Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Why Do Catholics and Orthodox Christians Celebrate Easter on Different Days?

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Why Do Catholics and Orthodox Christians Celebrate Easter on Different Days?

Article excerpt

Since the early Middle Ages, all Christians have used the same method for determining the date of Easter, though they arrive at a different result. Described authoritatively in The Reckoning of Time by eighth-century English scholar Bede, "The Sunday following the full moon which falls on or after the equinox will give the lawful Easter." The equinox is observed on March 21. This straightforward method based upon an easily observable natural phenomenon survived the Schism of 1054, when the Catholic and Orthodox Churches split from each other. Still, if you have Orthodox Christian friends or visit a predominantly Orthodox country, such as Russia or Greece, in the late spring you may find yourself celebrating a second Easter.

You can thank Gregory XIII for the extra helping of Easter eggs. In 1582, the pope instituted a new calendar for all Catholic countries, and it would eventually be adopted as the civil calendar by countries throughout the world. The old Julian calendar year, created during the reign of Julius Caesar, was 11 minutes too long. That may not seem like much, but compounded over centuries, it was causing calendar days to shift in relation to natural phenomena like the change in seasons. Consequently, by the time of Gregory's papacy, the spring equinox could no longer be observed on March 21. The new Gregorian calendar brought March 21 back into alignment with the equinox by axing 13 days from the calendar for one year. To keep things in alignment going forward, the Gregorian calendar allows a centurial year, like 1900 or 2000, to be a leap year only if it is divisible by 400. …

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