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Western and Eastern Easter: Different Dates for Same Holiday

Christians of different denominations and in different parts of the world still celebrate Easter on different dates. In the past decades, the Vatican and the Council of World Churches have tried to resolve the issue. Without success.

Berlin, March 20th, 2019. Update: March 21st, 2022 (The Berlin Spectator) — Western expatriates who live in Eastern European countries as well as Eastern Europeans in the West (now they include Ukrainian war refugees) are confronted with two recurring questions: When is Easter? And when will the other Easter be observed?

Different Calendars

Orthodox Christians and Western Christians, among them Catholics and Protestants, believe in the same God, and in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but one of their two most important holidays often takes place on different dates. In 2014, both versions of the Easter holidays hit the same dates. In 2015, they were a week apart. In 2016, the different Easter holidays were a month apart. In 2017 they hit the same dates again. In 2018, they were a week apart. The same applied in 2019 and 2020. Last year, the two versions of the same holiday were four weeks apart.

So, why can’t everyone just agree on one Easter date? Because they use different calendars. Christian churches in Western countries use the Gregorian calendar, their fellow brethren in Eastern countries follow the Julian one.

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Ecclesiastical Moons

The Orthodox Christian Easter always happens after the Jewish Passover celebrations. That is because Jesus was crucified after coming to Jerusalem for Passover, some 2,000 years ago. The Western Easter, on the other hand, is sometimes scheduled before Passover, which does not seem to make a lot of sense, at least historically.

But the calculation of Easter dates does get more complicated. Ecclesiastical moons, paschal full moons, the astronomical equinox and the fixed equinox come in as well. That is where science seems to be influencing religion, at least in relation to Easter dates, which is an interesting aspect.

Fixed Easter Holiday

There was talk about a fixed Easter holiday. More than half a century ago, in 1963, the Second Vatican Council actually agreed to a fixed date, as long as all Christian churches would, which they did not. It could have been the second Sunday in April, every year.

There was another attempt to get rid of what seems like a chaos of dates. In 1997, a meeting set up by the Council of World Churches took place in Aleppo, Syria, when the city was still standing. The organization proposed a solution which was supposed to be favorable to both the Eastern and Western churches. It would have involved the meridian of Jerusalem, as part of some complicated formula. But after this conference, 24 years ago, nothing happened. There was no agreement.

Easter and Easter

What this means is that Christians will continue to celebrate Easter on different dates most of the time. In 2025, 2028, 2031, 2034, 2037, 2038 and 2041, they will mark Easter on the same dates. In the other cases, there will be Easter and Easter, and those will be anywhere between a week and more than a month apart.

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