Sunday, April 27, 2008

[dating easter] why the discrepancy

The interestingly [and today fittingly] named, newly 23 year old Oestrebunny asked about the Western and Eastern discrepancies in the dating of Easter, as we know it, known as Computus.

Phew - where to begin researching? I came up with this:

The Christian Easter is tied in with the Jewish Pesach or Passover.

The Passover itself is complicated and ties in with the Metonic cycle of years, which involve the Golden Numbers 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17, and 19.

From this come calculations for the Jewish calendar year - the Hebrew Pesach is determined in the Old Testament to begin on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nisan.

Almost from the very beginning of the existence of the Christian Church, the issue presented variations. Although the New Testament relates these events to the Jewish Passover, the details of this relationship are not clear.

On the one hand, the tradition of the synoptic gospels identifies the Lord's last supper as a passover meal, placing the death of the Lord on the day after Passover. On the other hand, the tradition of the Gospel of St. John situates the death of the Lord at the very hour the paschal lambs were sacrificed on the day of Passover itself.

In practice, one group were celebrating it on any day of the week [wherever the Jewish mid-Nisan fell] and they became known as the Quartodecimanists. The other was putting it on the Sunday after Passover.

The First Ecumenical Council convened at Nicaea in 325 took up the issue. It determined that Pascha should be celebrated on the Sunday which follows the first full moon after the vernal equinox-the actual beginning of spring.

There was a strong feeling in some quarters that the Christian tradition should not tie in with the Jewish calendar.

Also, there was the question of determining the calendar. In the East, the 19-year cycle was eventually adopted, whereas in the West an 84-year cycle. The use of two different paschal cycles inevitably gave way to differences between the Eastern and Western Churches regarding the observance of Pascha.

An event I'm proud to relate concerns the Synod of Whitby - held at Whitby Abbey which I have visited many, many times [it being close to my home], in which Northumbria determined the date of Easter eventually adopted by the English [despite the ridiculous assertion in the Wiki article that Bede's account is an exaggeration].

A further cause for these differences was the adoption by the Western Church of the Gregorian Calendar in the 16th century. This took place in order to adjust the discrepancy by then observed between the paschal cycle approach to calculating Pascha and the available astronomical data.

Therefore, in practical terms, the invariable date of the vernal equinox is taken by the Orthodox church to be April 3 in our current calendar (but March 21 on the Julian Calendar).

To this blogger, except that it is celebrated vaguely round the spring equinox, it hardly matters, as long as it is celebrated. The act of excommunicating someone for having the incorrect day:

Bishop Victor I of Rome, excommunicated the Quartodecimans (then apparently led by Polycrates of Ephesus) for not adhering to the Paschal practices of the majority of Christians.

... is one of the major reasons I'm not Roman Catholic though I deeply respect them for keeping the light of Christianity alive under its current assault these days. Sisu's series of posts on the Pope, preceding this one, was informative and moving.

Personally I like the two Easters plus the [actual] Oestrebunny angle with the rabbits and eggs but I also like the kulich and all that tradition, as well as the midnight vigil.

It all seems to give a nice balance of gravitas and fun. After all, the Resurrection is joyful by definition, not gloomy. Now I'm off for some tea and kulich.

Have a joyful day - already the sun has burst out.


Ivy said...

Mmmmm... yum - kulich. I've been stuffing my face with tsourekia all day today and cracking red eggs with family. Thanks for clearing up the intricateness of Easter! :)

oestrebunny said...

Well that explains it then, though it does seem a bit confusing. I remember they told us in school how to work out which Sunday Easter fell but I could never quite grasp it.

Happy Easter James.

Semaj Mahgih said...

When I re-read it, ladies, it seemed a bit too complicated even then. Tsourekia?

jmb said...

I never knew that so now I am wiser. Well on this topic at least and probably minimally.

Colin Campbell said...


That is way too complicated.

Easter is marked by the Carnivalus Supermarketicus Commercialus Profitus Festival and is celebrated seven days prior to the supply of Easter Eggs and Hot Cross Buns running out.

Semaj Mahgih said...

You're right, Colin - why can't I put things as simply as you?