Reform of the date of Easter

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A reform of the date of Easter has been proposed several times because the current system for determining the date of Easter is seen as presenting two significant problems:

There have been controversies about the “correct” date of Easter since antiquity, leading to schisms and excommunications or even executions due to heresy, but most Christian churches today agree on certain points. Easter should therefore be celebrated …

There is less agreement whether Easter also should occur …

  • so that Annunciation – usually celebrated 25 March, 9 month before Christmas – does not fall on any day from the Sunday before Easter to the Sunday after,
  • on or after the 14th day of the lunar month of Nisan,
  • not before Jewish Pessach. (It is after Christian Passover by definition.)

The disagreements have been particularly about the determination of moon phases and the equinox, some still preferring astronomical observation from a certain location (usually Jerusalem, Alexandria, Rome or local), most others following nominal approximations of these in either the Hebrew, Julian or Gregorian calendar using different lookup tables and cycles in their algorithms.

Fixed date[edit]

It has been proposed that the first problem could be resolved by making Easter occur on a date fixed relative to the western Gregorian calendar every year, or alternatively on a Sunday within a fixed range of seven dates. While tying Easter to one fixed date would serve to underline the belief that it commemorates an actual historical event, without an accompanying calendar reform that changes the pattern of the days of the week (itself a subject of religious controversy) it would also break the tradition of Easter always being on a Sunday, established since the 2nd century AD and by now deeply embedded in the liturgical practice and theological understanding of almost all Christian denominations.

Apr
10
14 Sun

The Pepuzites, a 5th-century sect, celebrated Easter on the Sunday following April 6 (on the Julian calendar).[1] This is equivalent to the Sunday closest to April 9. The April 6 date was apparently arrived at because it was equivalent to the 14th of the month of Artemisios in an earlier calendar used in the area, hence, the 14th of the first month of spring.[2]

The two most widespread proposals for fixing the date of Easter would set it on either the second Sunday in April (8 to 14, week 14 or 15), or the Sunday after the second Saturday in April (9 to 15), affecting years with dominical letter G or AG where 1 April is a Sunday. In both schemes, account has been taken of the fact that—in spite of the many difficulties in establishing the dates of the historical events involved—many scholars attribute a high degree of probability to Friday 7 April 30, as the date of the crucifixion of Jesus, which would make 9 April the date of the Resurrection. Another date which is supported by many scholars is 3 April 33,[3][4] making 5 April the date of the Resurrection.

In the late 1920s and 1930s, this idea gained some momentum along with other calendar reform proposals, such as the International Fixed Calendar and the World Calendar. In 1928, a law was passed in the United Kingdom authorising an Order in Council which would fix the date of Easter in that country as the Sunday after the second Saturday in April.[5] However, this was never implemented.

Apr
10
14 Sun

The Sunday after the first Wednesday in April would always be in ISO week 14, except for leap years starting on Thursday (DC) where the week count is one higher than in otherwise equivalent common years after February. The Symmetry454 Calendar proposes a fixed date of Easter in week 14, which would agree with the aforementioned proposals in most years, but would be 1 week earlier in F/GF years (like the only deviation of the Pepuzite definition) and also in DC, D/ED and E/FE years. The Sunday of an ordinal ISO week n is also the nth Sunday of the year, except in A/AG, B/BA and C/CB years where it is the n+1st Sunday, so both major proposals put Easter on the 15th Sunday of the year except either in common years starting on Monday (G), where the second Sunday in April is the 14th of the year, or in leap years starting on Sunday (AG), where the Sunday after the second Saturday in April is the 16th of the year.

Weeks for currently possible dates of Easter Sunday, proposed and special dates highlighted
Month Sunday AG A BA B CB C DC D ED E FE F GF G Week
March 12th M 22 M 23 M 24 M 25 W12
13th M 25 M 26 M 27 M 28
M 28 M 29 M 30 M 31 A 01 W13
April 14th A 01 A 02 A 03 A 04
A 04 A 05 A 06 A 07 A 08 W14
15th A 08 A 09 A 10 A 11
A 11 A 12 A 13 A 14 A 15 W15
16th A 15 A 16 A 17 A 18
A 18 A 19 A 20 A 21 A 22 W16
17th A 22 A 23 A 24 A 25
A 25 W17

In 1977, some Eastern Orthodox representatives objected to separating the date of Easter from lunar phases.[6]

Unified date[edit]

Proposals to resolve the second problem have made greater progress, but they are yet to be adopted.

Table of dates of Easter 2001–2025 (in Gregorian dates)[7]
Year Full Moon Jewish Passover Astronomical Easter Gregorian Easter Julian Easter
2001 8 April 15 April
2002 28 March 31 March 5 May
2003 16 April 17 April 20 April 27 April
2004 5 April 6 April 11 April
2005 25 March 24 April 27 March 1 May
2006 13 April 16 April 23 April
2007 2 April 3 April 8 April
2008 21 March 20 April 23 March 27 April
2009 9 April 12 April 19 April
2010 30 March 4 April
2011 18 April 19 April 24 April
2012 6 April 7 April 8 April 15 April
2013 27 March 26 March 31 March 5 May
2014 15 April 20 April
2015 4 April 5 April 12 April
2016 23 March 23 April 27 March 1 May
2017 11 April 16 April
2018 31 March 1 April 8 April
2019 21 March 20 April 24 March 21 April 28 April
2020 8 April 9 April 12 April 19 April
2021 28 March 4 April 2 May
2022 16 April 17 April 24 April
2023 6 April 9 April 16 April
2024 25 March 23 April 31 March 5 May
2025 13 April 20 April 20 May

1923 proposal[edit]

An astronomical rule for Easter was proposed by the 1923 Pan-Orthodox Congress of Constantinople (fr) that also proposed the Revised Julian calendar: Easter was to be the Sunday after the midnight-to-midnight day at the meridian of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (35°13'47.2"E or UT+2h20m55s for the small dome) during which the first full moon after the vernal equinox occurs.[8][9]

Although the instant of the full moon must occur after the instant of the vernal equinox, it may occur on the same day. If the full moon occurs on a Sunday, Easter is the following Sunday. This proposed astronomical rule was rejected by all Orthodox churches and was never considered by any Western church.

1997 proposal[edit]

The World Council of Churches (WCC) proposed a reform of the method of determining the date of Easter at a summit in Aleppo, Syria, in 1997:[10] Easter would be defined as the first Sunday following the first astronomical full moon following the astronomical vernal equinox, as determined from the meridian of Jerusalem.[11] The reform would have been implemented starting in 2001, since in that year the Eastern and Western dates of Easter would coincide.

This reform has not been implemented. It would have relied mainly on the co-operation of the Eastern Orthodox Church, since the date of Easter would change for them immediately; whereas for the Western churches, the new system would not differ from that currently in use until 2019. However, Eastern Orthodox support was not forthcoming, and the reform failed.[12] The much greater impact that this reform would have had on the Eastern churches in comparison with those of the West led some Orthodox to suspect that the WCC's decision was an attempt by the West to impose its viewpoint unilaterally on the rest of the world under the guise of ecumenism.

2008–2009 proposals[edit]

In 2008 and 2009, there was a new attempt to reach a consensus on a unified date on the part of Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant leaders.[13][14] This effort largely relies on earlier work carried out during the 1997 Aleppo conference.[6][15] It was organized by academics working at the Institute of Ecumenical Studies of Lviv University.[16]

Part of this attempt was reportedly influenced by ecumenical efforts in Syria and Lebanon, where the Greek-Melkite Church has played an important role in improving ties with the Orthodox.[17][18] There is also a series of apparition phenomena known as Our Lady of Soufanieh that has urged for a common date of Easter.[19]

2014-2016 proposals[edit]

In May 2014, on the anniversary of the meeting between himself and Pope Francis, Coptic Pope Tawadros II wrote a letter to Pope Francis asking for him to consider making renewed effort at a unified date for Easter.[20]

In response, on 12 June 2015, Catholic Pope Francis remarked to the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services 3rd World Retreat of Priests at the Basilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome that “we have to come to an agreement” for a common date on Easter, the date calculated under the Orthodox churches' Gregorian Calendar. Lucetta Scaraffia (it), an historian, writing in the Vatican daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, said the Pope is offering this initiative to change the date of Easter “as a gift of unity with the other Christian churches” adding that a common date for Easter would encourage “reconciliation between the Christian churches and …a sort of making sense out of the calendar.” A week later Aphrem II, the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, met with Pope Francis and noted that the celebration of Easter "on two different dates is a source of great discomfort and weakens the common witness of the church in the world."[21]

In January 2016, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby announced that he on behalf of the Anglican Communion had joined discussions with Catholic, Coptic and Orthodox representatives over a fixed date for Easter, and that he hoped it would happen within the next five to ten years.[22] Welby has suggested that Easter be fixed on either the second or third Sunday of April relative to the Gregorian calendar.[23] This proposal remains to be approved, especially by Eastern churches which currently determine Easter using the Julian calendar.

According to international standards, the second Sunday in April ends the week containing Good Friday and has the ordinal number 14 or 15 (dominical letters D/DC, E/ED, F/FE and GF, i.e. 46.25% of years) and the third Sunday is one respective week later. There currently is no public proposal under discussion that used a fixed week of the year for Easter and dependent feasts.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Sozomen (1846). Ecclesiastical History: A History of the Church : in Nine Books, from A.D. 324 to A.D. 440 : a New Translation from the Greek, with a Memoir of the Author. Bagster. p. 353. 
  2. ^ Talley, Thomas J (2003). "Afterthoughts on The Origins of the Liturgical Year". In Sean Gallagher; et al. Western Plainchant in the First Millennium: Studies in the Medieval Liturgy and Its Music. Aldershot: Ashgate. pp. 1–10. ISBN 9780754603894. 
  3. ^ Schaefer, B. E. (1990). "Lunar Visibility and the Crucifixion". Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 31 (1): 53–67. Bibcode:1990QJRAS..31...53S. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Richards, Edward Graham (1998). Mapping Time: The Calendar and Its History. Oxford University Press. p. 122. ISBN 978-0-19-286205-1. 
  6. ^ a b Ukrainian Catholic University Organizes Seminar on Easter Date
  7. ^ "Towards a Common Date for Easter". Aleppo, Syria: World Council of Churches (WCC) / Middle East Council of Churches Consultation (MECC). 10 March 1997. 
  8. ^ Milankovitch, M. (1923). "Das Ende des julianischen Kalenders und der neue Kalender der orientalischen Kirchen". Astronomische Nachrichten (in German) 220 (23): 379–384. doi:10.1002/asna.19232202303. ISSN 0004-6337. 
  9. ^ Shields, Miriam Nancy (1924). "The new calendar of the eastern churches". Popular Astronomy 32: 407. Bibcode:1924PA.....32..407S. This is a translation of Milankovitch, 1923 
  10. ^ "Towards a Common Date of Easter - World Council of Churches/Middle East Council of Churches Consultation Aleppo, Syria, March 5–10, 1997". World Council of Churches. 10 March 1997. 
  11. ^ "World Council of Churches Press Release: THE DATE OF EASTER: SCIENCE OFFERS SOLUTION TO ANCIENT RELIGIOUS PROBLEM". 24 March 1997. Archived from the original on 2012-06-26. 
  12. ^ Luke Luhl (1997). "The Proposal for a Common Date to Celebrate Pascha and Easter". Orthodox Christian Information Center. 
  13. ^ Sandri, Luigi (6 December 2008). "New attempt to achieve a common date for Easter". Ekklesia. Retrieved 2016-01-24. 
  14. ^ "Hope for a common date for Easter affirmed again". Ekklesia. 29 May 2009. Retrieved 2016-01-24. 
  15. ^ Aaron J. Leichman (1 June 2009). "Ecumenical Christians Look Forward to Shared Easter Dates". Christianpost.com. Retrieved 2016-01-24. 
  16. ^ "Hopes rise for East-West common Easter". CathNews. 29 May 2009. Archived from the original on February 9, 2013. Retrieved 2016-01-24. 
  17. ^ 1982 petition for a unified Easter date
  18. ^ "Christians eye common date for Easter". Spero News. 8 December 2008. Retrieved 2016-01-24. 
  19. ^ Petition for a Common date of Easter
  20. ^ Will Pope Francis change the date of Easter?, Catholic News Agency, 19 June 2015, accessed 21 June 2015
  21. ^ Ieraci, Laura (June 19, 2015), "Pope, Orthodox patriarch express commitment for unity", National Catholic Reporter, retrieved 16 January 2016 
  22. ^ "Archbishop Justin Welby hopes for fixed Easter date". BBC News. Retrieved 2016-01-16. 
  23. ^ Bingham, John; Jamieson, Sophie (16 January 2016). "Easter date to be fixed 'within next five to 10 years'". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2016-01-24. He said that Easter should most likely be fixed for the second or third Sunday of April 

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