Christian churches close to deal to fix common date for Easter: Archbishop of Canterbury


January 16, 2016

The Anglican leader Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said the agreed date for Easter would be either the second or third Sunday of April. The Anglican leader Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said the agreed date for Easter would be either the second or third Sunday of April.

The heads of the Christian churches are close to sealing a deal to fix the date of Easter, the Archbishop of Canterbury has revealed, ending more than a thousand years of confusion and debate.

The Church of England's Archbishop of Canterbury Most Reverend Justin Welby said the agreed date would be either the second or third Sunday of April.

He expected to make the change within 5-10 years, though he admitted that churches have been trying to agree on a date without success since the tenth century.

Archbishop Welby, Pope Francis, the Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I (head of the Greek Orthodox church) are all working towards a common date, he said.

Less of a moveable feast. 'We have to come to an agreement'. Pope Francis had already spoken of his desire for a common fixed date for Easter between the churches. Less of a moveable feast. 'We have to come to an agreement'. Pope Francis had already spoken of his desire for a common fixed date for Easter between the churches.

If they can reach a deal, it will end one of the most noticeable rifts in the church, and have knock-on effects for schools, businesses and the travel industry across the Western World.

For one and a half millennia, for Anglicans and Catholics, Easter Sunday has been the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox – a convoluted formula which means the date can vary by more than a month from year to year.

For example, in 2016 Easter Sunday falls on March 27. Last year it was April 5, and next year it will be April 16.

In negotiations. Coptic Pope Tawadros II, leads Christmas Eve Mass at St. Mark's Cathedral, in Cairo, Egypt. In negotiations. Coptic Pope Tawadros II, leads Christmas Eve Mass at St. Mark's Cathedral, in Cairo, Egypt.

To add to the confusion, the Eastern Orthodox Church calculates Easter differently using the old Julian calendar – this year Orthodox Easter falls on May 1.

In June last year, Pope Francis also signalled his desire to set a common date for Easter, telling a global gathering of priests in Rome "we have to come to an agreement".

He joked that Christians could say to one another "When did Christ rise from the dead? My Christ rose today, and yours next week", the Catholic News Agency reported.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, right, kisses Pope Francis' head. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, right, kisses Pope Francis' head.

And in May, Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II wrote to the papal nuncio in Egypt proposing a common date for Easter.

Welby said he had discussed the idea in a recent meeting with Pope Tawadros in Cairo.

"The (Anglican) primates agreed this morning that we wish to join with Pope Tawadros in what looks like a promising chance of unifying and fixing the date on which Easter is celebrated by the global Church," he said.

"At the moment most of us spend this part of the year saying 'now when exactly is Easter this year'… Pope Tawadros has put forward the idea to churches in the Eastern tradition and the Western tradition that it be fixed somewhere around the second or third Sunday of April.

"We have agreed that we support that."

Pope Tawadros had also discussed the matter with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople – the 'first among equals' in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

The Anglican church has warned the UK government that agreement was "coming up".

"I would expect (the change) between 5 and ten years time," Welby said. "I can't imagine it would be earlier than that, not least because most people have probably printed their calendars for the next five years.

"And school holidays and so on are all fixed and it effects almost everything you do in the spring and summer.

"I would love to see it before I retired.

"Equally, I think the first attempt to do this was in the tenth century, so it may take a little while."

Once the churches agree, governments (including in New Zealand) will have to pass or amend legislation in order to put it into effect.

In 1928 the UK parliament actually passed legislation allowing Easter Sunday to be fixed to the Sunday after the second Saturday in April.

The same year, the Australian premiers of NSW, Victoria and South Australia all agreed to pass an act setting a fixed date for Easter, on the same day as the UK.

The Canberra Times reported in 1929 that the "vagueness" of the ancient calculation "is disturbing the business and social arrangements, and, therefore, affects us all … Easter is always a matter of doubt until we are definitely reassured. There is no real reason why it should not be fixed."

The story reported that there was an international push for a fixed Easter, led by a committee appointed by the League of Nations, which had approached the Holy See and the Orthodox Eastern Church.

The Vatican said "it had no objection from the viewpoint of dogma", and the Orthodox church said "it would agree to stabilisation if all Christian Churches did".

Then in 1929 both South Australia and Western Australia passed legislation setting Easter Day to the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April.

However, the international push petered out and the legislation gathered dust. The UK Act was never activated by official proclamation.

South Australia's Easter Act was repealed officially in 1994.

The current Easter formula was agreed at the First Council of Nicaea in 325, a gathering of Catholic bishops requested by Emperor Constantine to settle various warring creeds and sects within the church.

Though the Roman church already agreed that Easter should be on a Sunday, different cities and sects disagreed on the date, some because they didn't want it to be associated with the Jewish Passover.

Even centuries after Nicaea there were still some standouts – especially in Britain, where Christians insisted on sticking to an old formula. It wasn't until the Synod of Whitby in 664 that the 'Roman Easter' was accepted in northern Britain.


Edward2/14/2016 3:04 am
As a practicing Old Calendar Eastern Orthodox Christian, quite frankly I'm sick and tired of reading stores and press releases that imply that the Patriarch of Constantinople speaks on behalf of the Orthodox world. He represents it. Big difference. Therefore, he absolutely cannot on his own impose a new date for the celebration of Easter on the various Orthodox jurisdictions. All the Orthodox hierarchs would have to agree to this at an ecumenical council. I'd also like to add that as far as I'm concerned the Patriarch of Constantinople comes very close to being a heretic by virtue of allowing himself to recognized as the leader of the Orthodox world. He absolutely is not. Again, he is its spokesman or representative, if that. Moreover, before he attempts in his papal-supremacist-like pretensions to foist a new date for Easter on the Orthodox world (which he cannot), he needs to sit down with his fellow hierarchs and come up with a common calendar. Few things have destroyed the unity of Orthodoxy than the unilateral introduction of the so-called New Julian Calendar into Orthodoxy by none other than one of the Patriarch of Constantinople's predecessors. As I see it, there's nothing the current Patriarch of Constantinople won't stoop to to be able to sit at the right of the Pope of Rome and be wrongly hailed as a quasi-pope of Orthodoxy.
Martin Kalyniuk1/21/2016 4:14 am

—It was the First Ecumenical Council that set the Paschalion

—The Greeks still follow the Orthodox Paschalion even after abandoning the Calendar of the Church

Everything else I wrote, I stand by.
Brotehr1/20/2016 9:00 pm
Umm, Martin K, the Copts were the ones who proposed it, not the west.
Your tone is really quite poor for someone who clearly professes to be a brother in Christ.
Martin Kalyniuk1/20/2016 5:15 am
...Now, we have that universal unity among Orthodox Christians. Except the Greeks. This universal unity also applies to Holy Pascha past—we celebrate the Glorious Resurrection of our Lord in direct continuity with nearly 20 centuries of Saints, holy fathers and pious believers. And you want us to break this bond of faith, hope and love—for what?

As a concession to myriad bodies of varied beliefs that we are not in Communion with?

It's extraordinary how it is just the same story all the time regardless of how many centuries intervene. The West's overtures to Holy Orthodoxy are always peaceably worded declarations of war.

The West is right and we are wrong. But it's ok. Because they're here to help us be as right as they are.

We don't like such goodwill.
Martin Kalyniuk1/20/2016 5:15 am
Rico—nor do your attempts to insist that you, superior scientific you, have the correct date and we, idiotic and antiquated us, must do as you say.

No. The Second Ecumenical Council didn't use the best scientific data that they had and they wouldn't alter a canonical decision of the Holy Orthodox Church of Christ on the strength of the progress of astronomy.

This is the whole issue with the West's approach to the Church calendar generally—you tie it down the the earth, to the material, visible, physical world. Holy Pascha is a celebration of the spiritual order and the invisible world.

The Church fixed the date for Holy Pascha not based on fine astronomical calculation, but on the need for universal unity among believers in annually welcoming and participating in the Triumph and Resurrection of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ.

In the article, if you are actually interested in Church history, you will notice that some portions of the Western Church historically resisted the date fixed by the Council.

If you read the works of Columbanus and others you'll discover that their reasoning was along the lines of mathematical accuracy as well. They were over-ruled by a local synod in Whitby. Case was closed until Simon said change the calendar...
Dave Johnson1/19/2016 11:03 pm
Why would it take 5-10 years to change? This isn't the 1800's. Make the change and declaration and say that it goes into effect April of 2017 and be done with it. If there are groups who cannot make any changes by then, they'll catch up eventually.

Now, though, the Catholic Church, Coptic Church and Anglican Church all agree on this. Does that mean even after 5-10 years there will be other Christian denominations who don't? What about the Russian Orthodox? The various Evangelical Churches across the globe?

Just thoughts.
Christian1/19/2016 10:59 pm
I am happy for Easter to ebb and flow in harmony with Creation.
Rdr Andeas Moran1/19/2016 10:54 pm
I agree with Michael and Martin: the Orthodox Church must see these western innovations for what they are - part of the attempts by heretics to undermine Orthodoxy. The Holy Fathers determined how the date for Pascha should be fixed and we should stay with that. The western confessions are now so far removed from Orthodoxy that there is no reason to consider them.
RICO1/18/2016 5:48 pm
Martin, your hostile attitude goes nowhere in promoting good will. And ignored the reason for the different Pascha dates. All churches use the calculation of the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. So why the difference? Because the Orthodox determination of the vernal equinox is no longer accurate. The Western churches use the correct astronomical date for the vernal equinox.
The Church Fathers used the best astronomical science available to them. And they would use the best available science today.
Michael Warren1/18/2016 6:55 am
The Orthodox date or no go.
Martin Kalyniuk1/17/2016 11:33 pm
Such arrogance never fails to furnish fresh material for astonishment.

They, Western schismatic/heretical Christians, invent a problem by playing with the calendar. Are perplexed that problem has arisen. Suggest solving the problem by playing around with the calendar some more. Will expect Orthodox Christians to acquiesce.

You'd like to celebrate Holy Pascha on the same day? Then fall in line with the Second Ecumenical Council, calendar and all.

His the Very Reverend first-among-equals, naturally will do what he likes. And I'm sure it will touch-off another devastating rupture in the already thoroughly riven with division Greek Church.

Good luck with us. Russian Church has a history of not complying with Western projects to "fix" Christianity, even when the Greeks go along with it.

I do feel for those poor businesses in the West though and all those people whose "social arrangements" are adversely affected.

When do I get time off work and gorge myself and my offspring on chocolate? Ultimate first world problems.
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