In anticipation of the 1,700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea, the head of the permanent representation of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to the World Council of Churches (WCC) is advocating a reform of the Orthodox calendar, so that Christians celebrate Easter on the same date in 2025.
“Establishing a common date to celebrate Easter will not be an easy task,” said Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, which “welcomes the advances” made by Orthodox Bishop Job of Telmessos.
His real name Ihor Getcha, the one who symbolically occupies the seat of Telmessos (current Turkey) and since 2016, has been the permanent representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople to the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Geneva.
For Job of Telmessos, the commemoration of the 1,700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea, in 2025, is the perfect opportunity to find a common date for Easter with Catholics, even if it means modifying the calendar in force in the autocephalous churches of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
One of the great advances of the Council of 325 was to settle the Easter controversies which, from the second century, poisoned the life of the Church.
To date, two Paschal observances are currently opposed: one celebrates the Christian feast of Easter on the same day as the end of the Jewish feast, the evening of the 14th day of the month of Nisan, hence its name of the quartodeciman observance. St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna and martyr, followed this practice.
The other, based on the fact that the Savior was resurrected on a Sunday, requires that the feast of Easter be celebrated on the Sunday following Nisan 14. This is the prevailing custom in Rome, as was attested during the reign of Pope Xyste, in the first quarter of the 2nd century.
Little by little, things got worse, and Rome took a less and less favorable view of those whom she called the Quartodecimans, for the paschal controversy not only showed a divergence on the date of the feast, but also a difference with regard to the preparatory fast for Easter.
During the third century, in the Latin world, Paschal cycles began to be calculated in order to predict the date of Easter several years in advance. They are based on the solar calendar, and not the lunar, in order to differentiate more from the Jewish people. The date differences only became more glaring.
Thus, in Rome the custom spread of celebrating Easter on the Sunday after the full moon following the spring equinox meant that Easter would fall no earlier than March 22, and nor later than April 25.
In 314, at the Council of Arles, it was ruled that all Christians must celebrate the feast of Easter on the same day, and that the pope, by means of a circular, would announce the date each year.
A few years later, the Council of Nicaea repudiated the manner of fixing Easter “according to the custom of the Jews,” and fixed it that all Christians would follow the paschal custom to which “the city of Rome, Italy, the entirety of Africa, Spain, Gaul, Brittany, all of Libya, Greece, the diocese of Asia, that of Pontus and Cilicia.”
It would take two more centuries for the provisions of the Council of Nicea to be accepted by all, and for everyone to agree on the way to calculate, for example, the fixing of the date of the equinox, which then differed between Rome and Alexandria.
With the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar at the end of the 16th century, the problem rebounded, as the Latins and Greeks would no longer celebrate Easter on the same date.
To break the deadlock, Job de Telmessos, taking up the results of a consultation organized in Aleppo in Syria by the WCC in 1997, made the suggestion in 2021 for the Orthodox to use “the astronomical data calculated according to the most scientific and most precise means possible” and to take as a basis of calculation “the Jerusalem meridian.”
On the one hand, this would amount to reforming the Julian Calendar, and on the other hand it would to refer to Jerusalem for the calculation of the date of Easter.
Given the scattering of autocephalous churches throughout the Orthodox world, it is difficult to imagine that the standardization of the date of Easter will be reached soon.