Easter (or “Pascha,” the Greek word for “Passover”) has yet to come for the Orthodox Church. While many Christians celebrated on March 31, a full five weeks separate the celebrations this year—Pascha takes place this Sunday, May 5. Let’s take a brief look at not only the history behind these differences, but also the manner in which Eastern Christians celebrate the Lord’s resurrection.
The dating of Easter has always been a complicated issue, going all the way back to the second century. At that time, the main divide was between those who celebrated on precisely the 14th day of Nisan (the Jewish Passover) and those who celebrated on the Sunday following the 14th of Nisan. This variance came to a head at the first Council of Nicaea (AD 325), when that assembly of bishops decided to regulate the celebration to always occur on a Sunday, or what had come to be called “the Day of the Lord” (Rev. 1:10).
A 19-year cycle of celestial calculations was developed, and this cycle, connected with the Julian calendar, has remained in use in the East. An 84-year cycle came to be used in the Western half of the empire, and so the first discrepancy (since the first Council of Nicaea) began to occur. With the assistance of the best astronomers and scientists of the time, Pope Gregory XIII revised the Julian calendar in 1582 in order to improve its accuracy. A reform of the Western lunar calendar—connected with the dating of Easter—also occurred. [Read more…]