Religion and Ethics Weekly: Easter East And West

WALT WANGERIN, JR. (author, “Paul: A Novel”): This is the very center of what we believe, of who we are, of what our identity is, of why we continue to return to the Lord in joy. Without Easter, there is no church.

[KIM] LAWTON: More often than not, Eastern Orthodox and Western Christians celebrate the Resurrection on different days. But a growing number of American church leaders say this should change.

FATHER RON ROBERSON (National Conference of Catholic Bishops): The credibility of the Christian message really gets compromised when people on the outside see that we can’t even agree on when to celebrate the central mystery of our faith.

East meets West.
LAWTON: Conflicts over the celebration of the Resurrection stretch back to the beginning days of Christianity. Early church leaders wanted all Christians to celebrate the Resurrection on the same day, after the Jewish Passover. To that end, a council of bishops in the fourth century decreed that Easter would fall on the first Sunday after the first full moon, after the spring equinox. But as the Roman Empire divided between the Greek-speaking East and the Latin-speaking West, the church world also split. When Westerners adopted the new Gregorian calendar in the 16th century, the East kept the Julian calendar. Since the two calendars have differing dates for the equinox and full moon, in most years Easter falls on different Sundays.

LAWTON: During Holy Week, churches mark their beliefs with special services. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, these services are especially numerous and lengthy. One unique observance is the service of holy unction on Wednesday night.

MS. MATHEWES-GREEN: At the conclusion of this service, the members of the church line up and come forward for anointing, for healing. In the Orthodox Church, we still have a lively belief that Jesus heal, that we need healing of our souls and our bodies.

Read it all.


Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Religion News & Commentary, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Orthodox Church, Other Churches

11 comments on “Religion and Ethics Weekly: Easter East And West

  1. Words Matter says:

    I was taught that the problem with Easter’s date was very early, long before the calender change. It’s my understanding that from a very early date, the east tied Easter to passover. Am I remembering wrong?

  2. Br. Michael says:

    Quite frankly I would have one date and if we adopt the Eastern practice fine. Easter should follow Passover. Of course the main thing is that it be celebrated.

  3. Alice Linsley says:

    The Eastern Orthodox Tradition has more affinity to Judaism than Roman Catholicism. This is evident in the liturgy and in the Church’s teaching on marriage, fasting, alms-giving and prayer. It is also evident in the dating of Orthodox Easter (Pascha). Our’s falls this year on April 27.

    There are 3 criteria for dating Pascha. It must fall after the Spring equinox as it is observed in Jerusalem (rather than in Rome). It must fall after the first full moon, and it must fall after Jewish Passover, as a witness to the Jews that Christ is the fulfillment of Passover.

  4. PadreWayne says:

    I am struck (happily so!) at the growing awareness of the importance of Holy Week — going deep into the valley, experiencing the pain and suffering and [i]passion[/i] — in deepening our joy on Easter. For me, to celebrate Easter only (or, worse, to jump from Palm Sunday to Easter with nothing in between) would be like walking into the first Star Wars movie and seeing only the finale procession. “What the heck is going on? Why are people so happy?”

    Sing the Psalms of lament. Find a service of Tenebrae. Humble yourself and proclaim your humanity by washing the feet of another. Walk the Street of Sorrows. Observe the Cross.

    IMHO the joy of morning will be so much greater.

    Blessings, all. On [i]both[/i] sides of the aisle.

  5. Irenaeus says:

    The Council of Nicea decreed that Christians calculate the date of Easter using a formula keyed to the Roman Calendar and the phases of the moon. Since then the overwhelming majority of Christians, East and West, have not used the Jewish calendar to calculate the date of Easter.

    The differences between the Western and the Eastern Orthodox dates of Easter arise (as I understand it) mainly because the West uses the Gregorian version of the Roman calendar, whereas the East retains the older Julian version.

  6. Irenaeus says:

    The fact that Christians celebrate Easter on different Sunday strikes me as one of the more inconsequential ecclesiastical “problems” of our age.

    Every Sunday is Easter. And how Christians treat each other (and treat non-Christians) is a far more important witness than achieving a common party line on the date of Easter.

  7. Rick in Louisiana says:

    [blockquote]LAWTON: More often than not, Eastern Orthodox and Western Christians celebrate the Resurrection on different days. But a growing number of American church leaders say this should change.

    FATHER RON ROBERSON (National Conference of Catholic Bishops): The credibility of the Christian message really gets compromised when people on the outside see that we can’t even agree on when to celebrate the central mystery of our faith.[/blockquote]

    I was mildly disappointed that the rest of the report did nothing to expand upon or address these points – nothing from anybody about how East and West are going to come together on this (pace Irenaeus).

    There have been small (very small) movements of West towards East (note the direction). Faint whisperings about adjusting to the Eastern form of the Apostles’ Creed. Even Benedict XVI might have made such a step when he gave up one of his more grandiose titles as Pope (thereby allowing greater possibility that he can relate to Eastern patriarchs/metropolitans as equals). (Many of us know that there is some Orthodox influence on the historical development of the Episcopal Church and its Book of Common Prayer.) I am not aware of similar movements of East towards West.

    (Lest it sound like I am criticizing slightly Eastern Orthodoxy let it be known that I have been studying/reading and learning from Orthodoxy a great deal the last year or so. I resonate with Orthodoxy more than with Catholicism. Also I have been talking with Anglican friends about how Anglicanism may need to (re)define itself as “Western Orthodoxy” – which I know would be unacceptable to most Orthodox leaders. But there you go.)

  8. Words Matter says:

    Rick –

    A couple of notes to your post:

    1.) I think it’s generally fair to say that the Catholic Church has made more movement toward the East than vice-versa, but it’s also true that the Patriarch of Constantinople has, apparently, reciprocated the fraternal hand extended by Pope Benedict. Within the limits of the schism, of course. There is some question as to whether dropping the title “Patriarch of the West” was a sop to the Orthodox, since that title is used by heads of self-governing EO churches. In other words, it makes his office one of several, rather than having a unique spot. Certainly, the encyclical [i]Ut Unam Sint[/i] addressed ways in which the current administrative arrangements of the Catholic Church could be adapted to a re-unified Catholic/Orthodox Church. The problem, of course, is that the dogma of Papal Infallibility is irreformable for Catholic and it’s highly unlikely the Orthodox will accept it.
    2.) The [i]filioque[/i] of the Nicene Creed is the other big sticking point between Orthodox and Catholic. From the Orthodox perspective it’s an offense against Trinitarian theology. For Catholics, it’s a hedge against Arianism and can, therefore, be eliminated without a theological problem.

    Most of the other problems between the Churches are cultural and pastoral. Those aren’t small things, and any reunion would certainly entail schisms within the various Orthodox bodies. But they could be overcome. As noted, the Creed can be settled rather easily. The papacy, on the other hand, can’t. Personally, I don’t see it happening in my lifetime.

  9. Alice Linsley says:

    The Julian calendar is the Egyptian 365 day luni-solar calendar that dates back to about 4241 B.C. Julius Caesar was taken by how much more accurate it was than the 10 lunar cycle Roman calendar and introduced it to the Roman empire. The Gregorian calendar dates to 1582.

  10. Jsur04 says:

    Just because something is older does not make it more correct in fact alot of time it makes it less true. The gregorian calender allows us to more closely be in the time frame that the passion actually occured. Follow the spirit of the Nicaea do not be a slave to the letter of canon law. Last time I check Caesar was not a Saint of the Church, we should not be tied to how he told time. If we also follow Nicaea, it tells us Rome fixes the date of Easter. Also the Eastern Orthodox Pascha dating has nothing to do with passover, if it did it would fall the day after not a full week after (besides in the early church, the fathers took special care to detach the dating of Easter from passover as much as possible.) Also the Jews would not apperciate the Orthodox trying to claim some link to them, especially since the Russian church has not apologized for the Jewish massacres in the early 1900’s.

  11. Alice Linsley says:

    We can’t dismiss historical facts because we insist on holding a certain view. The Council of Nicaea did not declare the Roman calculations as normative. Instead, the council assigned to the Bishop of Alexandria the responsibility of announcing the date of Christian Passover each year. The synod of Bishops regulated the dating of Christian Passover, communicating its decision to the different dioceses, but it did not establish a canon. The Syrian Christians always held their Easter festival on the Sunday after the Jews observed their Passover. Alexandria and the rest of the Roman Empire calculated Easter with no regard to its connection to the Jewish Passover. And this does present a disconnection that is theologically problematic.

    Orthodoxy is multi-faceted. The Russian Orthodox church does not represent the sum of Orthodoxy. The Antiochian facet, which has roots going back to the Church in Antioch, which commissioned Paul and Barnabas, sets Easter after the Spring equinox as it is observed in Jerusalem, after the first full moon, and after Jewish Passover. I asked why and was told that this decision was made consciously as a witness to the Jews that Christ is the fulfillment of Passover. There are many Semites in the Antiochian church and Metropolitan Phillip’s headquarters are in Damascus on “the Street called Straight,” which means nothing to those who dismiss traceable roots, but means a great deal to those who want to be connnected to those roots.