How The Dates For The
Roman Catholic-Protestant And The Greek Orthodox Easter Are Determined
Every year, tens of
questions are received at Kefalonian Roots
asking "Why is the Greek Orthodox Easter a different date from the
Catholic-Protestant Easter?" "How the dates for the two Easters
This year we are going to try to explain the
answers to these questions. A bibliography is listed at the end of the article.
The basic idea to keep in mind, while
reading the following information, is that Jesus went into Jerusalem during the
week of the Jewish Passover. He went there to celebrate the Passover with
his disciples. After the Feast of the Passover, he was captured, taken to
trial and crucified. For this
reason, it is easy to understand why the clergymen at the Council of Nicaea in
325 AD. believed that the Christian Easter should always be celebrated about the
time of the Passover, but after Passover itself. Keeping these facts in mind, will help in your
understanding the following information.
The Catholic and
Protestant Easter always falls on the Sunday following the first full moon
of Spring, the first full moon following the vernal equinox, which
falls about March 21st each year. If, for example, the first full moon is March
24th, then Easter will be the following Sunday. If the first full moon
is April 4th, then Easter will fall the next Sunday. On whatever day the
first full moon after the Vernal Equinox falls, the next Sunday will be
the Catholic-Protestant Easter.
In the Orthodox Church however, the Passion Week
must fall with the Passover and Easter must always be celebrated the Sunday
Passover. Therefore, we must first understand when Passover falls in
the Jewish calendar each year.
Passover falls on the
14th day of the Jewish month of Nisan (Nissan). The month of Nisan begins
with the first new moon (notice that now we are talking about the first
NEW MOON and not the FULL MOON which follows the vernal
equinox) which occurs about the time of the vernal equinox. (note 1) The 14th of
Nisan (14 days after the New Moon at the time of the vernal equinox)
marks the beginning of the holy season of the Jewish Passover, commemorating the
sparing of the Hebrews in Egypt when God, smiting the first born in Egyptian
homes, passed over the houses of the Children of Israel whose doorposts had been
marked with the blood of a lamb. So, for example, if the New Moon falls on
the 27th of March, the 1st day of Nisan, then 14 days after that is Passover.
If the New Moon falls on the 7th of
April, then 14 days later is the beginning of Passover.
During this period of the
Jewish year, Jesus partook, with his twelve disciples, in the Feast of the Passover,
after which he was captured. Therefore, the Jewish
Passover and the Christian Easter are closely connected or entwined. (Note1)
The rule for
determining the date for Easter was set by the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.
The council was called by Konstantine the Great, ruler of Byzantium, who tried
to organize the Christian Church. Remember, at this time there was only
one Christian Church. The Christian Church was one until the Great Schism
in 1054, at which time the Church was split into the Eastern Byzantium (Orthodox)
Church and the
Western Roman Church. (See Note 2) )
The Jewish Passover,
coming fourteen days after the beginning of Nisan, comes at the full moon, and may
fall on any day of the week. The Council decided that Easter should always
fall on a Sunday, the one following the "Paschal" or Passover. (Note 3)
The Council of Nicaea also wanted to keep Easter forever separate from the
Jewish Passover, so it was decided that when the full moon and the Passover
itself came on a Sunday, the Christian Easter would be observed a week later.
Easter in the Eastern Orthodox Church is never celebrated with, or
before the Jewish Passover, because Christ Himself observed the Passover at
the Last Supper before His betrayal and crucifixion. Therefore, the Orthodox
Easter is always celebrated the Sunday after the Jewish Passover.
The Easter observed under the Gregorian calendar
is set by calculations which take in other factors besides lunar calculations to
account for additional differences in the observance of Easter.( Note 1)
How This System Works For The Year 2008
Catholic - Protestant Easter
In the year 2008, the
first Full Moon of Spring, on or after the Vernal Equinox, is March 21st,
the first day of Spring. The Catholic-Protestant Easter is on the first
Sunday after the first full moon, which is March 23rd.
The first New Moon of Spring is on
April 6th, which is, therefore, the first day of the month of Nisan.
Fourteen days later, on the 20th of April is the start of the Passover.
Passover occurs during this week. The Sunday after Passover is the 27th of
April, and the Greek Orthodox Easter, this year, is April 27th.
Setting of the Catholic -
Setting of the Orthodox Easter
|The first Sunday
||The Sunday after the Jewish Passover
|after the first FULL MOON of Spring, Vernal Equinox
||Jewish Passover is 14days after the first day of the Jewish month of
|The Vernal Equinox is between March 16th and March 21
||The month of Nisan begins with the first NEW MOON at the time
of the Vernal Equinox..
||Jesus shared the Feast of the Passover with his disciples.
||Easter is always the first Sunday after the Jewish Passover. The
Passover is always celebrated 14 days after the first New Moon of
Spring, which is the day of a full moon.
How the Catholic-Protestant and
Orthodox Easters fall on the same Sunday
|When the first Full Moon of Spring falls during
the Jewish Passover, the Catholic-Protestant and Orthodox Easters fall
on the same Sunday, that Sunday just after the Jewish Passover.
Note 1: Faith of Our Fathers, The Eastern Orthodox
Religion, Stan W. Carlson, 4th Edition, The Olympic Press, Minneaplis, 1954.
Note 2: Basic list of the evolution of
major denominations of the Christian Church.
The Lutherans were
established in 1519 after Martin Luther broke from the Catholic Church in 1517;
The Church of England was established after King Henry XIII broke
from the Catholic Church in 1534 later the Protestant Episcopal Church
which included basically the Church of England and the Church of Ireland,
similar churches, was founded in the US in 1789; The Presbyterians
from the Lutherans during the Calvinist reformation in the 1500's and the Scotch
Presbyterians founded by John Knox in 1560; The Baptists in
England in 1609 and in the US in 1638; The Methodists
movement from the Church of England in 1738 by John Wesley; The Church
of Christ from the Presbyterians in1804; The Church of Christ of
Latter Day Saints (Mormans) developed in 1820 by Joseph Smith;
Jehovah's Witnesses founded by Charles Taze Russell in 1870;
Pentecostal formed from Methodists and others in 1901; United
Church of Christ formed from Calvinists and Lutherans in 1957.
for Note 2: The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2005, Erik
C. Gopel, Ed., World Almanac Books, New York, 2005.
Note 3: Notice that in the year 2008, the
New Moon closest to the Vernal Equinox (after the vernal equinox) falls
on the 6th of April, this being the first day of Nisan in the Jewish calendar.
Therefore, Passover begins 14 days later, on the 20th of April. This is
the Passion Week in the Orthodox Church and the Sunday after Passover, the 27th,
is Orthodox Easter.
Carlson, Stan W., Faith Of Our Fathers, The Eastern Orthodox Religion,
Minneapolis, The Olympic Press, 1954.
Gopel, Erik C., Editor,
The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2005, New York, World Almanac Books,