“CHRIST IS RISEN” – when do we celebrate?
Little Yvette asked her Mom why we celebrate Easter on a different date from the Catholics [and everyone else for that matter] – good question – complicated answer – here’s what someone once told me;Easter Day is the first Sunday after the full moon following the Spring equinox. But for ecclesiastical purposes, the full moon is not determined by looking up at the sky: it's the 14th day of the lunar month, which is governed by the 19-year "Metonic cycle" – then you need to consult the Jewish calendar that determines the date for Passover to make sure it’s completely over and then you need to use the old Julian calculation unless you are using the newer Gregorian calendar and that’s pretty much how we determine the date for Easter – all of which you'd need an advanced degree in mathematics and astronomy to really understand. No wonder church leaders have recently been negotiating a more user-friendly formula – like "the second Sunday in April", for instance! Almost true but not quite.
Historically speaking, discrepancies about when to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ are very old. First of all, the historical name for the Feast is PASCHA which comes from the Hebrew word for a ‘yearling lamb’. Easter refers to a pagan Anglo Saxon goddess worshiped in the spring. The [paschal] lamb was slaughtered for the Passover feast of the Jews and the Gospel tells us that the crucifixion of Jesus occurred at the Jewish Passover. Since the earliest Christians were predominantly Jews, they continued to celebrate Passover and they also commemorated the death and resurrection of Christ. The date of Passover is not a fixed date on the calendar but is determined by an astronomical formula and it can fall on any day of the week. There are accounts of early Christians celebrating the Resurrection on weekdays, depending on when Passover fell.
We know from the Gospel that Jesus died on the day of preparation for the Passover, the day when the paschal lambs were slaughtered. Passover was the next day. The Gospel records that Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, Sunday, three days after his crucifixion. The early Christian Jews recognized Jesus as theirsacrificed Paschal Lamb and He became their Passover.
I read about a bishop from the third century who, one year, celebrated Pascha in the capital and then set out to visit a remote village only to find that the people there were preparing to celebrate the Resurrection on the following Sunday. He celebrated the Resurrection twice that year. Discrepancies like this were not uncommon.
In the year 325 at the Council of Nicaea, the bishops of the Church proposed a calculation so that all Christians everywhere could celebrate Pascha on the same day. They decided that the day of the week would be a Sunday, thus divorcing the Feast of the Resurrection from the celebration of Passover. They also decided to adopt the Roman Julian secular calendar to calculate the date rather than depend on the Jewish calculations. The formula states that ‘the Resurrection will be observed on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox.’ The vernal or spring equinox falls on 19, 20 or 21 March each year. Western Christians revised this formula in the 16th century with the adoption of the Gregorian calendar [the modern civil calendar used around the world] Eastern Christians kept the Roman Julian calendar to calculate the date of PASCHA.
Following this Julian calculation prescribed at the Council of Nicaea, PASCHA for Orthodox Christians this year, 2016, was celebrated on Sunday, 1 May. CHRIST IS RISEN! INDEED HE IS RISEN!