Summary: The difference in dating Western and Eastern Easter
In the name of the +Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
(the organist strikes up the first line of “Jesus Christ is Risen today”)
Yes, Happy Easter! Jesus Christ is risen today!
Now, we know that the resurrection of Jesus Christ Our Lord and Saviour is proclaimed each and every Sunday in the year. In fact, the passion and the resurrection is proclaimed each and every day with the celebration of every Mass in this Church; but for a significant number of Christians across the globe, this morning is the particular day of celebration – today is the Orthodox Easter day.
So happy Easter! I hereby give you permission to break open that last Easter Egg and feast.
Many here will know of my affinity for the Orthodox, and I believe that it is our Christian duty and Joy to pray for Orthodox Christians everywhere today, and especially those in Romania, especially in the village of Alios and especially for Father Daniel Sabau, but didn’t we in the Western Church celebrate Easter over six weeks ago? Why the discrepancy between the West and the East?
As we all know, the date of Easter is calculated as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox, which was agreed on at the Council of Nicaea in 325. Before then Easter was a local custom, and more closely based on the Jewish Passover of 14 Nissan – another moveable feast based upon the lunar cycle. Although we know from Scripture that the Passion and Resurrection occurred at the time of the Passover, we do not know the exact date, and so we have always had to make some kind of approximation.
The principle reason for the difference between the East and the West is because of the difference between the Julian and the Gregorian calendars. The Julian Calendar was commissioned by none other than Julius Caesar, and made a pretty good estimate of the length of the year – only 11 minutes and 23 seconds a year over. Obviously, over time this builds up and causes problems – and the major correction occurred in 1582 when Pope Gregory the Thirteenth instituted the Gregorian Calendar, and 10 days were skipped. The Western Church over the next 200 or so years adopted the Gregorian Calendar – we ourselves did in 1752, by which time we had to lose 12 days. Political domination by the West ensured that the secular world followed the religious world and consequently we are all tied into the Gregorian Calendar.
The East continues to calculate its first Sunday after the first full moon of the spring equinox based on the Julian calendar, for they have no time for such Romish inventions; even though the world in which they describe Easter uses the Gregorian Calendar. Because Easter must fall on a Sunday there can be a discrepancy of up to 5 weeks. Occasionally, as happened last year; our Easter and their Easter will coincide and we can once more be at one.
Does the date of Easter actually matter? Should it not be a fixed date, as fixed as the 25th of December? I would suggest not. Just as our faith is not just a faith for using on Sunday morning, but is a faith for all week; our Easter is not just a single day, but a daily proclamation of the inevitable, earth-shattering truth, that Jesus Christ is alive, risen from the dead. The actual date of Easter, 31st of March or 5th May is actually quite irrelevant: what matters is what we do with that revelation of God to us, what matters is how we proclaim that Gospel and what we do with that truth in both our own lives and the lives of the people we encounter.
Our readings this morning speak of that truth, they speak of the Holy Spirit preparing to come amongst the people of God at Pentecost, and providing the inspiration for the Church. It is the love of Christ, the love of the Father and our love for him which matters, rather than the adherence to one date or another. He promised that he would not leave us as Orphans, a promise which reaches much further than the mathematics and astrophysics used to calculate the date of Easter. Much as I may have said at Christmas, “Jesus is the reason for the Season” – it is his resurrection which has transformed our lives, and transformed society, and we should never let the secular world lose sight of that.
I understand that the Easter Act, passed in 1928 allows for a government committee to fix the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April. It has never been implemented (thank God), and so Easter still drifts from year to year. We should work hard to ensure that Easter is not further degraded by a committee; nothing even to do with the church, but a committee of bureaucrats! There are pressures, especially from the education authorities to abolish Easter and replace it with a Spring Holiday. We must therefore be vigilant.