The Orthodox Pages

























Question 259

Why is it the whole world cannot share the same Easter?


Answer to Question 259


There are four factors which are taken into account in connection with finding the date of Easter. The first is that Easter must always be celebrated after the occurrence of the vernal equinox. The sun passes through two equinoxes during the year, one in the springtime and the other in the season of autumn. They are called equinoxes because the day is equal to the night and the night equal to the day. The autumnal equinox occurs during September; the vernal or spring equinox occurs in March.


The Second that it must not be celebrated before or on the same day as the Passover of the Jews. The Orthodox Pascha always comes after the Jewish Passover because that was the historical order of events during the time of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection The Evangelist John says: “Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover.” (John 18:28) The passage “The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,)” (John 19:31) also makes reference to the Jewish Passover. That Sabbath was not like any other Sabbath, but was a high day meaning it was the Passover. The Jewish Passover occurred on the Saturday and the Resurrection of our Lord occurred during the early hours of Sunday. Celebrating Easter after the Jewish Passover serves to remind us of this historic truth. These first two factors are ordained by the Apostolic canon VII. 


The third that it is not to be celebrated simply after the vernal equinox, but also after the first full moon of March that happens to occur after the equinox and fourth, that it is not to be celebrated on the first Sunday that comes after the full moon. These two factors are derived from tradition and not from any canon.


The formula for Easter “The first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox” is identical for both Western and Orthodox Easters, but the two churches base the dates on different calendars: Western churches use the Gregorian calendar, the standard calendar for much of the world, and Orthodox churches use the older, Julian calendar which has a difference of 13 days. The Eastern Orthodox Church also applies the formula so that Easter always falls after Passover, since the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ took place after he entered Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. In the Western Church, this is ignored and Easter sometimes precedes Passover by weeks.