To the Editor:
Orthodox Christians in the U.S., Russia, Greece, Egypt, Ethiopia and throughout the Middle East, will be celebrating Easter on May 5.
Why the difference? Why would Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter more than a month after Roman Catholics and Protestants?
Among other things, a common celebration date for Easter was decided during the Christian Church’s First Ecumenical Council in 325. In short, the bishops decided that Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.
Sounds simple, right? Well, they didn’t say how to determine “full moon” and there are differences on how to calculate the “vernal equinox.” The Julian calendar, which is used by Jews to calculate the date of Passover and is used by Orthodox Christians, has a day added for leap year every four years, while the Gregorian calendar, which was adopted by the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches the 16th century, does the same, unless the year is divisible by 400. The calendars also determine full moons differently. Added to that, Orthodox Christians typically delay the celebration if the formula lands the day precisely on Passover. So, Easter can fall on the same day for all Christians and it can have up to a five week difference!
Confused yet? If so, just do this. This weekend, remember the Syrians who are under intense pressure because of their war. In fact, pray for all Christians world-wide. In Northern Virginia, St. Raphael of Brooklyn Orthodox Church in Chantilly is the home of Christians not just from the Middle East, but of Russia, Greece, Ethiopia, and, of course, the U.S. The church is named after a Syrian monk who was commissioned by the Russian Orthodox Church to preach the Gospel to Americans. (How’s that for a world view?) Spring Break might have caused you to miss “Western Easter”, but you can still celebrate Easter this weekend with those from around the globe at an Orthodox Church near you.
Father Thomas Palke
Pastor of St. Raphael of Brooklyn Orthodox Church