here’s how the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” puts the problem of celebration of Easter:

    “At the Council of Nicaea in 325, all the Churches agreed that Easter, the Christian Passover, should be celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon (14 Nisan) after the vernal equinox. Because of the different methods of calculating the 14th day of the month of Nisan, the date of Easter in the Western and Eastern churches is not always the same. For this reason, the churches are currently seeking an agreement in order once again to celebrate the day of the Lord’s Resurrection on a common date.”

  2. I think that part of the formula for the Orthodox is that Pascha has to fall after Passover — and the full moon, as calculated according to the Julian Calendar. What actually complicates things is that every once in so often, the Jewish calendar has an extra month, during which Pascha falls; so, like this year, the West celebrates Easter in March, while the Orthodox celebrate Pascha in late April or early May. I am *not* looking forward to 2010, when, I think, the date falls on April 5 for everybody. That’s too darn early!!!

  3. Intersting that the meridian is one in Jerusalem since it is the Patriarch of Alexandria’s job to determine the date and let all the other primates know.

  4. The Passover thing is a myth – as last year (and many years, in fact) Pascha falls *during* Passover. This year the date overlaps by half a day, I believe. Nicea declared that we *not* use Passover to calculate Easter because the Jewish people had recently changed their calendar. That was what caused the issue in the first place.

    The Orthodox do not use lunar observations to calculate Pascha: there is a set cycle of dates based on the 19 year Metonic cycle of the moon. The Romans (and the Protestants) use a more-exact cycle, although it’s also based on a 19 year Metonic cycle. They simply correct it every once in a while to be more in line with observations.

    The real issue is that the Metonic cycle used by the Orthodox is still dated according to the Julian Calendar – and so drifts further apart from the more-exact Gregorian calendar. A further complication is results from the fact that the date of the Equinox, as used in the Eastern Calculation is incorrect: using the Julian Date of 21 March (which currently is, I think, the 4th of April Gregorian).

    Thus, this year, when Western Easter is on the 23rd of March Gregorian that is WAY too early for the Julian Calendar – falling on 10 March, Julian. So it has to be the Sunday following the first Metonic moon after the *Julian* March 21st.

    In theory, eventually the Julian Calendar will drift so far away from the Gregorian as to make Pascha come in the Autumn – as currently it does in the Southern Hemisphere. This is not an issue because, as noted, it already happens in the Global South.

    None of this, however, is commanded by a council: the Metonic Dates are not set into a Canonical Document – there is no list of them anywhere in “the Rudder” as far as I know. (I’ve asked for proof otherwise on my own blog, and I welcome it.)

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