Easter is a moveable holiday on the Christian calendar. It can be celebrated as early as March or as late as May.
One of the benefits of being an Orthodox Christian living in America is the ability to celebrate Easter twice. For most, this Sunday is Easter. But the 250 million Orthodox Christians around the world are preparing to celebrate Palm Sunday. Easter is next Sunday, April 23.
Having the two dates a week apart is not as confusing as last year when the two "Easter" celebrations were a month apart. For most Christians, Easter fell on March 27 in 2005. But for the Orthodox faithful, there is a prescribed series of events to determine the date of Easter each year. Orthodox Christians didn't celebrate Easter until May 1 in 2005.
Easter is a moveable holiday on the Christian calendar. It can be celebrated as early as March or as late as May. To understand why the Western churches (primarily the Catholic Church) celebrate Easter on a different date than the Eastern churches (or Orthodox), you need to know a little history.
The Christian Church was founded on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem in 33 A.D. — 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Orthodox branch believes it has maintained the same tradition for the past 2,000 years and can trace its Sunday liturgy to the original teachings and traditions of Jesus and the apostles.
For the first 1,000 years, there was one Christian Church — the one that was persecuted by the Romans until the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and made it the state religion. As the empire grew, the center of church authority began to splinter into rival factions, one centered in Constantinople (still the home base of the Orthodox Church), and the other based in Rome (eventually Vatican City), where popes rule the Catholic Church.
The official split came in 1054 A.D. when the Patriarch of Rome (also known as the Pope of Rome) broke away from the Eastern church in what religious scholars refer to as the "Great Schism."
The major difference between the Catholic and the Orthodox Christian churches is the Catholic belief in the infallibility of the Pope. The Eastern churches are autonomous, headed by senior bishops known as patriarchs, and do not recognize the authority of the pope. His All Holiness Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, is the 270th successor of the 2,000 year-old Christian Church founded by St. Andrew.
Bartholomew is the "first among equals" of the Orthodox Primates, who govern their respective churches in Greece, Cyprus, Russia, Eastern Europe, Africa and the Americas.
Since the "Great Schism," the Catholic Church has splintered into various other denominations.
The Lutheran Church was founded by Martin Luther in 1522. The Anglican Church of England was founded by King Henry VIII in 1534. The Presbyterian Church was founded by John Knox of Scotland in 1580. The Congregational Church was founded by Robert Brown in Holland in 1582. The Baptist Church was founded by John Smyth in Amsterdam in 1606. The Dutch Reformed Church was founded in New York in 1628 by Michelis Jones. The Protestant Episcopal Church is an offshoot on the Church of England and was founded by Samuel Seabury in the American Colonies in the 18th Century. The Methodist Church was founded by John and Charles Wesley in England in 1774. The Unitarian Church was founded by Theophilus Lindley in London in 1774. The Mormon Church (Latter Day Saints) was founded by Joseph Smith in 1829.
The Protestant churches also splintered into various branches: Church of the Nazarene, Pentecostal Churches, Holiness Church, Assemblies of God Churches, and many Bible and Evangelical and non-denominational churches, as well as the Jehovah's Witnesses.
The Orthodox Church has changed little in 2,000 years, although it has taken on the identify and customs of the countries it serves.
In Greece and Cyprus, the Greek Orthodox Church is dominant. In Russia, it's the Russian Orthodox Church. You also have Romanian, Antiochan, Bulgarian, Carpatho-Russian, Albanian, Serbian and Ukrainian churches. All celebrate the same liturgy, but do so in different languages. In the U.S., the largest Eastern Orthodox denomination is governed by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
Which brings us back to why Easter is celebrated twice. The formula for Easter is the same for both Catholic and Orthodox churches: The holiday is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the Vernal Equinox, but the churches base the date on different calendars — Western churches use the Gregorian calendar, the standard calendar for much of the world, while Orthodox churches use the older Julian calendar.
Eastern Orthodox church leaders also believe Easter should fall after the Jewish Passover because the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ took place after he entered Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. In the Western Church, Easter often precedes Passover.
Tony Phyrillas is a leading conservative political columnist and blogger based in Pennsylvania. He is a veteran journalist with 25 years experience as a reporter, editor and columnist for several newspapers. Phyrillas received recognition for column writing in 2010 from the Associated Press Managing Editors, in 2007 from Suburban Newspapers of America and in 2006 from the Society of Professional Journalists, Keystone Chapter. A graduate of Penn State University, Phyrillas is the city editor and political columnist for The Mercury, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning daily newspaper in Pottstown, Pa. In addition to The Mercury website (www.pottsmerc.com), his columns are featured on more than a dozen political websites and blogs. Phyrillas is a frequent guest (and occasional host) on talk radio and has been a panelist on the "Journalists Roundtable" public affairs TV program on the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN). Phyrillas was named one of the '10 Leading Greek-American Bloggers in the World' in 2007 by Odyssey: The World of Greece magazine. BlogNetNews.com ranked Phyrillas the Most Influential Political Blogger in Pennsylvania for three consecutive years (2007-2010). You can follow Phyrillas on Twitter @TonyPhyrillas