Why Orthodox and Western Easter Are on Different Dates

Greece is slowly but surely coming closer to the great feast of 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 12, Greece will adhere to the date for Orthodox Easter, which falls very late this year — on April 19.

Orthodox Churches still use the Julian calendar for Easter, meaning at some times that 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 — the residents there are always 13 days behind the rest of Europe.

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).

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 Western world. In some years, however, Eastern and Western Easter fall on the same date, and this will happen again in the year 2025.

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 more astrologically-accurate Georgian calendar — except Easter.

So, in 2020 the Greek Orthodox will celebrate Good Friday on Friday, April 17, Easter Sunday on April 19 and Easter Monday on April 20.