Church Life and Pastoral Care

Preparing the Orthodox for the Date of Pascha

Published on: May 1, 2024
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Both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox commentators continue to note the interest expressed by Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in finding a common date for the celebration of Easter/Pascha by 2025. The 1700th anniversary of the first Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 appears at first an auspicious opportunity to settle the vexed problem of the calendar and the celebration of the Resurrection. These efforts build upon the work of an ecumenical gathering of scholars that took place in Aleppo, Syria, in 1997. Most Eastern or Oriental Orthodox in North America, however, have probably forgotten that the Orthodox-Roman Catholic Consultation, the Orthodox-Lutheran Consultation, and the Orthodox Theological Society (OTSA) in 1999 all endorsed the Aleppo Statement.

The Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America (SCOBA) had sent to OTSA a request for an assessment. The Society responded with two important suggestions. First, they urged that the Orthodox accept the Aleppo proposal as the most satisfactory method of determining the proper date for the celebration of Pascha. Second, and equally important, they urged the hierarchs to begin an immediate education initiative, because the Aleppo proposal would require from the Orthodox the biggest adjustment in the timing of the celebration of Pascha.

Nothing came of these endorsements. Still, further meetings have continued to build on the Aleppo Statement, and more than a quarter century later, the need is no less urgent today to educate both Eastern and Oriental Orthodox about why the proposal remains the best way for finding a common method for celebrating Pascha. But not only has SCOBA been replaced by the Assembly of Bishops for the Eastern Orthodox. More recently, the Eastern Orthodox hierarchs have been meeting with more regularity their counterparts in the Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches in America. An important first step toward helping the Orthodox in North America to understand the hopes for a common date for celebrating the Resurrection needs to begin with the North American Eastern and Oriental bishops initiating a parish-level educational initiative as soon as possible.

For the Orthodox in North America, the superb 2017 essay by Professor John Fotopoulos should be required reading by anyone wishing to understand the importance of the Aleppo proposal. For those bishops and their advisors willing and able to spend more time examining the pros and cons of the Statement, the essays of the 26th 2022 Orientale Lumen meeting provide an overview both of the Statement and the history of the continued consultations that have followed. (Joseph Loya, OSA, ed., Easter Together: An Ecumenical Exploration for a Common Date).

That raw emotion and bad historical memory can surround any calendar change proposal we know from its history. When ten days disappeared from the western European calendar in 1582 with the promulgation of Pope Gregory XIII’s adoption of the revised calendar, riots broke out in various places. The fear of deepening the already acute social, economic, and political disorder had centuries before dissuaded the East Roman Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos from listening to his brilliant polymath scholar Nikephoros Gregoras (1295-1360). The latter had urged the emperor to take up the reform necessary because of the inaccuracies that had inevitably crept in over time since the adoption of the “Julian” calendar. The political machinations, plots, and threats that surrounded Ecumenical Patriarch Jeremias II ( 1536-1595), who was elected, then deposed, the re-elected, deepened fears of what such consideration of a calendar change might provoke within the borders of the Ottoman Empire.

Given the small number of both Eastern and Oriental Orthodox in the Americas, suggestions posed from this corner of the world for examining the calendar question are unlikely to convince Eastern or Oriental Christians in Europe and the Middle East. Nonetheless, with a partial calendar change already happening in Ukraine and given the impending anniversary of the First Ecumenical Council, the Assembly of Bishops in North America can coordinate with the hierarchs of the Oriental Orthodox in North America to take up the education issue that OTSA urged a quarter century ago. Putting an end to fear-based accusations of “western” conspiracy, abandonment of “true” Orthodoxy, and similar figments of emotional memory devoid of genuine historical evidence is long overdue. Even more importantly, a joint study of the Statement endorsed by the Eastern and Oriental hierarchs in North America can provide the first step toward a synodically based, parish-level education to provide the “rational sheep” among both Oriental and Eastern Orthodox in the Americas with genuine understanding of the value of the Aleppo Statement. That understanding can only serve the interests of the true faith in the long term, both in the Americas, and in the global Church.

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Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

About author

  • Rev. Dr. Anthony G. Roeber

    Rev. Dr. Anthony G. Roeber

    Emeritus Professor of Early Modern History and Religious Studies at Penn State University

    The Rev. Dr. Anthony G. Roeber is Emeritus Professor of Early Modern History and Religious Studies at Penn State University, and Professor of Church History at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. Author of many books, his Palatines, Liberty, and Property: German Lutherans in Colonial Briti...

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Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in the articles on this website are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

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