Easter Sunday is just past for most people in the Western World. Western Christians will be well into the 50 days of the Easter Season before our Eastern brothers and sisters celebrate Easter Sunday on May 1 this year. In fact, at the moment, Eastern Christians have barely started Lent!
From a purely Canadian point of view as I look out on ice, snow and now freezing rain, how much better it would be to celebrate Easter later in April. So, why not?
A number of Christian leaders from both East and West have been discussing a common date for Easter very seriously in recent years. Next year, in 2017, the date for Easter coincides on the Julian (Eastern) and Gregorian (Western) calendars. Easter Sunday will be April 16 – a much more congenial date for those of us in the frozen North.
Without getting into the intricacies of calculating the first full moon after the March 21 equinox, the majority of Christians would agree that the celebration of Easter as a sign of faith and unity would be greatly enhanced by all of us (or most) agreeing on the calculation of the date.
Most pragmatic observers understand that the Eastern Churches (Orthodox, Catholic and Oriental) are extremely unlikely to agree to the Western calculation which is based on the calendar developed by Pope Pope Gregory XIII, who introduced it in October 1582 to adjust dates according to the actual length of the year.
Nor would many be willing to accept a fixed date such as the second week of April on the Gregorian calendar. This idea is being floated with little interest in the Orthodox world.
As correct as the Gregorian calculation is, it is simply impossible for many Eastern Christians to imagine that their calculations for 1700 years must be set aside.
So what is to be done?
An act of profound humility in charity is now suggested by many in the West: Catholics, Protestants and even secular people. This act would have to be accomplished by one man and it would be welcomed by millions both East and West.
The man, of course, is Pope Francis I. All he would need to do is draw up (in proper Vaticanese) a document agreeing to adopt the Eastern calculation for Easter without changing the Gregorian Calendar's corrections of the actual solar dates e.g. when the calculation based on the Julian Calendar shows April 15 as the date for Easter, the corresponding Gregorian date of April 22 would allow East and West, Catholic Orthodox and Protestant to celebrate the same day.
In fact, I am told that the Vatican has already agreed to allow Ethiopian Catholics celebrate Easter at the same time as the Orthodox majority in Ethiopia.
This could be a win, win, win in the sense that:
1. The Eastern Churches are respected and given their due for years of faithful witness to the great Tradition.
2. The Gregorian Calendar would continue to be used and adjusted as before by the Western Church and Protestant groups.
3. The secular world’s calendar based on the Gregorian Calendar would be virtually unchanged except that, mercifully, the Easter holidays where civically provided for would be celebrated later in most years and at a time when Spring has really taken hold in the Northern Hemisphere.
Apologies to those “down under” if Easter Sunday may be celebrated in slightly more Fall-like conditions. At least most of you will not have to fight the snow storms in late March to get to the Easter Vigil or Easter Sunday Mass!
So, let’s all write to Pope Francis to encourage him in what he has already begun to consider since meeting some time ago with the head of the persecuted Coptic Church in Egypt.
Coptic Pope Tawadros II has suggested a common date be found so that Christian witness may be unified in the very stressful situations for Christians found in Egypt and the Middle East.
The time is right, all Christians will celebrate Easter Sunday on April 16, 2017. With charity and humility an agreement can be found on the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord for the years to come.
P.S. Then we can start thinking about moving the date of Christmas into January . . . and join our Eastern Christian friends by doing our Christmas shopping during "Boxing Week!"