Orthodox and Western calendars rarely coincide on the question of the date of Pascha (Easter). They work with different numbers and come up with different answers. Thus it is that the common pattern obtains this year: Pascha one week apart. It is possible as an Orthodox Christian to ignore the world around you and pretend that the majority of Christians are not marking Good Friday today or that their Easter will come this Sunday. Admittedly, it can be hard to hold such things together. Besides, the cycle of services leading to Pascha begins tonight for Orthodox parishes.
But if we complain about things in the surrounding culture, it should not be a complaint about others celebrating our Lord’s death and resurrection. Would that the whole world stopped and gave those events their proper recognition.
The death and resurrection of Christ are not entirely matters of calendar. How can the beginning of all things be held by a calendar? It holds the calendar and all calendars. On what day do we not remember that Christ tramples down death by death? Even on Pascha itself, we never forget the Cross – for the Cross properly belongs to Pascha.
Some of my readers have noted that I write in a fairly “existential” tone on the events of Christ suffering, death and resurrection. It’s not an invention of mine, but rather my discipleship to the lives and works of many modern saints and ascetics of the Church: Fr. Sophrony Sakharov; St. Silouan of Mt. Athos, et al. I believe it is the effective word to our generation (as St. Silouan believed as well). We have struggled for too long as Christians under the yoke of moralism, in which everything of Christ’s is interpreted in moralistic terms – geared only towards our legal admission into heaven.
This moralism is a caricature of true Christianity. Were the impacts of Christ’s victory on our existence to be forgotten – the faith would be in danger of its own death. If moralism disappears – it will doubtless be replaced by another. Moralism is simple, useful for judging others, and plays well in a world dominated by its neurotic psychological fantasies.
To understand instead that sin is death – that it attacks us at the very point of our existence – is a different matter altogether. Humanity stands poised at the edge of an abyss – driven there by its own defiance of God – Who alone gives us life and all things. The daily events on the world stage are only a tragic opera that illustrate the inner drama of our lives. In our hearts we are the insane builders of weapons. We are the suicide bombers (a fitting image for much of our sin).
All of which brings us to the Cross of Christ. There, all the insanity of the world and its mad rush towards self-destruction is gathered in one lonely cry, “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?” Of course, in context, Christ is reciting Psalm 22 which is both a prophetic description of His crucifixion as well as a promise of His victory. But it is also an echo of the cry of our empty existence. On our lips, of course, it is a lie. God has not abandoned us – we have abandoned Him. But we feel abandoned, nonetheless.
But this is a day of great good news. For all of you who are sitting in hell (I reckon myself among your number on many days and only flee there because I am afraid to stay and pray for us all) Christ is coming to break down the doors and reveal the brightness of His resurrection.
Last September I sat in the tomb of Lazarus. My ears strained to hear the echo of the cry, “Come forth.” For the day is coming and now is when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God… Me we all hear His voice this year and every day of this year. May we be brought from the grave of our sins and into the glorious company of the saints in Light.
It is difficult (as you point out) to reconcile what is happening culturally & spiritually – regarding the date of Pascha – which is why I tend to separate the two in my mind- one is Easter & one is Pascha. I have been criticized for this in the past – perhaps it is a form of moralism: if I think one is better than the other (which I do). Thank you for pointing out that at least people are celebrating the Feast, I needed to hear that because it is easy to lose perspective when trying to be in the world but not of it.
The whole topic of the word “better” is relative – I couldn’t seem to find a “better” word. Pascha is the fullness – Easter is for those who haven’t found the fullness of the faith – sort of a precursor, or foreshadowing. Christ is still there…
As you so accurately point out, Pascha is an event that surpasses notions of dates and calendars and takes place in every moment, inside every man.
I do hope you will forgive me, though, for asking a question that has troubled me when considering the date of Pascha:
I know that the date of Pascha is determined by the first full moon that follows the spring equinox. The difference between Orthodox and western dates exists because the Orthodox use the Julian Calendar for setting the date of the equinox, while western christians use the Gregorian calendar for setting the date of the equinox. Now, the question is, why do Orthodox who have adopted the Gregorian Calendar as their official ecclesial Calendar maintain the habit of calculating the date of Pascha using the Julian Calendar? Someone told me: “Because they want to celebrate Pascha with those who still use the Julian calendar as their official ecclesial calendar”, but is this a good enough reason? After all, if we want to keep the traditional church year we just stick to the old Julian calendar (like the Church of Jerusalem, the Church of Serbia, Russia, Mount Athos etc). Or is it because the Gregorian calendar was decreed by a Pope and is, as such, considered a “heretical” innovation (something that, in all honesty, I cannot comprehend)?
It is my understand that we on the New Calendar are actually on the Revised Julian and not the Gregorian – awaiting Father’s reply…
Yes, I would agree.
Handmaidleah, et al
We are on “revised Julian” which means Julian Pascha and Gregorian fixed dates. Ultimately there is no argument to be had about it, simply the obedience we offer our bishops in whose stewardship such matters lie. Even within the OCA there are Old Calendar parishes and New Calendar. My daughter and her husband are in an Old Calendar parish. It is Russian, though OCA, and for pastoral reasons remains on the Old Calendar. It is of little difference to me, though I would that all Orthodox did the same thing. As is, it is an opportunity for patience and humility which will always do us good.
Thank you for the answer. I am sorry if I sounded impertinent, it is not matter to argue about for me and of course I do agree that whatever is decided upon it is something we should abide to and offer our unconditional obedience to our Bishops. The reason why it troubles me is not because I think it to be wrong, just a bit weird as a practise.
Thank you for the answer. I am sorry if I sounded impertinent, it is not matter to argue about for me and of course I do agree that whatever is decided upon it is something we should abide to and offer our unconditional obedience to our Bishops. The reason why it troubles me is not because I think it to be wrong, just a bit weird as a practice.
We also celebrate “Fasika” as we call it in the old Calendar (Ethiopians) same as with the Russians and Syrians…
“ Pascha is an event that surpasses notions of dates and calendars and takes place in every moment, inside every man…. “ When you raise your kids here and they come home to ask you, this will be a perfect answer. It is hard to explain it to a kid.
“It is of little difference to me, though I would that all Orthodox did the same thing. As is, it is an opportunity for patience and humility which will always do us good.”… Amen Father.
“But this is a day of great good news. For all of you who are sitting in hell (I reckon myself among your number on many days and only flee there because I am afraid to stay and pray for us all) Christ is coming to break down the doors and reveal the brightness of His resurrection…”
Thank you for all your service Father and your writings and Thanks be to the Lord we got here. This Lent I started every day at the end of each day or two to rehearse all the things I have done during the day before falling asleep or awakening from sleep. Just to check myself what good deeds and not good deeds and thoughts I had during the day; from praying to fasting to giving alms to having conversations at home and work and anywhere else to reading to indulging and not indulging and so on. It is so amazing sometimes it will only be one or two things that I would think good deed. The rest will not be but will set me a goal and remind me what I should not fall into. Some of the sins are really repetitive. It is sometimes a challenge.
Thanks for your writings being part of my journey this Lent. One huge reminder for me you said to “run”… for repentence, confession.
There is a downloadable brochure available at http://faith.goarch.org that finally clarifies the dating of Pascha. I had understood (wrongly) that Pascha falls on the first Sunday following the first full moon following the equinox (dated March 20th according to the Julian calendar). However, a week ago I was staring at my St. Anthony’s Monastery calendar – which has both old and new calendar dates, and the phases of the moon – and noticed that something was amiss. The equinox according to the Julian calendar (that is, March 20th) was last Thursday, and the full moon is today. That would make this Sunday Pascha. Obviously I had learnt incorrectly.
By the sixth century, the introduction of paschal cycles attempted to “normalize” the dating. Unfortunately East and West used different cycles. When the West switched to Gregorian Calendar, the divergence increased. At any rate, the use of pre-defined cycles is what causes phenomenon like we have this year, where Pascha does not land where you would expect, even using the Julian calendar.
Hopefully I got this right 🙂
The Julian calendar uses a sidereal (star based) method for calculating the vernal equinox, whereas the Gregorian uses a solar calculation. Considering the fact that the vernal equinox is a solar event and not a star event, the Gregorian more correctly states when the vernal equinox is. The Julian will continue to diverge over the centuries. I don’t think much about it. It’s something for the Bishops to figure out and fix when they get around to it. The solution is obviously being worked out in “Orthodox time” meaning, don’t worry, we’ll get to it.
The calendar is interesting, but I would encourage you to think on the article, which is ultimately not about calendar, but about the cross and Pascha. The article intends to draw our attention to the existential consequences of our faith. It’s just that we’re very interested in stuff like calendars.
I have a suspicion that Mary of Egypt lost all sense of calendar, but found the whole truth of her existence.
BTW, the photo is from the interior of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – it’s one of the many galleries in the Church.
The Divine Liturgy this morning was beautiful. And, if the Divine Liturgy for Holy Nativity was any indication of how magnificent Pascha will be, I don’t think I’m ready. Either my chest or head will explode.
“BTW, the photo is from the interior of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – it’s one of the many galleries in the Church.”
Ugh, I can’t wait!
John in Denver wrote:
“… if the Divine Liturgy for Holy Nativity was any indication of how magnificent Pascha will be, I don’t think I’m ready. Either my chest or head will explode”.
You made me smile with that one! I do not mean to undermine the beauty or importance of the Christmas services, but in Orthodoxy the real “feast” is the Holy Week and Pascha. Nothing compares to the whole experience throughout the church year, either in meaning, beauty, solemnity, not to mention the fact that while the Nativity is but a couple of days, the Holy Week is, well, an entire week +, full of services hymns and the most stirring messages in the Christian tradition and faith. Fasten your seatbelt!
Sean it is so true, nothing compares to the experience and journey. Especially the preparation and attending the services while the body is so weak but your heart and mind so strong and warm, listening to the services, just no comparison at all. One thing I never forget growing up in getting ready with the cooking how our house smells so good, how the whole city gets prepared and we all wait though for the Feast, the whole journey unbelievable.
Interview with Father Andrew Philips. Very interesting:
Thanks for this post Fr. Stephen.
On a historical note, Judith Herrin’s _The Formation of Christendom_ pays a lot of attention to different calendars as markers of commonality and divergence between Eastern and Western Christendom c. 400-800, and even within these larger blocs (e.g. Roman calculations vs. Irish calculations, which were based on another less accurate Roman version, etc.). I don’t remember which pages exactly, but the first discussion is in the very beginning and includes references in the footnotes to more technical books on the subject.
I wholeheartedly recommend reading Father Andrew Phillips’ site http://www.orthodoxengland.org.uk. He has a great view of the world. Buried in his site is his recollections of attending the ROCOR council in San Fransisco in 2007 where they decided to reunite with Moscow at http://www.orthodoxengland.org.uk/council.htm. He also has a lot of much needed Orthodox commentary on current world events. He is one of the great current Orthodox writers. Investigate.
It’s odd how this wonderful post has been derailed by a discussion about Fr. Andrew Phillips.
Sceptik seems to be spamming all Orthodox blogs with that comment. Just a heads up! 🙂
“God has not abandoned us – we have abandoned Him.”
Not necessarily. It is entirely possible not to abandon God, but to have the way to Him blocked by external forces. I have experienced it.
Father Andrew is a great man. Was a pleasant surprise for me, to find such people outside the well known orthodox world, to put it like this. He’s an exemple for all orthodox who have no idea about orthodoxy, but are proud to be otrhodox for generations.
Sorry for the spam 🙂
I allowed your comment, why didn’t you allow mine ? 🙂
I a romanian so we use the Gregorian calendar but this is a huge mistake and draw consequences and disorders. I realy hope that in the future we’ll get rid off the gregorian calendar in church life and use it in secular life.
Father Stephen is right about this, every day should feel like a resurection day, and every day should be one we got rid if a sin, through this power of Christ that surmounted death.
Hristos a Inviat !
Adeverat a inviat!
… and why are You guys greeting each-other with “Christ is risen” a whole week before Easter!? We’ve barely reached Lazarus Saturday, and Palm Sunday is only tomorrow… 😐
I pray that in the future we don’t worry about calendars and instead repent of our sins and forgive our enemies. Please no more calendar conversation. Christ comes, brides are running out of oil and talking about the calendar. Blessed is he whom he shall find watching. Peace.
St. Seraphim of Sarov greeted everyone every day with Christ is risen. It’s never inappropriate because it is always true. If someone greets me with Christ is risen in whatever language, it would be impertinent not to respond in kind. Peace.
Blessed is he whom he shall find watching.
You mean the guys out on “calendar-watch”? 😀
Please forgive me. I should have known better 🙁
I like this article.