Why Orthodox and Catholic Easter Are on Different Dates

Greece is slowly but surely edging closer to Easter — a religious occasion celebrated here with more gusto than in many other Western Christian countries.

Unlike most European nations, which will celebrate on April 1, Greece will adhere to the Orthodox Easter, which falls early this year — April 8.

Orthodox Churches still use the Julian calendar for Easter, meaning there can be a 13-day lag behind the Gregorian.

So, for example, on Mount Athos — an autonomous religious state in northern Greece under the protection of Athens — is it always 13 days behind the rest of Europe.

One reason behind the Orthodox world having its own Easter date is a tradition going back centuries which states the church must celebrate after the Jewish Passover to maintain the Biblical sequence of Christ’s Passion.

In 2018, Passover begins on March 30 and ends April 7 — just one day before Orthodox Easter.

However, the Passover link has been largely dropped by Western Christianity’s calculation of Easter. In fact, the last time the two great Christian denominations shared a date for Easter was in 2017.

Calculating the date

Another complicating factor historically was finding a date and sticking to it. In the early days of their faith, Christians celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ at different times.

It was the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council in 325 AD who came up with a uniform way of setting the date. They decreed that Easter was to be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox, but always after Passover.

In order to ensure there was no confusion as to when the vernal equinox occurred, the date of the vernal equinox was set to be March 21 (April 3 on the Julian Calendar).

The first full moon after this equinox this year falls on Saturday, March 31.

To this day, the Orthodox have stuck with this method of calculating the date of Easter, leading to it usually falling later than in the Catholic world.

However, in 1923, a group of Orthodox churches met in Istanbul to re-examine the calendar issue, eventually adopting a controversial position that important religious dates would follow the most astrologically-accurate Georgian calendar — except Easter.

So, in 2018 Greek Orthodox will celebrate Good Friday on Friday, April 6, Easter Sunday on April 8 and Easter Monday on April 9.

Watch Greek Reporter’s documentary on “Rocketwar,” a unique Greek Easter custom taking place on Chios Island on Easter.