The Proposal for a Common Date to Celebrate Pascha and Easter
by Father Luke Luhl, Greek Archdiocese of North America, Denver Diocese
In the last several months there
have been various articles written in the public media about a proposal to celebrate the
Orthodox feast of Pascha, and Western Easter on the same date.
The World Council of Churches (WCC) has indeed
come up with such a plan, but it has no likelihood of being enacted. Orthodox Hierarchs
would not even consider adopting another modification to the calendar used by the Church
and risk creating a third calendar schism.
The WCC released a statement on 25 March 1997 -
an inauspicious date for the Orthodox - entitled "The date of Easter: Science Offers
Solution to Ancient Religious Problem," in which they suggest that "senior
church representatives have come up with an ingenious proposal to set a common date for
Of course, since the Orthodox do not celebrate
"Easter" but rather "Pascha," one might simply dismiss the statement
as irrelevant to the Orthodox Church. At the same time, however, the Orthodox should note
that the WCC is attempting to foist its agenda and beliefs upon the Orthodox in a less
than gentlemanly manner.
The WCC statement was issued following
the conclusion of a conference held in Aleppo, Syria from 5 through 10 March
1997 that had been convened under the auspices of the WCC and the Middle Eastern
Council of Churches. Represented at the conference were consultants from the
Roman Catholic Church, the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht, various
European Protestant Churches, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, the Armenian
Orthodox Church, the Syrian Orthodox Church, and the Orthodox Patriarchates
of Constantinople, Antioch, and Moscow, as well as the Pentecostal Assemblies
of Canada and the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) which sent Professor John
Erickson to the conference. The Reverend Thomas FitzGerald from the ecumenical
center of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Chambesy, Switzerland was also
present in his capacity as director from WCC Unit I: Unity and Renewal.
According to the WCC statement, the conference in
Aleppo asserted that the celebration of "Easter" on "different dates"
in the Christian East and West gives a divided witness and compromises the credibility and
effectiveness of the churches to bring the Gospel to the world, and thus they devised a
formula for the common celebration of Christs Resurrection.
In fact there is very little in common between
the theologies of the heterodox western churches and that of the Orthodox Church, thus it
would be deceitful to celebrate "Easter" and Pascha on the same date since this
would imply more commonalty between them and us than actually exists.
The real answer, of course, is for the heterodox
to return to historic, apostolic Orthodox Christianity and to celebrate Pascha in
accordance with the decisions of the 318 God-bearing fathers of the First Ecumenical
Council which took place in Nicaea.
So as to ensure uniformity in the Church, and
thus to present an image of godly unity rather than demonic chaos, these holy and blessed
fathers determined that Pascha should be celebrated on the Sunday after the first full
moon following the vernal (spring) equinox, and that, moreover, it must not coincide with
the celebration of the Jewish Pascha (Passover) but must occur thereafter so as to
preserve the order of the events during the week of our Lords Passion. Since the
Julian calendar was in universal use at that time, the date of 21 March according to that
calendar was fixed to mark the vernal equinox. This is necessary, of course, since using
the astronomic observation of the equinox as some have imprudently suggested would cause a
six-month displacement between the celebration of Pascha in the northern and southern
It was the western churches that have deviated
from this ancient tradition as they one by one adopted the sixteenth-century Gregorian
calendar, and it is thus incumbent upon them to return not only to the original tradition
of the Church in calculating the Paschalion but even moreso to return to the full teaching
of the Orthodox Church so that there might be unity among those calling themselves
One very sad deception of the WCC statement is
that they take advantage of the fact that Latin Easter and Orthodox Pascha will coincide
on the same day in the year 2001, and they most boldly presume that at such time Orthodox
Pascha will have been calculated by their heterodox method and will continue to be so in
years thereafter. Such an assumption would lead the Orthodox Church away from determining
the date of Pascha according to the Julian calendar, and would eventually result in its
celebration prior to, or coincident with, the Jewish Passover. This, of course, is not
logical nor proper.
In a curious example of deceptive double-speak,
the WCC statement suggests that "the Nicaea principle will be preserved and neither
Churches in the East or (sic) West will have to change their policy," yet they also
state that "Churches in the East will be most effected (sic) by the new dating
The WCC statement noted that the "old
calendar has been a symbol of the [Orthodox] churches desire to maintain their
integrity and freedom from the hostile forces of this world. The consultation therefore
concluded that there will be need of great pastoral sensitivity among the church members
as the proposal is pursued."
It must be admitted by all the Orthodox, that the
decision of one part of the Church to adopt the Gregorian or civil calendar for the
Menaion, while retaining use of the Julian calendar for calculating the Paschalion, has at
best been imprudent since it resulted in a schism within the Body of Christ. Fraternal and
Christian charity, especially within the Church, demands that we not cause scandal to our
brothers and moreover that we do all things in a conciliar and harmonious manner
reflecting the unity of Christ.
Alas, charity has not prevailed within the
Church, as the "calendar issue" has become the cause to condemn, excoriate, and
vilify those Orthodox who share every belief and practice in common with us except use of
the same calendar for determining the Menaion. Ill-tempered individuals on both sides of
this issue have characterized the others as "rubbish in the street,"
"illiterates," "peasant ecclesiastical figures," and "a wretched
minority" existing "outside the Church." Violence has even been used to
wrest church properties away from adherents of the "other side."
The WCC consultation and its resultant statement
proposes that the Orthodox Church will agree to this new calendar calculation for the
Paschalion. Any right-thinking Orthodox Christian will not fail to see that such a move
would not only exacerbate the schism within the Church, but would more than likely create
a second schism. Division is the work of the diavolos, not of Christ.
No reasonable person could possibly consider the
nonsense coming forth from Aleppo as being consistent with the traditional pronouncements
of the Orthodox Church regarding the date of the Paschal Feast. The proposals made by the
WCC conference are in fact an insult to the Orthodox people; derive from a simple-minded
approach to a complex issue; rely on pseudo-scientific formulae (as though science
dictated our spiritual beliefs and customs, anyway); base themselves on a deceptive
misrepresentation of the provisions of the Council of Nicaea concerning the date of
Pascha; and succeed in "pulling the wool over our eyes" in the name of
condescending notions of ecumenical unity.
This proposed WCC notion concerning a common date
for Easter and Pascha is a simple attempt to achieve a superficial "cosmetic"
unity among Orthodox and Heterodox Christians, when in fact there are severe differences
in dogma, doctrine, and matters of Faith that place us miles and miles apart from one
another. In short, it is a deception which can only be attributed to the father of deceit,
and not to Christ.
Many will surely call for adoption of this
ill-conceived notion in the spirit of "Christian love;" the reality, however, is
that love without truth is false just as truth without charity is a deception. True
Christian love among brothers united in the faith will happen once the truth is proclaimed
and acknowledged. Efforts to confound the tradition of the Church and to contradict the
determinations of the Holy Fathers are far from being honest or truthful and will result
only in disharmony within the Church and its violent offspring, enmity among brothers.
As Orthodox Christians embarked on a life-long
struggle toward theosis, our love is exclusively for God and therefore for His way, and
His truth, and His life. Love for others that denies or obfuscates divine truth, or which
contravenes the way of Christ, is not genuine but disrupts our spiritual progress and
leads others astray. Worse, at an institutional level, such as can be seen in the efforts
of the WCC, this false love leads to a religion which aims at accommodation to the world
and its priorities - a religion foreign to the other-worldly Faith of the Orthodox
Fathers, which calls us from this world of darkness to the higher life of light.