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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 determined?"

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 after  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.

Greek Orthodox Easter

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.

 

 

Summary  Chart

    

      Setting of the        Catholic - Protestant Easter

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 Nisan (Nissan).
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.

 

NOTES

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.

 Reference 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.

 

Bibliography

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, 2005.

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