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The Date of Holy Easter
By Reverend Gregory Abboud.
Source:Toronto 1957

The date of the celebration of Easter was defined by the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in the year 325 A.D.

In this First Ecumenical Council the entire Christian Church of the East and the West was represented by 318 Bishops; therefore, no authority or Church could oppose or change this unanimous decision, unless through another Ecumenical Council.

This Holy Council of Nicaea, in the year 325 A.D., decreed the regulations for the calculation of the date of Easter for the whole of Christianity, so that all Christians might celebrate Easter on the same day every year.

These regulations of the First Ecumenical Council are based on the Seventh Apostolic Canon, which reads as follows: "If a Bishop or Priest, or Deacon celebrates the Holy Day of Easter before the vernal equinox, or with the Jews, let him be deposed".

The regulations of the First Ecumenical Council concerning the calculation of the date of Easter were handed down to us by the Council of Antioch in 341 A.D., which had received the decision concerning Easter from the First Ecumenical Council. This is also corroborated by the testimonies of Athanasius the Great and St. Epiphanius of Cyprus.

These regulations of the First Ecumenical Council are as follows:

1. "That Easter must always be celebrated on a Sunday".
2. "That Easter must never be celebrated on the same day as the Jewish Passover".
3. "That Easter should never be celebrated on or before the vernal equinox of any year".

It should also be noted here, that Cyril the Patriarch of Alexandria, in his Paschal Circular, stated:

"The Ecumenical Council unanimously voted that the Church of Alexandria, because of its noted astronomers, would announce to the Church of Rome every year the date of Easter, and Rome in turn would announce it to the other Churches".

This did not mean that the Church of Rome would determine the date of Easter, but that she would announce it to the Churches of the West, after the date was determined by the Church of Alexandria.

EXPLANATION OF THE ABOVE MENTIONED REGULATIONS

(1) The First regulation, "that Easter must always be celebrated on a Sunday", was adopted because at that time there were Christians who celebrated Easter on Friday, that is on the day of "Crucifixion", rather than on the day of Resurrection.

(2) The second regulation, "that Easter must never be celebrated on or before the Jewish Passover", was adopted because, according to the Holy Gospel, Christ was crucified during the week of the Hebrew Passover, and was taken down from the Cross on the eve of the Sabbath, and arose on the following day, after the Jewish Sabbath.

(3) The third regulation, "that Easter should never be celebrated on or before the vernal equinox", was adopted because otherwise Easter might be celebrated twice in one year, and when this happened, it would naturally not be celebrated at all in the following year.

The astronomers of that time, informed the Fathers of the Ecumenical Council that the vernal equinox fell on the 21st of March in the year 325, in which they had convened, and not on the 18th of March, which was the date previously designated by Pope Hippolytus as the vernal equinox.

From these regulations of the First Ecumenical Council, we have the following rule for the fixing of the date of Easter:

"Easter is to be celebrated on the first Sunday following the full moon of the vernal equinox, after the end of the Hebrew Passover".

At the time of the First Ecumenical Council of 325 A.D., the Julian Calendar was in use. Consequently the date of the vernal equinox was the 21st of March according to the Julian calendar, which as we shall see, is longer by 11 minutes and 13 plus seconds than the solar or tropical year.

But someone may ask, "What is the Julian Calendar?"

MEANING OF THE JULIAN CALENDAR

The Julian Calendar is the one adopted in the year 45 B.C., and taking the name from Julius Caesar, who was the Emperor of Rome at that time.

Julius Caesar had invited the famous Alexandrian Astronomer Sosigenes to correct the Roman calendar then in use. Sosigenes based his calendar on the revolution of the earth around the sun, which he calculated to be 365 days and 6 hours, and these 6 hours made up one day every four years, which is the 29th of February in the Leap years.

But Sosigenes made a small mistake in his calculations. The tropical or solar year, which is the time required for the earth to make one complete revolution around the sun, is actually 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 plus seconds. This meant that the Julian year is longer than the actual tropical or solar year by 11 minutes and 13 plus seconds, which in the course of 128 years, makes one whole day. Consequently, the equinox of spring, on which depended the fixing of faster began to recede from the 21st of March by 11 minutes and 13 plus seconds. As time went on, beginning with the year 325 (the year of the Ecumenical Council) , for every 128 years, the 21st of March on the Julian Calendar came a day before the real tropical or solar vernal equinox. This discrepancy between the Julian calendar and the solar year was corrected each year by the Church, up to the end of the 8th century. However, after the 8th century this correction was neglected.

In the 14th century the Greek astronomers noticed that the vernal equinox of the tropical or solar year was delayed; also Nicephorus Gregoras, a Priest of Constantinople, made a proposal to the Emperor Andronicus Paleologus in 1325, to correct the equinox of the Julian calendar by eliminating the 11 minutes and 13 plus seconds in order to better apply the decision of the First Ecumenical Council concerning the date of Easter. But the Emperor, although he knew that this proposition was correct and justified, did not accept it, fearing that such a change would confuse the people.

In the West, when it became known through the Byzantines that the Julian calendar was not accurate, several synods such as those of Constantia, Basilia, and Trent, made an issue of this inaccuracy. Finally Pope Gregory the 13th, after conferring with the leading astronomers of the West, made an official Decree on February 24th, 1582, abolishing the Julian Calendar and supplanting it with the Gregorian Calendar.

WHAT IS THE GREGORIAN CALENDAR?

The Gregorian Calendar is nothing more than a correction of the Julian Calendar from the year 325 A.D. That is, the 10 days that had aggregated from 325 to 1582, because of the 11 minutes and 13 plus seconds gained by the use of the Julian Calendar, were cut off the month of October, and the 5th of October in the Julian Calendar in 1582 was called the 15th of October in the Gregorian Calendar. Also to make this Gregorian calendar agree with the real tropical or solar year -- because the Gregorian Calendar is not completely accurate either, it was necessary to remove one day from every 400 year period. This correction of the Julian Calendar was called the Gregorian Calendar, which amounts to the omitting of 10 days in the year 1582, making the 5th day of October the 15th day of October.

This self-authorized act of Pope Gregory the 13th was not accepted by the Orthodox Churches of the East, not because the Eastern Churches did not realize the inaccuracy of the Julian Calendar, for they were the ones to point it out, but because of something more important, as the Patriarch of Constantinople, Jeremiah the 2nd wrote:

1. "The Pope Gregory the 13th acted without authority in enforcing the Gregorian Calendar, i.e., he did not act through an Ecumenical Council but through the attribute which he claimed by "divine right, to be the Vicar of Christ and supreme pontifex of the entire Christian Church".

2. "The Church of Rome wished to use the question of the calendar as a means of propaganda to make the Orthodox Christians believe that by accepting the Gregorian Calendar, they would automatically recognize the primacy of the Pope".

For these reasons the Patriarchs of the East, under the leadership of Patriarch Jeremiah the 2nd of Constantinople, severely criticized, in a synod at Constantinople 1593 the method employed to impose the Gregorian Calendar, as well as the Gregorian Calendar itself, because, apart from the reasons mentioned above by the Patriarch, it also allowed Easter to be celebrated on or before the Hebrew Passover, which is not in keeping with the chronology as mentioned in the Holy Gospel concerning the Crucifixion during the Hebrew Passover, and Resurrection of Christ, after the Hebrew Passover, and the decision of the First Ecumenical Council as noted above.

Easter was celebrated by the Western Churches according to the Gregorian Calendar before the Jewish Passover in the years 1856, 1864, 1875, 1891, 1894, 1902, etc.

Easter was celebrated by the Western Churches, according to the Gregorian Calendar, together with the Jewish Passover in the years 1805, 1825, 1905, etc., 1956.

In the meantime, the Eastern Churches, following the Julian Calendar, celebrated Easter after the Jewish Passover, in accordance with the decision of the First Ecumenical Council, and the sequence of events of the First Easter as recorded in the New Testament.

It should be noted that although the Gregorian year shortened the Julian year and corrected it, the Gregorian year is not itself completely in agreement with the tropical or solar year, since it is over 25 plus seconds longer than the tropical year.

The Eastern Orthodox Churches continued to calculate the date of Easter, as we have seen, according to the provisions of the First Ecumenical Council, and in order to make the tropical year coincide with the Julian Calendar, which was in use at the time of the First Ecumenical Council, the Eastern Orthodox Churches added 11 minutes and 13 plus seconds to the tropical or solar year, for each year since the year 325.

In the years in which these calculations cause Easter to be celebrated on or before the Hebrew Passover, the Eastern Orthodox Churches celebrate Easter on a LATER SUNDAY.

HOW DO WE FIND THIS LATER SUNDAY?

In order to calculate the date of Easter we must consider the following:

From the year 325, in which the First Ecumenical Council convened, up to the present time, there is a difference of 13 days between the Julian Calendar and the tropical or solar year. To calculate the date of Easter according to the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the council of Nicaea which convened in 325 by the Julian Calendar, we must add these 13 days to the 21st of March, which was the vernal equinox in the year 325 of both the solar year and the Julian Calendar. This makes the 21st of March of the Julian and solar calendar the 3rd of April of the corrected Julian Calendar and the Gregorian Calendar. Therefore, to be in conformity with the decision of the First Ecumenical Council, Easter cannot fall before the 3rd of April of the Gregorian Calendar, but must fall on the first Sunday following the full moon of the vernal equinox, provided the Hebrew Passover has ended.

According to these calculations then, since the first full moon after the 3rd of April falls this year, 1956 on the 24th of April, Easter should be celebrated on the 29th of April.

However, we observe that Easter is being celebrated on May the 6th this year by all the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

We arrive at the date of May 6th by the calculation of the Jewish Passover according to the Julian Calendar.

The Jews celebrated their Passover this year on March 27th, that is one day after the full moon, and ended the Passover on April 3rd.

However, we cannot use this calculation of the Jewish Passover, since in the year 360 A.D. the Sanhedrin of Tibereas, through the efforts of the Rabbi astronomers Samuel, Raba and Hillel the II made a new Hebrew Calendar based on the calculations of Hipparchus and Meton.

We must, as in the case of the calculation of Easter according to the Julian Calendar, calculate the date of the Hebrew Passover according to the method used at the time of the First Ecumenical Council of 325.

Concerning the feast of the Passover, Josephus (Ant. I. iii, 3 ) tells us that "Moses appointed that Nisan which is the same with Xanthicus, should be the first month of their festivals because he brought them out of Egypt in that month; so that this month began the year".

The early Hebrews fixed the dates of the feast of the Passover from the appearance of the new moon, which they designated as the first day of Nisan and from this they fixed the 14th of Nisan on which the full moon fell. "And in the fourteenth day of the first month is the Passover of the Lord. And in the fifteenth day of this month is the feast: seven days shall unleavened bread be eaten". (Num. 28: 16, 17, Lev. 23:4, 5.)

Since the Hebrew Passover was celebrated on the full moon following the 21st of March, which was the vernal equinox of the year 325 of the First Ecumenical Council, and also the 1st of Nisan of the Hebrew Calendar, we must in principal compute the Hebrew Passover according to the Julian Calendar, which was in use at that time. Transposing the 21st of March of the year 325 to the year 1956 makes it, as we have seen, April 3rd. The full moon following April 3rd falls on the 24th of April this year. This then, is the 14th of Nisan, the eve of the Jewish Passover. The 25th of April is then the 15th of Nisan, on which the feast of the Passover begins. It lasts for seven days, or until the 1st of May. The Sunday following the 1st of May is May 6th, which is our Easter Sunday.

ANOTHER WAY OF CALCULATING PROVES THAT THIS IS THE TRUE DATE OF EASTER

According to the decision of the First Ecumenical Council, as we explained before, Easter is to be celebrated on the first Sunday following the full moon of the vernal equinox, provided the Jewish Passover has ended. This year 1956, the full moon of the vernal equinox fell on the 26th of March. However, the Jewish Passover this year happened to begin on March 27th, one day after the full moon, and ended on April 3rd. Since the full moon happened to fall before the Jewish Passover began, so that the following Sunday, April the 1st, occurred before the end of the Jewish Passover, it was necessary, according to the recognized interpretation of Matthew Vlastaris in 1335, when such a condition occurs, to wait until the full moon after the Jewish Passover to celebrate Easter. The full moon after the 3rd of April, which was the end of the Jewish Passover, is April 24th. The Sunday following this full moon is April 29th, which should be the date of Easter; however, according to the same Matthew Vlastaris when Easter is calculated according to the second full moon of the vernal equinox, it is necessary to allow the month to change, and therefore, Easter is celebrated on the following Sunday, which is the 6th of May, in 1956.

Accordingly Easter will be celebrated by the Eastern Orthodox Churches throughout the world on:

Eastern Orthodox Easter

2006 April 23th
2007 April 8th
2008 April 27th
2009 April 19th

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. The Canons of the Apostles (Arabic translation).
2. The First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, by Metropolitan Kallinikos 1930 (in Greek).
3. Council of Antioch 341. (Greek and Arabic)
4. Encyclopedia Americana: under the following subjects:
a. Calendar.
b. Easter.
c. Apostolic Canon.
5. Encyclopedia Britannica: under the following subjects:
a. Calendar.
b. Easter.
c. Apostolic Canon.
d. Council of Nicaea.
6. The Question of the Feast of Easter after the first Ecumenical Council, by Archbishop Chrysostomos Papadopoulos (in Greek and French resume) 1936.
7. The Hundred Twenty First Epistle to .the Emperor Marcianon (Latin).
8. Migne' Patrology (Greek Edition). Latin Epistola de Ratione Paschae (514). Epistola ad Petronium.
9. L. Duchesne, La question de la Paque au Councile de Nicee.
10. Hebrew Encyclopedia under the title: Calendar,
11. Eusebius, L'Histoire Ecclesiastique, 5,25; 5,23 (in Greek).
12. Platon (Greek Publication April-May 1948).
13. Ecclesiastical History, B. Stephanidou (in Greek 1948).
14. Gospel of St. Luke chapter 23:54; 24:11.
15. Circular concerning the date of Easter by Arch-bishop Michael, 1956.
16. The Holy Canons and Church Laws, by A. S. Alivisatos 1949 (in Greek) 1956.

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