As we approach the celebration of the Second Sunday of Easter in the Catholic Church, our Orthodox Christian brothers and sisters will celebrate on April 16, 2023, their own Easter, called Pascha. The discrepancy in the dates for the celebration of this pivotal feast day has long been lamented by members of both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Is there any hope for a common date for a shared Christian celebration of Easter in the near future?
The Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. established a formula for the celebration of Easter worldwide: the Resurrection would be commemorated on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox, but always after Jewish Passover. The Great Schism of 1054 saw the division of the Roman Empire into the Eastern (Byzantine) and Western (Roman) Empires, and subsequently, the division of the Church into the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
While both churches still agreed that Easter should be celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon to follow the vernal equinox, the Catholic Church no longer felt that it had to happen after Passover. Thus, churches began celebrating Easter on different days.
The year 2025 will mark the 1,700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea, and the Gregorian and Julian calendars will line up that year as well, providing a common date for the Eastern and Western churches to celebrate Easter. Viewing this occurrence as a golden opportunity for encouraging the establishment of a common date for celebrating Easter all over the world, Pope Francis spoke in November 2022 with Catholicos Awa III, the patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East.
During this meeting, Pope Francis mentioned an appendix to the Second Vatican Council’s 1963 Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, promulgated by Pope Paul VI, that would allow a common date for the celebration of Easter.
“Let us have the courage to put an end to this division that at times makes us laugh, with the ridiculous possibility that Christians could ask each other, ‘When does your Christ rise again?’” Pope Francis remarked to Awa.
At times the gap is even longer than a week. In 2021, Eastern Orthodox Church news reporter Peter Anderson lamented the fact that the Orthodox celebrated Easter on May 2, while Catholics marked the observance on April 4, making a four-week difference. Anderson, too, mentioned the upcoming 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea in 2025 as an open door for change.
“Perhaps, the celebration of the 1700th anniversary of the council of Nicaea in 2025 would be a good occasion to educate Christians on the necessity of a calendar reform and of a common date of Pascha in order to remain truly faithful to the decisions of the first ecumenical council,” Anderson wrote. “The fact that the Eastern and Western dates of Easter will coincide on that year should be taken as an encouragement towards that direction!”
Members of Protestant churches have long felt the need for a common date in celebrating the Lord’s Resurrection, illustrating the emphasis placed on this one day in the Church’s calendar and its ability to unify believers across denominations.
The World Council of Churches has examined the matter on a number of occasions since 1965, emphasizing that “by celebrating this feast of feasts on different days, the churches give a divided witness to this fundamental aspect of the apostolic faith, compromising their credibility and effectiveness in bringing the Gospel to the world.” The WCC rightly emphasized that “in every aspect of her life, the early Church was first and foremost the community of the resurrection.”
Unifying celebration dates of important feast days in the Church has not been limited only to Easter. The Ukrainian Catholic Church has moved to a new calendar that celebrates Christmas on December 25 rather than January 7, marking an effort to break cultural links to Russia. Prior to this change, all major churches in majority-Orthodox Ukraine followed the Julian calendar, which celebrates Christmas on January 7. Despite this move, however, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) ruled to keep the celebration of Easter according to the old calendar.
The number of Church leaders with their eyes set on 2025 looks promising a universal date for the Easter feast day, with hopes that it could be a sign of encouragement for the ecumenical movement.
Image Credit: “La Résurrection du Christ Huile sur panneau” Guillaume Bonoyseau and Resurrection Icon. Both Wikimedia Commons.
Kristi McCabe is an award-winning freelance writer, Catechist, a former teacher and editor who lives with her family in Owensboro, Kentucky. As an adoptive mother of four and an adoptee herself, Kristi is an avid supporter of pro-life ministries. She is active in her local parish and has served as Eucharistic minister and in various children's ministries.