Common date for Easter boosted:
Orthodox, Lutheran theologians endorse plan to celebrate Christianity's holiest day at the same time

Article and Commentary

Thursday, March 16, 2000
By Ann Rodgers-Melnick, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Led by two bishops from Pittsburgh, Lutheran and Eastern Orthodox theologians from the United States have endorsed a plan that would allow all Christians to celebrate Easter on the same day.

"If we can arrive at a common date for the celebration of the most important day on the Christian calendar, it will bring a sense of unity to the world," said Bishop Donald McCoid of the Southwest Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

With Metropolitan Maximos of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Pittsburgh, he co-chairs the Orthodox-Lutheran Dialogue in the United States. It represents the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, but cannot make decisions for those churches.

The Lutheran-Orthodox Dialogue has endorsed a 1997 plan from the World Council of Churches to calculate the date of Easter in a way that Eastern and Western Christians can agree on. The American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation -- on which Maximos also serves -- has endorsed the same plan.

The 1997 proposal calls for the common dating to go into effect after 2001, a year in which both Easters fall on April 15. The Orthodox-Lutheran Dialogue has called on all Christians to study the proposal in the year leading to Easter 2001. But Maximos and McCoid agree that it will take many more years of work before worldwide Orthodoxy can accept the plan.

This year Western Easter falls on April 23 and Orthodox Easter on April 30. But the next 17 years include seven shared Easters before the dates diverge for many years after 2017.

The differences between Eastern and Western Easter are rooted in different calendars and different ways of calculating the spring equinox. The New Testament says that Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday shortly after Passover.

Early Christians celebrated Jesus' resurrection in relation to Passover, but in a variety of ways. Some chose Passover itself. Others chose the Sunday after Passover. A change in how some Jewish communities calculated Passover added to the confusion.

In 325, the Council of Nicea decided that all Christians should celebrate Easter on the Sunday after the first vernal full moon of the spring equinox -- a formula that followed Jewish practice in Jesus' day. That formula held for more than 700 years, until Christendom split into Orthodoxy and Catholicism in 1054.

During the Middle Ages the Orthodox added a caveat, stating that Easter could not be celebrated until the first full moon after Passover. This sometimes put Easter off for a month.

Then, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII instituted the more accurate Gregorian Calendar, which was days out of synch with the old Julian Calendar. But Orthodoxy continued to use the Julian calendar until 1923, when an attempt to shift to Gregorian time produced multiple schisms. To calm things down, the Orthodox churches that adopted the Gregorian Calendar agreed to use the Julian date for Easter. Thus, the Greek Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas with the West, but Easter with the East.

A final complication is that Eastern and Western Christians calculate the equinox and full moon from different points on the globe.

The World Council of Churches proposal returns to the original formula of Nicea, but would use scientific calculations of the equinox and moon -- not the Gregorian or Julian calendars -- to pinpoint the date. It would plot the calculations from Jerusalem.

The Lutheran-Orthodox group supports that proposal, and also calls on Western Christians to consider acknowledging the Orthodox belief that Easter should come after Passover.

"If we can do this together, you have no idea what other things this may open the door for. It shows that we can take ancient differences and look for ways in which we can move to a common understanding," McCoid said.

Maximos calls the Easter proposal "a beautiful idea." But pastoral considerations are likely to prevent Orthodox church leaders from quickly adopting it. Many Orthodox bishops are still fighting theological battles with Old Calendarists, who refused to go along when their national churches adopted the Gregorian Calendar 80 years ago. They are the Orthodox equivalent of Latin Mass Catholics.

Those bishops do not want to provoke further divisions. "They will say that they cannot divide their own people for the sake of unity with others," Maximos said.

But Maximos strongly disagrees with those Orthodox who favor keeping separate dates on the grounds that it makes Orthodoxy more distinctive.

"Thank God that at least part of the Orthodox world celebrates Christmas with the West. What unites Christians is much more important than what divides us. I would rather see us be united in the number one celebration of our church calendar, which is Easter," Maximos said.



This article gives clear evidence of the tragic direction that Orthodox participants in the ecumenical movement are taking. A few points of history and logic place the arguments of the Orthodox clergyman quoted below in perspective.

1) First, the Council of Nicea has already settled the matter of a common date for Pascha. It was not seeking astronomical accuracy in this attempt, but to establish what was (and is) a brilliant liturgical year that revolves around the date of Pascha, the Resurrection constituting the central point in the Christian liturgical year. Fabrications and unscientific speculation about the possibility of an eventual Pascha in August and the Nativity Feast in March not withstanding, the Orthodox Church Calendar is an ingenious invention that will work adequately in service to the Church for many thousands of years, without any of these imaginative events occurring.

Since the Orthodox date for Pascha also comes from the time of undivided Christianity, since it reflects the conscience of the undivided Church, and since it has, until the calendar innovation, united Orthodox Christians, why should IT not, rather than the dictates of the World Council of Churches, serve as a model for the common celebration of Pascha? The Fathers of the undivided Christian Church certainly must take precedence over the administration of the WCC.

Moreover, if the WCC were sincerely interested in following the dictates of Nicea, then why has it inexplicably and foolishly set aside the provision that Pascha be celebrated after the Jewish Passover? This is a misuse of the historical record. It entails, indeed, nothing more than lip service to Church tradition, on the part of the WCC. (We will not, here, address the issue of the poor scholarship, among certain modernist Orthodox, which makes the unfounded claim that the provision for celebrating Pascha after the Jewish Passover does not in fact say precisely what it says.)

We might note, incidentally, that the word "Pascha" (which means Passover), the proper Orthodox word for the Resurrection for Christ, has been almost wholly scrapped by Orthodox ecumenists for the term "Easter," in an attempt to play down "differences" between Orthodox and heterodox Christians for the sake of "similarties." This does not address the fact, however, that the Orthodox Pascha is closely tied to the entire Hesychastic and Eucharistic tradition of Orthodoxy, the profundity of which is not to be found in Western Christianity or in Easter and the ubiquitous rites of spring associated with it (bunnies, chickens, etc.), as well the Orthodox Church's liturgical life. Also, St. Paul calls Christ our "Passover," and the Passover of the Old Testament we understand to be a prefigurement of the Pascha of the Lord (which also symbolizes the Lord's Passion). This symbolism is sadly lost in the use of terms borrowed from the West and ecumenism.

2) Eggs are artichokes. The logic of such a statement is consistent with the idea that Old Calendarists in the Orthodox Church are the Orthodox equivalent of Latin Mass Catholics? Does the calendar issue involve language? No. Liturgical traditions as such? No. Is there any parallel whatsoever between the traditionalist Catholic movement and the Old Calendar movement? None whatsoever. Have there been any contacts between them? None. Do have any theological principles in common? Absolutely not. This is simply a convenient device by which to identify Old Calendarists with a movement that is anathema to liberal American Catholics and thus to sully the Orthodox traditionalists.

The calendar issue centers on the problem of authority in the Church and how changes take place. What we read below suggests that the ignorant masses somehow have to be controlled and calmed by the omniscient Church leaders. Where, in this, is the Orthodox teaching that it is the People of God who ultimately express the conscience of the Church? Indeed, they even have, in rare circumstances, the right to remove their Hierarchy! Where in this condescending attitude towards the Faithful and the traditions of the Church is the contrast between papist monarchism and the organic spiritual view of the Church that has always characterized Orthodoxy and the witness of the Fathers? We are reminded of the leaders of the Jews, who dismissed the followers of Christ as ignorant people.

The calendar change took place without the People of God, or even most of the Hierarchy, being informed. It divided Orthodoxy. And because, like the new date for a common Easter, it was prompted, not by concerns for the internal integrity and unity of the Orthodox Church, but by an ecumenical agenda, it struck a blow at the very ethos of Orthodoxy. It is also worth mentioning that the vast majority of the Orthodoxy world, as the article below fails to point out, follows the Old Calendar, not the New.

3) Orthodoxy is distinctive because it adheres to the unbroken traditions of the Undivided Christian Church established by Christ. The Church Calendar is but one of the traditions that we have received from the Apostolic Church. If it serves to distinguish the Orthodox Church as the very embodiment of the historical Church, then only someone who believes that Orthodoxy is but one among many equal churches could take umbrage with this distinguishing characteristic. If we believe that the Orthodox Church is the True Church, then we honor and love all of those things which distinguish and characterize her and which call others to her catholic and "peculiar" witness.

Moreover, one can only lament that an Orthodox Hierarch would say, "Thank God that at least part of the Orthodox world celebrates Christmas with the West" (albeit a minority of the Orthodox world). Would that we could hear a Shepherd of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church say, "God forgive us Orthodox, that we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity on different dates" (thanks to the calendar innovation and the ecumenical movement which spawned it). Let us also note that it is not Pascha which is at the center of Orthodoxy, but Christ. Pascha is at the center of our liturgical year. Christ is at the center of our Faith. It is His Body which constitutes the Church, and that Body is One. Pascha, the Resurrection of Christ, is a celebration of that unity, of the oneness of Baptism, doctrine, worship, mind, and ethos that is Orthodoxy. Thus, those with true faith in Orthodoxy must first strive to make their unique oneness known to the world, not in the claptrap philosophies of religious syncretism preached in the guise of tolerance and love (and the sin of ecumenism is that it is intolerant and engenders hatred between brothers in the name of love for others), but in a true desire to preserve what has been given to us in the spotless treasure of Orthodoxy and to pass this on to others in an unadulterated form.

It is easy to become unsettled, if not outraged, at the blindness of the Orthodox ecumenists, who use the platform of love to slap at their own brothers and to put forth cliches and epithets that are essentially meaningless and which show a lapse both in an Orthodox understanding of the history of the Church and in simple logic. Seeing otherwise intelligent, learned, and certainly well-intentioned men and women come to such a state, however, we should bring to mind immediately what blindness is. It something unnatural, imposed by disease and deformity. It is not a personal fault, as such. Seeing this, we should come to pity the Orthodox ecumenists. And in this pity, we should redouble our efforts to live our Faith in such a way that the light of Christ might shine through us and enlighten even those who revile us in the name of ecumenical love.

Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies
Posted with permission

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