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The National Council of Churches reasserts a message:
a common Easter date enhances the Christian testimony

 

New York, March 10, 2011 -- For the second year in a row -- due to an unusual coincidence of calendars and moon phases -- Easter will be observed on the same Sunday in all Christian traditions.

 

Most years, Easter --  the celebration of the raising of Jesus Christ from the dead -- is celebrated on different dates in western churches and most Orthodox churches because of ancient discrepancies in calculating the calendar. This year Easter is celebrated by all traditions on April 24.

 

Now the National Council of Churches is renewing a call to Christians to make this happen every year and agree on a common date to celebrate the most important event in Christian history.

 

Last year, NCC general secretary, the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, and Dr. Antonios Kireopolulos, the NCC's associate general secretary for Faith & Order and Interfaith Relations, sent a letter to member communions lamenting that "almost every year the Christian community is divided over which day to proclaim this Good News.  Our split, based on a dispute having to do with ancient calendars, visibly betrays the message of reconciliation.  It is a scandal that surely grieves our God."

 

Now Kinnamon and Kireopoulos are reasserting proposals in the letter to continue the movement toward a common Easter date based on the recommendations of the Aleppo Conference of 1997. Aleppo called upon Christians to:

 

► adhere to the decision of the first ecumenical council at Nicea to celebrate Easter on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox, thus maintaining the biblical association between Jesus’ death and Passover;

 

► agree to use the most up-to-date scientific methods to analyze the astronomical data (which is consistent with Nicea); and,

 

► use the meridian of Jerusalem (due to its centrality in the Passion of Christ) as the point of reference for these calculations.

Kinnamon and Kireopoulos wrote: "May we truly revel in the joy that comes with our united proclamation of the Good News.  May God grant that in 2012 and beyond we may continue to proclaim with one voice that “Christ is risen!”  For he is risen indeed."

 

Read an essay by Dr. Kireopoulos on the need for a common Easter date.

 

The newly issued letter can be read below.

 

March 10, 2011 

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ: 

 

We greet you in the name of the Resurrected One, whose triumph over death we prepare to celebrate on Easter Sunday!  May God grant peace in our lives, and in the life of our broken world, in this holy Paschal season. 

 

Easter, of course, is the very heart of our faith as followers of Christ.  A 1997 conference in Aleppo, sponsored by the World Council of Churches and including churches from both East and West, said it well:  “Viewed as the ultimate victory over the powers of sin and death, the resurrection of the Lord is not only an historical event but a sign of God’s power over all the forces which keep us from his love and goodness.  It is a victory not only for Christ himself but also for all those united with him (I Peter 1:3).  It is a victory which marks the beginning of a new era (John 20:17).  The resurrection is the ultimate expression of the Father’s gift of reconciliation and unity in Christ through the Spirit.  It is a sign of the unity and reconciliation which God wills for the entire creation.” 

 

This is Good News indeed!  And yet almost every year the Christian community is divided over which day to proclaim this Good News.  Our split, based on a dispute having to do with ancient calendars, visibly betrays the message of reconciliation.  It is a scandal that surely grieves our God. 

A common date for Easter has been on the ecumenical agenda since the 1920 encyclical of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.  In 1997, a major step toward a common Easter celebration was taken when the Aleppo conference offered three simple yet profound recommendations: 

 

adhere to the decision of the first ecumenical council at Nicea to celebrate Easter on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox, thus maintaining the biblical association between Jesus’ death and Passover;

agree to use the most up-to-date scientific methods to analyze the astronomical data (which is consistent with Nicea); and,

use the meridian of Jerusalem (due to its centrality in the Passion of Christ) as the point of reference for these calculations. 

 

Adopting this proposal would take lots of education in our churches and sensitivity to pastoral concerns—but surely the prospect of a common witness to our Lord’s resurrection makes the effort worthwhile!  This year and next, when a coincidence of calendars means that our churches are celebrating Easter on the same day, may be a God-given opportunity to contemplate how we might contribute to the eventual adoption of the Aleppo recommendations.   

 

The entire Aleppo Report, including a clear articulation of how the current situation came to be, can be found on the NCC website (www.ncccusa.org).  We respectfully invite you to read it carefully and prayerfully.  We urge you to teach about it in your communions, pray about it in your assemblies, and discuss it with other leaders in your wider church family.  And please be prepared to speak about it together at the September meeting of the NCC Governing Board, to consider, as a Council, how we might most effectively encourage common witness to the resurrection we proclaim. 

 

This year and next, may we truly revel in the joy that comes with our united proclamation of the Good News.  May God grant that in 2012 and beyond we may continue to proclaim with one voice that “Christ is risen!”  For he is risen indeed.

 

Warm regards,

                                                      

Michael Kinnamon                                                                     Antonios Kireopoulos
General Secretary                                                                       Associate General Secretary
                                                                                                      Faith & Order and Interfaith Relations

 


 

Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for shared ecumenical witness among Christians in the United States. The NCC's 37 member communions -- from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches -- include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.

 

NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228 (office), 646-853-4212 (cell) , pjenks@ncccusa.org

 

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