Lebanon-based Armenian Orthodox leader Aram I has at a Vatican meeting with Pope Benedict XVI proposed that the world's churches set a common date for Easter, when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus - writes Luigi Sandri.
"There are no special doctrinal problems to achieve this goal, but only problems of the calendar," Aram, who heads the Catholicosate of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church, told journalists in Rome at the end of his 23-27 November visit to Rome.
In most years, Christians celebrate Easter on two different dates. One is marked by most Protestants and Roman Catholics, and the other by most Orthodox churches.
Catholicos Aram said he believed an ecumenical initiative to celebrate Easter on the same day would help give visible expression to Christian unity.
Differences in the dates for celebrating Easter go back to the earliest Christian communities, although these were mostly resolved in AD 325 by the Council of Nicea. The major problems arose in the 16th century when Pope Gregory XIII replaced the Julian calendar that had been established in 46 BC with the Gregorian calendar.
It took some time for the new calendar to be adopted by all countries. However, most Orthodox churches still celebrate Easter on the date calculated by the Julian calendar.
Much of the impetus for fixing a common date for Easter has come from the Middle East where Christians from different traditions live in close proximity, though very much as small Christian minorities. In some parts of the Middle East local churches have between them reached agreement on common dates for Easter.
Speaking on 24 November at an ecumenical ceremony with Aram, Pope Benedict noted that in many parts of the world, Catholics and Armenians live side by side. "Increased understanding and appreciation of the apostolic tradition which we share will contribute to an ever more effective common witness to the spiritual and moral values without which a truly just and humane social order cannot exist," said Benedict.
Despite the different methods used, in some years Easter does fall on the same date, as in 2001 and 2004, and again in 2010.
In 1998, Aram had urged delegates at an assembly in Harare of the World Council of Churches to make 2001 "the beginning of a common celebration of Easter". The Lebanon-based church leader was then moderator of the WCC, which now groups 349 churches, predominantly Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]