The date of Easter has always been a source of some controversy and disagreement among Christians. To this day, the fact that Christians celebrate Easter on different days puzzles some Christians and annoys others. Yet the issue is no longer a matter of huge controversy. Yet for centuries the Early Church was paralyzed by controversies over how to calculate the date of Easter. Perhaps the most famous of these controversies was the Quartodecimanism Controversy. The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives the following potted history of the controversies:
1170 At the Council of Nicaea in 325, all the Churches agreed that Easter, the Christian Passover, should be celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon (14 Nisan) after the vernal equinox.
Yet Nicea did not solve all disagreement, there have been many other disagreements on the date of Easter over the centuries, for example, in the seventh century, the Irish Church almost broke with Rome due to one such disagreement on how to calculate the date of Easter. Such disagreements continue to this very day. Today most of the differences in calculating the date of Easter are not so much due to the formula agreed at Nicea, but because there are a number of calendars in use. Civil society and most Western Christians use the Gregorian Calendar while many Eastern Christians use the older, but less precise, Julian Calendar (while some use the Revised Julian Calendar).
Various Christian bodies are still working to agree on a common date for Easter. The World Council of Churches provides this summary of the situation on their website. At Vatican II, the Council Fathers approved of the idea of assigning Easter to a given Sunday each year, provided that other Christians would agree (see the appendix to Sacrosanctum Concilium). Unfortunately, this did not lead to a solution and various ecumenical negotiations have continued since then. In 2015 Pope Francis (prematurely) announcedthat the Catholic Church had reached an agreement with other Christians to have a single date for Easter.
Understanding and appreciation of each other’s traditions and spirituality will go a long way to overcome these divisions. But this year, with the two celebrations falling a week apart, I think that we have made some small progress in mutual understanding. It may be a miniscule step forward in the midst of the tragic and evil war in Ukraine, but I think it was a step in the right direction.
I am a news junkie and, in particular, these past few months I have read hundreds of stories about the situation in Ukraine. I have also read a lot about the catastrophic discommunion that is tearing the Orthodox world apart. But in the past few weeks, I have noted a much better news coverage in the difference in the dates of Easter. Maybe I am wrong, but in both secular and religious news media I have discerned more nuance and acceptance of the fact that there are two dates of Easter. I did not come across any coverage that said that one calculation was correct and the other was wrong. While there are so many things to be worried about in our world, I think that this may be one small area where the Holy Spirit is working to bring about unity.