This year, the Orthodox Church will celebrate Pascha (Easter in the Western world) on Sunday.
The date is calculated according to the Julian calendar and guided by the directives of the Council of Nicea 325 A.D.
A review of history is needed to appreciate the process by which this date is set.
During the second century, the Resurrection of Christ was celebrated on the 14th of Nissan, the day of the Jewish Passover, in Asia Minor and in Syria.
The theme stressed the death of Christ as a true Paschal victim.
Roman custom emphasized the observance of the day of Resurrection as Sunday.
The third century found Alexandria and Rome at odds with Antioch over the date of Pascha.
While 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 equinox.
Antioch simply followed the Jewish observance.
Thus, whenever the Sunday after the Jewish Passover occurred before the equinox, Antioch and Alexandria would celebrate this holiday a month apart.
Eusebius of Caesarea, the father of ecclesiastical history, recorded the complaint to 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 after the days of the Resurrection some should be present at banquets and amusements, while others are fulfilling the appointed fast.”
Out of the deliberations of the Council of Nicaea (325A.D.) came the rule that Pascha must be celebrated on the Sunday after the first full moon of the vernal equinox and that the Christian Pascha should never precede or coincide with the Jewish Passover.
This year the Jewish Passover started at sundown March 25.
For centuries, the Orthodox Church has followed this directive.
The present computation of Holy Pascha based on the Julian calendar has become inexact in our day.
The calendar already has reached a 13-day lag with respect to solar time.
Likewise, the lunar tables for the Pascha, which still are in effect for the determination of the full moon, are determined with a lag of five days.
This lag will increase with time.
In 2013, 13 days must be added to March 21, vernal equinox, to establish the date of the equinox which, according to the Julian calendar, is April 3.
The first full moon after this date is April 25 to which we must add five days.
This brings us to April 30. The Sunday after this date is May 5.
There is a movement to have a common date for observance of the Resurrection.
At a meeting in 2001, the Orthodox Theological Society in America discussed the issue of a common date for Pascha “Easter” for all Christians and adopted a resolution on the issue.
Perhaps if this organization wants a common date for the Feast of Feasts, it might look to history.
Between A.D. 326 and 1582, the East and West celebrated the Resurrection on the same date using the formula from A.D. 325.
Why can’t we go back in the future?
The Rev. Andrew Gall is pastor of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Sharon, Pa.