Guided by the directives of the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. and calculating the date according to the Julian calendar, this year the Orthodox Church will celebrate Easter on May 5.
A review of history is needed to appreciate the process by which the date is set.
During the second century, the resurrection of Christ was celebrated on the 14th of Nisan, the day of the Jewish Passover, in Asia Minor and Syria. The theme was the death of Christ as a true Paschal victim. Roman custom emphasized the observance of Sunday as the day of Resurrection.
The third century found Alexandria and Rome at odds with Antioch over the date of Easter. Although Alexandria's and Rome's computations were based on different Paschal cycles, they both agreed on the principle that the Paschal full moon could never occur before the vernal (spring) equinox. Antioch simply followed the Jewish observance.
Thus, whenever the Sunday after the Jewish Passover occurred before the equinox, Antioch and Alexandria would celebrate Easter a month apart.
Eusebius of Caesarea, the "Father of Ecclesiastical History," recorded the complaint of Emperor Constantine: "How grievous and scandalous is it that on the self-same days some should be engaged in fasting, others in festive enjoyment; and again that after the days of Easter some should be present at banquets and amusements, while others are fulfilling the appointed fast."
Before the convocation of the Council of Nicaea, one-fourth of its members followed the Antiochian custom. Because of the discussion at the council, the Syrians and those who followed their example agreed to follow the practice prevailing outside the Patriarchate of Antioch.
Out of the deliberations of the Council of Nicaea came this rule: Easter must be celebrated on the Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox, and that the Christian Easter shall never either precede or coincide with the Jewish Passover, but must always follow it. For centuries the Orthodox church has followed this directive.
The present computation of Holy Pascha based on the old Julian calendar has become inexact in our day. The calendar has already reached a thirteen-day lag with respect to solar time. Likewise it is a fact that in the lunar tables for the Paschalia, which are still in effect for the determination of the full moon, the date of the full moon is determined with a lag of five days. This lag will increase with time.
Spelling this out for 2002, we observe that thirteen days must be added to March 20, the vernal equinox, to establish the date of the vernal equinox according to the Julian Calendar, which was April 2. The first full moon after that date was April 27, to which we must add five days. This brings us to May 2. The Sunday after that date is May 5.
This is the method used by the Eastern Orthodox Church. I thought you might like to know this information.
There is another way to calculate the date of Pascha. The rules regarding the calculation are in the minutes of the First Ecumenical Council held in Nicaea in 325 A.D. : Pascha must fall on the first Sunday after, but not coinciding with, the full moon that occurs on or next after the vernal equinox. It must not precede or coincide with the Jewish Passover, yet must occur no earlier than March 25 (April 5 on the papal/civil calendar) and no later than April 25 (May 8).
Calculating the date for Pascha, taking into account the lunar and solar calendars, would at least be exceedingly difficult for even the most scholarly of Orthodox faithful.
A simpler method
But there is a simple method of determining the date for Pascha. Follow these two steps:
U Divide the year by 28. For this year, 2002 divided by 28 is 71, with a remainder of 14 (or 71 x 28 = 1988; 2002-1988 = 14). This remainder, 14, tells you which column to use in Chart 1. For 2002, column C would be used.
U Then divide the year by 19. For this year, 2002 divided by 19 is 105, with a remainder of 7, which indicates the line.
Using Chart 2, go to column C, then down to line 7; the date for Pascha is where the two intersect. As indicated on this chart, in 2002, the Orthodox Pascha will fall May 5.
(These charts are taken from "Church Messenger," published by the Belarusian Orthodox Cathedral -- Sobor of St. Kyril of Turan, Brooklyn, New York, 1991, Pascha Edition.).
Please note that these dates, while indicating the date for Orthodox Pascha, are according to the papal/civil calendar. The Orthodox Church continues to base its calculations for Easter or Pascha on the Julian calendar, in use at the time of the First Ecumenical Council.
A common date
There is a movement to have a common date for Easter. The Orthodox Theological Society in America has just launched a Web site: http://otsamerica.org.
The OTSA is sponsored by the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas to promote Orthodox theology. At the 2001 meeting, they discussed the issue of a common date for Pascha/Easter for all Christians and adopted a resolution on the issue. This made OTSA the first body of Orthodox theologians to endorse the concept of a common date for Easter.
Maybe if this organization really wants a common date for this Feast of Feasts, they would look to history. Between A.D. 326 and 1582, the East and West celebrated Easter on the same date, still using the algorithm from A.D. 325.
Why couldn't we go back in the future?
XThe Rev. Andrew Gall of Liberty is a priest with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A.