More on Pascha vs. Easter on the Calendars

might be decoded here. I don’t follow all the astronomy terms used by our friends at the U.S. Naval Observatory, but I didn’t realize:

To fix incontrovertibly the date for Easter, and to make it determinable indefinitely in advance,* the Council constructed special tables to compute the date. These tables were revised in the following few centuries resulting eventually in the tables constructed by the 6th century Abbot of Scythia, Dionysis Exiguus.

[Although I’ve never read that the Council of Nicea devised tables. They may have developed roughly pursuant to it, after it… see below. Also:

*–This isn’t just trivia for people who want to know when Pascha is, say, 1,527 years from now. {Or even 5.7 million years from now, the length of time it’ll take for the pattern of Gregorian Easters to repeat!} When you read about how Jewish, and then early Christian, feasts had to be scheduled by sky observations at Jerusalem, or Alexandria, or wherever, and then announcements sent out throughout the Mideast, North Africa, and Europe… by foot… in uncertain weather and political and martial situations… the need for Christians everywhere {eventually} to have a reliable date for Pascha at least several years in advance becomes clearer. Why not permanently?!]

The usual statement, that Easter Day is the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs next after the vernal equinox, is not a precise statement of the actual ecclesiastical {ie, T/traditional} rules. The full moon involved is not the astronomical {ie, necessarily observable} Full Moon but an “ecclesiastical moon” (determined from tables) that keeps, more or less, in step with the astronomical Moon.

The ecclesiastical rules are:

  • Easter falls on the first Sunday following the first “ecclesiastical full moon” that occurs on or after the day of the vernal equinox;
  • this particular ecclesiastical full moon is the 14th day of a tabular lunation (new moon);** and
  • the vernal equinox is fixed as March 21.

resulting in that Easter can never occur before March 22 or later than April 25.*** The Gregorian dates for the ecclesiastical full moon come from the Gregorian tables. Therefore, the civil date of Easter depends upon which tables – Gregorian or pre-Gregorian – are used. The western (Roman Catholic and Protestant) Christian churches use the Gregorian tables; many eastern (Orthodox) Christian churches use the older tables based on the Julian Calendar. {Boldface, underline, quotation marks, and curly brackets added by Leo Peter.}

(**–Think of the prescribed Biblical Hebrew date of 14 Nisan for Jewish Passover!)

(***–This range of dates seems to apply to Western Easter computed and displayed on the Gregorian Calendar, and Orthodox Pascha computed and displayed on the “Julian” Calendar, but not to Orthodox Pascha displayed on your “Revised Julian” or Gregorian calendars, where the dates are advanced out of March and into May – even though “both” Orthodox Paschas are obviously the same day, merely dated differently, except in Finland, and the Patriarchate of Constantinople’s jurisdiction in Estonia, which both now mark Pascha on Western Easter.)

Just for added comprehension…. 🙂

As for the question of the shifting Spring Equinox vis a vis the “Julian” Calendar, Fr. Andrew Phillips (ROCOR) in the UK says (in the course of defending the whole Old Calendar, not just the continued dating of Pascha by nearly all Orthodox thereby, which I’m not necessarily doing here):

Q: If we continue to observe the Church calendar, then eventually we shall find ourselves celebrating Easter in the autumn and Christmas in the summer.
A: In answer – no feast has to fall in a particular season.**** To say otherwise is either folklore or else nature-worship. Indeed Orthodox in the southern hemisphere already celebrate Easter in the autumn and Christmas in the summer. They do not seem to suffer from it. In any case it would take some 20,000 years for this to happen in the northern hemisphere – and then those in the southern hemisphere would have Easter in the spring and Christmas in the winter.

(****–By which Father Andrew means it theoretically doesn’t matter if Julian March 21 ceases to have anything to do with [Northern Hemisphere] “Spring”… as he expands upon:

The Fathers {of the 1st Oecumenical Council} showed that, while it is impossible to find harmony in astronomical, i.e. fallen, time, it is possible to find harmony through the Resurrection. Thus, at the First [O]ecumenical Council, the Church gave harmony to the disharmony of Fallen Creation. For the Church is harmony in a disharmonious universe, hallowing all things by the Holy Ghost, restoring them, transfiguring them into the things of Christ. The new-found harmonization of the solar and lunar calendars represent the harmony between God [the Sun of Truth] and Man [the moon being a symbol of the Mother of God, Who represents the greatest holiness attained by Man]. The Church calendar is spiritual harmony restored to the universe by the Resurrection of Christ, which is also the Resurrection of Man and the whole Cosmos.)

To which I’ll only add that the number of Orthodox in the Southern Hemisphere is growing by leaps and bounds, via conversions in Australia, New Zealand, and Indonesia, as well as Eastern, Central, and Southern Africa, maybe even South America!

And I’ve started putting “Julian” in quotation marks under the influence of this paragraph:

The Fathers chose to introduce a new calendar into the world – the calendar of the Resurrection, the calendar of the Church, which although linked to astronomical time, the fallen time of the fallen world, is not the same as astronomical time. And it is not the same because it is centred on the time of Christ’s Victory over Death, and not on the movements of the stars, planets and satellites of the Fallen Cosmos. By adopting the Julian calendar and a lunar calendar {ie, Hebrew}, neither of which was quite accurate, the Fathers managed to harmonize the solar and lunar calendars to the end of time. Accuracy in time for the Fathers was of little import when time itself will end. What was important was the Resurrection of Christ which takes man across time into Eternity – Timelessness.

What he means by “to the end of time” is that the whole Old Calendar has a 532-year great, repeating, perpetual cycle of Feasts. (The Gregorian Calendar’s is the 5.7 million years I mentioned above, and supposedly the “Revised Julian” has no cycle[?].) And Pascha affects the whole calendar, not just the so-called Moveable Feasts of the Paschalion, because every day of the year is designated either a day of the Triodion (pre-Lent), of the Great Fast (“Lent”), of Pascha (“Easter season”), or After Pentecost (not merely “Ordinary Time” as in some parts of Christendom), along with whatever Fixed Feast any given day may be (or Forefeast or Afterfeast). This is why it’s said to be a new, ‘combination’ calendar. (I’m not arguing for the whole Old Calendar here, just explaining what Fr. Andrew and the other link are saying.)

(BTW, speaking of calendars, this doesn’t really bear on Orthodoxy per se, just a pet peeve of mine: the problem people on the internet have over The Year Zero, its logic or illogic. The reason the Christian calendar system doesn’t have a Year Zero is because some years are “Before Christ” and others are… NOT “After Christ” [or His Incarnation], in which case Year Zero would make sense as an in-between year, but “of the Lord” [Anno Domini, A.D.]. Thus, the conventional year He was Incarnated was “the first Year of the Lord.” It wasn’t a non-year – Zero – it was an actual year [that actually may have begun with the conventional month of His conception in the womb of the Theotokos, March, so He spent most of that First Year in utero!]. The last year before Christ was 1 BC; the next year, the First Year of the Lord, was logically AD 1. Maybe you could have a Moment Zero – 12:00:00.01 AM on March 1 or 25, whichever day was considered the start of that month, I don’t know; more like an Instant Zero, the Turn of the Age the dot of 12 midnight. Whatever. And yes, the new millennium started 1/1/01, not the admittedly much more appealing “odometer moment” of 1/1/00… because the first one started in 1, because… there was no Year Zero.)


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