The hope that all Christians will be able to celebrate Easter on the same day in the future has been reaffirmed by an international ecumenical seminar organized by the Institute of Ecumenical Studies at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv.
The problem is almost as old as the church itself. As Christianity started to spread around the world, Christians came to hold differing opinions on when to commemorate Jesus Christ's death and resurrection, due to the different reports in the four gospels on these events.
Attempts to establish a common date for Easter began with the Council of Nicaea in the year 325. It established that the date of Easter would be the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox. However, it did not fix the methods to be used to calculate the timing of the full moon or the vernal equinox.
Nowadays the Orthodox churches use the 21 March of the Julian calendar as the date of the equinox, while the churches of the Western tradition – that is the Protestant and Catholic churches – base their calculations on the Gregorian calendar. The resulting gap between the two Easter dates can be as much as five weeks.
All participants at the seminar in Lviv, which included Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant theologians from a variety of European countries, endorsed a compromise proposed at a World Council of Churches (WCC) consultation in Aleppo, Syria, in 1997. The proposal was to keep the Nicaea rule but calculate the equinox and full moon using the accurate astronomical data available today, rather than those used many years ago.
Participants at the seminar expressed the hope that the years 2010 and 2011, when the coincidence of the calendars will produce a common Easter date, would serve as a period during which all Christians would join their efforts "to make such coincidence not to be an exception but rather a rule" and prepare for an Easter date based on exact astronomical reckoning and celebrated by all Christians on 8 April 2012.
However, the seminar entitled "A common date for Easter is possible" did not turn a blind eye to what participants considered to be "the main problem": "not the calculations, but the complex relations and missing of trust among different Christian denominations because of long divisions."
French Orthodox theologian Prof. Antoine Arjakovsky, director of the Institute of Ecumenical Studies, pointed out: "Whilst the astronomic reckoning of the Nicean rule comes closer to the Gregorian calendar than to the ancient Julian one, the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches did take a step towards the Orthodox churches in Aleppo, accepting that the date of Easter should be established on the base of a cosmic calendar rather than by a fixed date as had been proposed prior to the inter-Orthodox meeting in Chambésy in 1977."
Other speakers at the ecumenical seminar were the Rev Dr Dagmar Heller, professor at the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey in Switzerland and executive secretary of the WCC Faith and Order Commission, Fr Milan Zust, a Jesuit and an official of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and Prof. Konstantin Sigov, director of the Saint Clement Centre in Kiev, Ukraine.
In addition to the students of the Institute of Ecumenical Studies – a consortium between the Ukrainian Catholic University, the National University of Lviv and several other European universities – the seminar had gathered representatives of the city's major denominations: the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches of the patriarchates of Moscow and Kiev as well as the Autocephalous Orthodox Church in the Ukraine, the Greek and Roman Catholic Churches, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Baptist and the Evangelical Church.
Also on Ekklesia: 'A tale of two Easters' - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/5051 (Explaining the nature and background of the problem)
Proposals from the Aleppo consultation: http://www.oikoumene.org/?id=2678