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“Proclaiming the Resurrection with One Voice” 


by Antonios Kireopoulos 


Editor's Note. Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos is associate general secretary of the National Council of Churches for Faith & Order and Interfaith Relations. Here he argues for a common celebration of Easter in the east and west.


Easter is at the heart of our Christian faith.  On that day, we celebrate our belief in what the apostles claimed – that a man, Jesus, who had died upon a cross, is risen from the dead – and our belief in what the Church subsequently concluded after years of contemplating this miracle – that he is the Son of God, fully human and fully divine, one of the Holy Trinity who, with the Father and the Spirit, created and redeemed and continues to sanctify the world. 


This is Good News indeed.  And yet almost every year the Christian community is split on which day to proclaim this Good News.  The split is along an Eastern (Orthodox) – Western (Catholic, Protestant, and Anglican) divide, and duplicative celebrations cause confusion both inside and outside the churches.  This, my dear friends, is a scandal!  How is it that we have allowed the glory of the Gospel of the risen Christ to be diminished by a fractured telling of the story?  



The answer to this question is the stuff of history.  To establish a regular pattern to celebrate Easter, in the fourth century at the first ecumenical council, the Church determined, following the scriptural references to the association between Jesus’ death and Passover, that Easter should be celebrated on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox (which took into account how the date of Passover was originally calculated).   


By the sixteenth century, astronomical discrepancies led to a change in the calendar.  Western Christians now calculated the date of Easter according to the newer Gregorian Calendar; Eastern Christians still calculated the date of Easter according to the older Julian Calendar.  Now, some four centuries later, we know, when considering the modern technological analysis of astronomical data, that neither calendar is precise when it comes to the lunar tables. 


A way out of the proverbial log-jam has been suggested by a World Council of Churches consultation.  First is to adhere to the principles of the first ecumenical council, something that both Eastern and Western Christians have affirmed as the way to be faithful to the scriptures and tradition.  Second is to use the most up-to-date scientific methods to analyze the astronomical data.  Third is to use the meridian of Jerusalem as the point of reference for these calculations.    



Of course, this seems so sensible a suggestion, and it is.  But history and culture bring difficulties to bear on any task, and while there should be no hesitation in moving forward with this suggestion, we must all be aware that it will require the education of the faithful in both Eastern and Western churches, with great sensitivity to a host of pastoral concerns, and thus that it will take a lot of time to implement.  Still, doesn’t the glorious message of the resurrection call upon us to make this effort?  


This year we have an opportunity to reflect upon this question with more urgency.  As it happens by coincidence every several years, all the churches are celebrating Easter on the same day – April 24.  (This also happened last year on April 4.)  Let us take advantage of this opportunity and marvel at how beautiful it is in the sight of God to proclaim with one voice the paschal victory of life over sin and death, which we know to be the salvation of the world.

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.

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