Have you ever wished someone a Happy Easter only to be told “It’s not my Easter yet”?
While in most countries, Christians celebrate Easter once, in Lebanon, historically, Easter is celebrated twice: once with the Western Catholic church, once with the Orthodox church. And on very rare occasions, the two dates fall on the same day. So why do Catholics and Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter on different days ? The reasoning behind it comes down to the church and the modern day calendar.
Easter is the day the members of the Christian faith recognize the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It is a celebration of life and new beginnings. In 325 AD, the Church held the first Ecumenical Council. Prior to that council, churches around the world celebrated Easter at various times. In order to bring unity among the churches, council member created a formula to calculate the date for Easter celebration: they established Easter to be held on the first Sunday that occurs after the first full moon, which follows the vernal equinox, but always after Jewish Passover. And to avoid confusion in the date, they also determined that the vernal equinox would fall on March 21 every year. This system would guarantee that all churches around the world would celebrate Easter together…
WHY THE VERNAL EQUINOX ?
Before the invention of calendars and other modern methods of tracking years and seasons, people relied on the position of the sun in the sky and signs of nature to indicate the passing of time. But once the hemispheres and the equator of the Earth came to knowledge, it was understood that the slightly tilted rotation of the Earth caused the different hemispheres to experience different seasons. That is called the equinox. The vernal equinox, that happens in late March, brings Spring to the parts of the Earth in the Northern hemisphere. The Council chose this equinox as part of the calculation to ensure Easter would be celebrated in the Spring.
WHY AFTER PASSOVER ?
It was important for the Church to celebrate Easter after the Jewish Passover in order to preserve the sequence of the events leading to the crucifixion of Christ and his resurrection. According to the Biblical timeline, Jesus celebrated Passover with his Jewish followers the night before he was crucified.
ONE EASTER, TWO DIFFERENT DAYS
The Ecumenical Council thought they had finalized a universal date for Easter, however, they could not have known that there would be a split within the Church in 1054, the Great Schism. The Roman Empire had already divided itself into the Eastern (Byzantine) and Western (Roman) Empires, and even though the Church tried to maintain its universal role, it soon divided as well. Not only did the Eastern and Western halves form their own separate empires, but they also chose their own emperors, and eventually, their own, separate, head of the church… The fight over the rule of the church was the final straw, and the church was divided into the Catholic and Orthodox Church. Though the two churches were split among several doctrinal views, they both still believed that Easter should be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon to follow the vernal equinox. However, the Catholic Church no longer found that it had to fall after the Jewish Passover. Added to this was the Catholic Church’s switch over from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar presented in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII. The Orthodox church still held to the original Council’s formula. By using two different calendar systems, the vernal equinox now fell on March 21 under the Gregorian calendar and April 3 on the Julian calendar. According to the two calendars, Easter will not fall on the same day until 2034…