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Catholic-Orthodox Consultation Urges Common Easter Date

by Jerry Filteau, Catholic News Service

Webmaster Note: I received the following news article from the Orthodox World News Archives. The date is approximately mid-November, 1998.

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Members of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation have endorsed the 1997 Aleppo Statement urging all Christian churches to start celebrating Easter on a common date beginning in 2001.

At a meeting Oct. 29-31 at St. Paul's College in Washington, the consultation continued its study of baptism and mutual recognition of sacraments.

Participants also exchanged information on various events in the lives of both churches and discussed the relationship of their consultation with the international Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, which next June will meet in Emmitsburg, Md.

In a two-page statement issued at the end of their meeting, consultation members said the Aleppo Statement provides a sound theological, scientific, historical and practical basis to end centuries of division over the date of Easter, letting all the Christian churches give common witness once again to one of the central mysteries of the faith, the Resurrection.

"The Aleppo Statement does well to call attention to the continuing relevance of the Council of Nicaea — a fundamental point of reference for the traditions of both our churches — and in so doing, to reject proposals to establish a fixed date for Easter/Pascha," the group said. Easter is called Pascha throughout the Orthodox world.

In the 1920s, some churches proposed setting Easter on a fixed Sunday in April every year, but most authorities believe this would only create another schism and would lose the theological linkage of the first Easter with the Jewish Passover observance.

"As the Aleppo Statement points out,'' the group added, "the Council of Nicaea was willing to make use of contemporary science to calculate the date of Easter/Pascha. We believe that this principle still holds valid today."

The Aleppo Statement emerged from a consultation of Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant scholars, jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of Churches, which met March 5-10, 1997, in Aleppo, Syria.

The Council of Nicaea in the fourth century decreed that Easter should be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.

Differences in dating occur because churches follow different calculations of the equinox and the full moon.

The Aleppo statement called for all churches to follow the Nicene rule of the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.

It urged that all churches forego previous methods of calculating the Easter date and adopt as a common standard modern precise astronomical calculations, using Jerusalem, the site of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection, as the meridian from which the calculations are based. Astronomical determinations of the equinox and full moon depend on the position on Earth used as a point of reference.

Under current calendar methods — using the Julian calendar in the East and the Gregorian calendar in the West — the churches of the East and West typically celebrate Easter on the same date once every three or four years. In the other years they are typically one, four or five weeks apart.

The first time in the new millennium that the date of Easter coincides for churches of the East and West is 2001. The Aleppo Statement called for churches to set that as a target date to adopt a common standard.

Since the Gregorian calendar is only slightly off from scientific astronomical reckoning at the present time, adoption of the new standard by the churches of the West would entail only one change in the projected date of Easter over the next 25 years, from April 21 to March 24 in 2019.

Since the Julian calendar is currently about 13 days off scientific astronomical reckoning, churches that follow the Julian reckoning would have to revise 17 projected dates of Easter in the first 25 years of  common observance.

In addition to its discussions of baptism and mutual recognition of sacraments, the U.S. consultation discussed the pending Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.

Co-chairing the consultation are Metropolitan Maximos of Ainou, bishop of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Pittsburgh, and, on the Catholic side, Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland of Milwaukee.

The Washington meeting was the first attended by Bishop Dimitrios of Xanthos, the new ecumenical officer of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. 

The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation, which began in 1965, is the world's oldest official Catholic-Orthodox dialogue. It is jointly sponsored by the U.S. Catholic bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of America.