A common date for Easter discussed

Ekklesia reports on an international ecumenical seminar discussing how to bring Eastern and Western churches together around the date of Easter which the two traditions calculate according to different calendars and they think that now is the time to act because in 2010 and 2011 both the calendars of both traditions will coincide.

The problem is almost as old as the church itself. As Christianity started to spread around the world, Christians came to hold differing opinions on when to commemorate Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, due to the different reports in the four gospels on these events.

Attempts to establish a common date for Easter began with the Council of Nicaea in the year 325. It established that the date of Easter would be the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox. However, it did not fix the methods to be used to calculate the timing of the full moon or the vernal equinox. Both traditions follow the Nicean method but the Eastern Churches use the Julian Calendar and the Churches of the West use the Gregorian Calendar, and the differences between the two calendars can be as much as five weeks.

In 1997, the World Council of Churches proposed a compromise, which was to keep the Nicaea rule but calculate the equinox and full moon using the accurate astronomical data available today, rather than those used many years ago.

Participants at the seminar expressed the hope that the years 2010 and 2011, when the coincidence of the calendars will produce a common Easter date, would serve as a period during which all Christians would join their efforts “to make such coincidence not to be an exception but rather a rule” and prepare for an Easter date based on exact astronomical reckoning and celebrated by all Christians on 8 April 2012.

Read the Ekklesia report here, a helpful background paper here, and the WCC proposal here.

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