Posts Tagged ‘Holy Week’

Tomorrow is March 17, the feast of St. Patrick of Armagh, Enlightener of Ireland.  Because it’s also Monday of Holy Week for Western Christians (as well as some Eastern Catholics, and Orthodox in Finland and some in Estonia) – the earliest it’s come since 1856 – some towns and churches held St. Patrick’s Day parades and services last week.

Reasons why in Mainstream Media (“MSM”) have often sounded a bit strange.  For instance, a WWW science writer told my local paper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, in a front-page story today, “Easter is determined … by calculating the position of the full moon in the time of Jesus.”  I thought this was strange because I’d never heard it put this way, plus in “higher-critical” Western thinking, we don’t know the exact year of our salvation, so we can’t “calculat[e] the position of the full moon in the time of Jesus.”  Literally seeming to add insult to injury, the paper’s religion writer blamed Easter dating on “a mysterious creation, a historical artifact known as the ‘Paschal full moon.'”  (I won’t bother linking to this story, since the link will break shortly.)

Here’s what they mean though.  I think the science source is actually referring to the fact that the Easter / Pascha formula is an actualization of the Old Testament mandate for Jewish Passover (Exodus 12:6, 14) – which IIUC is no longer followed as strictly by Jews as “in the time of Jesus,” who have ‘standardized’ the dating as we have for use throughout the world in any weather or political situation.  Jewish lunar months begin with the New Moon, and the 14th of each month traditionally marks the Full Moon at the middle of that lunar month.  The 14th day of the month Nisan (aka Abib) was supposed to fall at or less than a month after the Spring Equinox, and would be the first day of Passover, the anniversary of the Lord’s allowing death to all of Egypt’s non-Israelite firstborn (Exodus 12:11-12), as a result of which the Egyptians would literally send the Israelites packing.  The priests used to adjust the calendar each year by visual confirmation of moon and equinox, adding time to the calendar to make this happen, since the revolution of the Moon around the Earth is not synchronized with the revolution of the Earth around the Sun.  (I’ve read that most Muslims still schedule their religious feasts and fasts, such as Eid and Ramadan, this way – which is why they don’t know too far in advance when they will be – although a standardized calendar has been adopted in Saudi Arabia that approximates it but is more convenient for people.)

The canonical Gospels tie the Lord’s passion and death to the start of Passover that year (whether you believe the Last Supper was *the* Passover supper, or the day before, as debated).  They also inform us that He was crucified on a Friday, and rose from the dead on a Sunday (“the third day”).  So before long, many early Christians marked His Resurrection annually on the Sunday after the start of Passover, appropriately enough, and called this *our* Passover feastday – in Hebrew, Peshach or Pesach, in Greek, Pascha.  To celebrate His Resurrection at or before Passover would be, in effect, before He died, which they didn’t consider appropriate.  (Hence a logical, not anti-Jewish, reason for the prescription not to celebrate Pascha “with the Jews,” ie, at the same time as the traditional, Biblical beginning of their Passover – although there also were reasons given of not wanting to continue to associate Pascha too closely with the community that rejected the Messiah.)  So for them it was the Sunday after the full moon at or after the equinox.

The 1st Ecumenical Synod, the Council of Nicea (AD 325), seems to have indirectly mandated this scheme for all Christians, and over the next several centuries this was how it was worked out.  Furthermore, it mandated the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria, whose community seemed to major in this, to make the calculation and inform the rest of the Church each year.  As time went on, more-than-yearly notification was embraced to further promote a unified Christian celebration – it took more than three centuries to reach outlying areas like Great Britain and Ireland – requiring some standardization, trading astronomical precision for human convenience, in a time before live streaming webcams (eg, “the moon at Alexandria”), satellites, even telephones!  And the “ecclesiastical full moon” was born.  The Inquirer religion reporter’s source, I believe, for the term “historical artifact” actually uses the term scientifically: an artifact is something made by humans, as opposed to something natural; think of the similarly-derived word artificial.  His use of the phrase “a mysterious creation” is misleading, because as you can see now, there was nothing “mysterious” about it – except perhaps the Orthodox Mystery of Divine guidance of the Fathers of the Church … which I don’t think he’s talking about(!).  Otherwise, it’s only a “mystery” to someone who hasn’t done his homework.*

Also in the picture is that ancient Christianity fixed the ‘official’ date of the equinox at March 21, its traditional Julian Calendar date from before Christ.  The Gregorian Reform of the calendar made sure the observable equinox falls within a day or two of Mar. 21, but since the “Julian” Calendar had more Leap Years than was consistent with keeping the observable equinox on or near Mar. 21, and the Gregorian has fewer Leap Years, the Gregorian has run ahead of the Julian by 13 days now, which is why Western Easter this year is so early, and Orthodox Pascha 5 weeks later: we’re counting different Ecclesiastical Full Moons as the Paschal Full Moon.  And yes, the West still uses EFMs, so they don’t need the live webcam, “the moon at Rome / Geneva / Canterbury / Cleveland, Tennessee / wherever,” and so they too can plan some years in advance, and keep all adherents to the Gregorian Paschalion commemorating Easter on the same date.

(Nearly all Orthodox have rejected this reform – preferring, as St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain said, Orthodox Unity and Tradition, to precision about the sun and moon.  And Metropolitan KALLISTOS [Ware] of Diokleia, in The Orthodox Church, reported that the Finnish government requires Orthodox there to celebrate Easter according to the West [Where do they get off?!!]; I don’t know why Constantinople’s Estonians do so.)

(*–Admittedly, since we Orthodox are always being harassed by Western Christians about our usual difference from them on the dating of “Easter,” I believe these things are discussed, or written about, among Orthodox more than among Westerners.)