This year, 2016, while living in Greece, I was rather perturbed by the fact that back home and in much of the Christian world, Easter would this year be celebrated on March 27th. Here in Athens, Greece, as I write this on March 3rd they are just beginning the Orthodox Lenten season, today is called 'Clean Monday'. Easter Sunday is not until 1st May. So, the questions arise: Does it matter? If it does to you, which Easter should you join? Or does it just depend on where you are living at the time?
As I discussed this situation last night via a Skype call with some of my family my son reminded me that we remember Easter every Sunday, which is certainly true, but then we do not remember so distinctly the events leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection of the Saviour. This whole week has over the years been for me a special time. Often, on the day of the crucifixion, Good Friday, with family or friends I would take myself into some remote place, we would hike and have some time of reflection. On one occasion I joined a Christian procession when I was asked to assist in carrying a large wooden cross through the streets of Preston. I distinctly remember how I felt greater unity with other Christians who repected this sacred event.
So who has got it right? What should be the universal date for Easter Sunday?
Firstly, Easter is based on the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. The date of the Spring Equinox is universally accepted as March 21st. But by which calendar?
The reasons why the dates can be so wide apart are because of 2 things:
a) In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII instituted a new calendar for all Catholic countries, and it would eventually be adopted as the civil calendar by countries throughout the world. The old Julian calendar year, created during the reign of Julius Caesar, was 11 minutes too long. That may not seem like much, but compounded over centuries, it was causing calendar days to shift in relation to natural phenomena like the change in seasons. Consequently, by the time of Gregory’s papacy, the spring equinox could no longer be observed on March 21. The new Gregorian calendar brought March 21 back into alignment with the equinox by deleting 13 days from the calendar for one year.'
So, 21st March on the the Julian calendar now corresponds to April 3rd on the Gregorian Calendar. So the Orthodox Easter is the first full moon after April 3rd on the Gregorian calendar even though the Spring Equinox is no longer on 21st March by the Julian calendar. So Orthodox Christians seem to have it wrong. (It was a short year that year!)
...there is a third calendar involved and one which I feel is more relevant. That is the Jewish calendar. One rule the Orthodox keep to is that Easter Sunday is ALWAYS the first Sunday after the Jewish passover. The passover this year is between April 22 and 30th! (How the Jewish align their calendar is by adding an extra month every 2 or 3 years). So Easter week or Pascha should surely be during this same period and with His rising from the tomb on the Sunday following.
So, I think that while I am in Greece I will do as the Greek Orthodox Christians do and delay my time to remember the week from when my Lord rode into Jerusalem, cleared the Temple, celebrated the passover, instituted the Sacrament of the Lord's supper, prayed for all who did and would follow Him, suffered for the sins of mankind and gave His life to defeat death and the grave. But next year, when I return home....