April 5, 2024

On the Determination of the Date of the Celebration of Easter

By Metropolitan Nektarios of Hong Kong

In recent years, shortly before Easter, some American theologians (all respected) have appeared who write about determining the date of the celebration of Easter (Pascha) and insist that the celebration of the Jewish Passover has nothing to do with the "formula" of the First Ecumenical Synod.

I would gladly discuss the relevant topic on a scientific level with an exchange of arguments and opinions, but things took a different turn when articles with titles referring to "myths" began to appear.

So every time these opinions appear I will write the same comment expressing a different opinion.

And my opinion is supported by texts and the practice of the Church.

There are two Synodal Canons - the 7th Apostolic Canon and the 1st of the Synod of Antioch.

The documents:

Canon 7:

If any bishop, presbyter, or deacon, shall celebrate the holy day of Easter before the vernal equinox, with the Jews, let him be deposed.

Canon 1:

Whosoever shall presume to set aside the decree of the holy and great Synod which was assembled at Nicaea in the presence of the pious Emperor Constantine, beloved of God, concerning the holy and salutary feast of Easter; if they shall obstinately persist in opposing what was rightly ordained, let them be excommunicated and cast out of the Church; this is said concerning the laity. But if any one of those who preside in the Church, whether he be bishop, presbyter, or deacon, shall presume, after this decree, to exercise his own private judgment to the subversion of the people and to the disturbance of the churches, by observing Easter with the Jews, the holy Synod decrees that he shall thenceforth be an alien from the Church, as one who not only heaps sins upon himself, but who is also the cause of destruction and subversion to many; and it deposes not only such persons themselves from their ministry, but those also who after their deposition shall presume to communicate with them. And the deposed shall be deprived even of that external honor, of which the holy Canon and God's priesthood partake.

Both Canons insist, by clear reference, that the Passover is not celebrated a) before the vernal equinox and b) together with the Jewish Passover.

If we don't care at all about the Jewish Passover then why do these references exist? There is also a clear reference in the encyclical letter of Constantine the Great to the Bishops (Ecclesiastical History of Socrates, Book I, Chapter IX).* Why does Constantine, who was present at the sessions of the First Ecumenical Synod, feel the need to emphasize the non-celebration of the Christian Easter with the Jewish Passover?

I answer: The Fathers of the First Ecumenical Synod overturned an Apostolic Tradition. And I refer to the way of celebrating Easter of the Asia Minor Churches, on the 14th of Nissan, which was established by the Apostles John and Paul. The transition to the new uniform practice was not easy. Communities continued to celebrate the two Easters together. This is why local Synods like the one in Antioch repeat and support what the First Ecumenical Synod legislated.

Opinions are also supported that there is no need to be bound by the Jewish calendar and that times have changed and the contradictions of the past do not exist.

All this is true. As it is true that there is a continuity and relationship between Old and New Testament, between Jewish people and Christian people, between Jewish and Christian ritual. Space does not now lend itself to an extensive analysis.

If there is indeed a serious discussion about the co-celebration of Easter between the West and the East from 2025 and on then shouldn't all relevant issues be put on the table? Will the issue of the equinox be discussed? Which equinox will we accept? Astronomical or ecclesiastical (March 21)? Shall we set aside the Jewish Passover as the Westerners are now doing? And the most important thing: who will convince the Orthodox Churches that follow the Julian Calendar to change the way they calculate Easter?

Until there is a new Synodal decision, I personally stick to the tradition of the Church: Christian Easter to be celebrated after the Jewish Passover.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.


* "We have also gratifying intelligence to communicate to you relative to unity of judgment on the subject of the most holy feast of Easter: for this point also has been happily settled through your prayers; so that all the brethren in the East who have heretofore kept this festival when the Jews did, will henceforth conform to the Romans and to us, and to all who from the earliest time have observed our period of celebrating Easter."

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