Blessed Pascha!

It's Easter again!

Maybe you noticed -- or, like me, had someone point out to you -- that western Easter fell unusually early this year -- the earliest date any of us will ever celebrate Easter. (With the theoretical exception of the eschaton, although I have a hard time imagining how the ideas of "calendar" and "eternity" might interact in the great good future.) While it is definitionally possible for Easter to fall one day earlier than it did this year (i.e., March 22 rather than the 23rd), the planets have not aligned for such an occurrence since 1818, and it won't happen again until 2285.

And if you pay attention to ecumenical oddities, maybe you noticed that Eastern Easter, that is, Pascha, did not fall one week after Western Easter, as it does in many years, but a full five weeks later. This sad disjunct had western Christians celebrating the Feast of the Resurrection while eastern Christians were just starting the Fast of Great Lent. This year's date for Pascha is not as remarkably late as western Easter was remarkably early -- depending on the sun and moon, Pascha falls as late as May 8 in some years -- but it struck me as being a remarkably large gap between the two observances of the greatest day of the year.

Silly me thought I could do a couple of Google searches and some light reading and get a pretty good handle on the calendrical differences between the western and eastern calculations of Easter. Ha!

Turns out, there's a whole lot of theological, liturgical, cultural, historical, and scientific baggage attached to the question of when to commemorate the resurrection of our Lord, and so the church has been fussing over the date for most of her existence. The Council of Nicaea kinda sorta got us all on the same page for a while, although there have been disputes over the interpretation of Nicaea (of course), but then Pope Gregory (please don't hate me because I linked to Wikipedia) went and adjusted the calendar to more correctly match the solar year, and the western and eastern churches have been out of step ever since.

One article that I read made the amusing but not terribly relevant observation that, with the Julian and Gregorian calendars slowly drifting further apart at the rate of about 1 day every 400 years, 40,000 years from now, if the Orthodox stick with the Julian calendar, they'll find themselves celebrating Easter on Christmas.

But I think that's only a danger if the Orthodox calculate the date of Easter ("the first Sunday after the first full moon (on or) after the vernal equinox") based on fixed dates (the vernal equinox IS March 21/April 3) rather than astronomical observances (the vernal equinox IS the point at which the hours of daylight have lengthened to equal the hours of darkness, however the heck you calculate that).

Also, I'm not clear on the place Passover figures into the calculations. It appears that pretty early on the church moved away from calculating Easter based on the dates of the Jewish Passover (e.g.: Easter either is Passover or is the next Sunday after Passover; let the Jews do the math). Pick your interpretation: (A) the increasingly Gentile movement of The Way wanted to distinguish itself from its parent religion, (B) after the fall of the temple, the Jewish diaspora started having trouble figuring out when Passover should be celebrated, so the Christian calendar-makers saw a need to strike out on their own, (C) none of the above, (D) all of the above. Anyway, the church decided at Nicaea not to equate Easter with Passover, but the Orthodox calculation makes sure that Easter always falls AFTER Passover, which, well, kind of makes sense.

Only I'm still not clear how the math works.


Methinks that the lay explanations given on the internet provide enough of a narrative explanation for the idly curious who wonder why different Christians celebrate different Easters, but not enough precision and detail to untangle the whys and wherefores and who's-on-firsts of the multiple Christian traditions and their attempts to honor the central event of our faith.

There's a little OCA church next to a used car lot, around the corner and down the block. I've been driving by it all my life to get to my grandparents' house. This year, I think I'll put on a long skirt and some comfortable shoes and go join them for tonight's vigil. And thank God I don't have understand how we pick the date of Easter in order to celebrate it.


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