Why Orthodox Christian Easter Is Later than the Catholic One

Why is Orthodox Easter different than Catholic

As Catholics and most of the western world celebrate Easter today, we asked a Greek-Orthodox priest to explain why the Orthodox Church doesn’t celebrate Pascha (Easter) on the same day the Catholic church does! Here’s his well documented explanation.

By Fr. Jon Magoulias* – As Greek-Orthodox Christians prepare to celebrate Easter on Sunday,April 12th, we would like to shed some light on the reasons why the Orthodox Christian Church celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus Christ later than the Catholic one. While the issue is somewhat complicated, it may be summarized in the two factors at work that cause this conflict in dates:

1) The issue of the calendar; and
2) the adherence by the Orthodox to the early practices of the Christian Church.

The first factor, the calendar, has to do with the fact that the Christian Orthodox Church continues to follow the Julian calendar when calculating the date of Pascha (Easter). The rest of Christianity uses the Gregorian calendar. There is a thirteen-day difference between the two calendars, the Julian calendar being thirteen (13) days behind the Gregorian.

The other factor at work is that the Orthodox Church continues to adhere to the rule set forth by the First Ecumenical Council, held in Nicea in 325 AD, that requires that Pascha must take place after the Jewish Passover in order to maintain the Biblical sequence of Christ’s Passion. The rest of Christianity ignores this requirement, which means that on occasion Western Easter takes place either before or during the Jewish Passover.

As a consequence of these two factors, the Orthodox Church usually celebrates Pascha later than the Western Churches – anywhere from one to five weeks later. While this year Catholic Easter is today the Orthodox Church will celebrate it next Sunday, April 12, 2015 (in 2016 Orthodox Easter is on May 1st). Occasionally we do celebrate Pascha on the same day. The last time that occurred was in 2011.

The two dates coincide when the full moon following the equinox comes so late that it counts as the first full moon after 21 March in the Julian calendar as well as the Gregorian. This is not a regular occurrence, but it has happened more frequently in recent years – in 2010, 2011, 2014 and 2017, but, after that, not again until 2034.

For many people this is a confusing and frustrating issue. Especially those of us who have families that are not Orthodox wonder why we have to celebrate this important holiday at different times. In order to better understand why we do, we will take a closer look at how the date of Pascha is calculated and also examine the issue of the calendar.

Get ready for Orthodox Easter: Shop the Greek Easter collecton now

How the Date of Pascha (Easter) is Determined

During the first three centuries of Christianity, there was no universal date for celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Churches in various parts of the world followed different traditions. Some Christians celebrated Pascha on the first Sunday after Jewish Passover and others celebrated the feast at the same time as Passover. In order to come up with one unified date for celebrating Pascha, the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council in 325 AD took up the issue. They devised a uniform formula for calculating the date of Pascha that was in line with the early traditions of the Church and the Biblical sequence of events. The formula is this: Pascha is to be celebrated on the first Sunday, after the first full moon, following the vernal equinox, but always after Jewish Passover. In order to ensure that there was no confusion as to when the vernal equinox occurred the date of the vernal equinox was set to be March 21 (April 3 on the Julian Calendar). This formula was universally accepted by all of Christianity, ensuring that Pascha was celebrated on the same day throughout the world. The Orthodox Church continues to follow this formula exactly as prescribed by the Council of Nicea.

However, in modern times, the Western Church has rejected the part of the Nicene formula that requires that Pascha “always follow the Jewish Passover.” Western theologians (and, unfortunately, a few misguided Orthodox Theologians as well) now claim that this provision was never a part of the council’s intention, saying that it is not necessary for Pascha to follow the Jewish Passover. This is hard to understand since, by rejecting this provision of the council, they ignore that the celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection was celebrated at the same time from 325-1582, as well as the written witness of early Church historians and even earlier canons such as Canon VII of the Apostolic Canons which reads: “If any Bishop, or Presbyter, or Deacon celebrate the holy day of Pascha before the vernal equinox with the Jews, let him be deposed.”

The Calendar Issue

In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII instituted a reform of the traditional Julian calendar. This new calendar, called the Gregorian calendar, was more astronomically correct and is the calendar used by most of the world today. As mentioned above, there is a difference of 13 days between the Gregorian and the Julian calendars. Eventually, all of the Western Churches adopted this “New” calendar. The Orthodox Church, however, vigorously opposed the use of the Gregorian calendar. This resulted in the West and East celebrating all Church feast days on different dates, the Orthodox celebrations always falling thirteen days behind the Western.

In 1923, an inter-Orthodox congress was held in Constantinople attended by representatives of some, but not all, Orthodox churches. This congress made the very controversial decision to follow a revised calendar that was essentially the same as the Gregorian calendar, for all things except the celebration of Pascha, which continued to be calculated according to the original Julian calendar.

The result being that today we celebrate most feast days, like Christmas, Epiphany and the rest, at the same time as Western Christians and only Pascha and the feast days that are connected with it like Pentecost and the Ascension, are dated according to the Julian calendar and celebrated on different dates. For Orthodox, it is important to maintain the teachings and traditions of the Church intact and pure.

*Fr. Jon Magoulias is a Greek-Orthodox priest at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Modesto, CA


  • valakos

    the title should be “Why Tsipras does not care about Greece’s orthodox heritage and wants to criminalize Greek nationalism”

    • The Turkish Nationalist

      Personally, I do not really care about the heritage. Why do you brag about the Orthodox church? Just because Tsipras wants to separate church and state, you see him destroying cultural heritage.

      • valakos

        well our flag has a cross just as your flag has an islamic symbol and the orthodox church was instrumental in freeing us from Turkish slavery

      • Phil

        Greece should do more to separate church and state but Turkish national extremists like you are in no position to lecturing anyone on ethics. All you do here is rant about Greeks.

        If you claim to stand for principles… why are you only pointing fingers at Greeks and saying nothing to argue separation of Mosque and state in Turkey? Why aren’t you slamming Islamic extremist Erdogan for trying to roll back Turkey to the good old days of Ottoman Islamic theocratic rule?

  • Eddie S.

    Fr. Magoulias repeats something here that I’ve seen all over the internet, but it seems to be untrue. This is the alleged Orthodox requirement “that Pascha must take place after the Jewish Passover,” and that “the rest of Christianity ignores this requirement, which means that on occasion Western Easter takes place either before or during the Jewish Passover.” Simply glance at the calendar for 2010, when Western Easter and Orthodox Pascha were celebrated together on April 4…during the Jewish Passover. In fact, in just about any year in which Western Easter and Orthodox Pascha coincide, the shared date falls within the octave of Passover.

    The Western and Orthodox Easters most often differ by one week, and the true reason for this is that the Orthodox churches have been using the same lunar cycle since the 10th Century, and it is now off by about 4-5 days. This means that the Orthodox Paschal full moon, used to determine the date of Easter, will always occur 4 or 5 days after the astronomical full moon. The Western Churches use Easter tables that are more astronomically accurate, because Western Easter tables are corrected by a mathematical formula every few hundred years.

    • Barrett

      Thank you so much for clearing that up for me! I was wondering why the Orthodox Church was Celebrating Pascha on the 1st of May this year(2016) when according to their formula they should be celebrating it on the 24th of April. Thanks for the info.

  • what

    me and my family have converted to orthodox Christianity from catholic ,because we feel its more religious and feel right….and many families have followed…. and we are happy….

  • sting_is_ok

    Easter must be celebrated after the Jewish Passover; really? If that’s the case, why is it that Orthodox Easter is celebrated on April 12 this year [2016], while Passover comes out on April 22?

    • Dr_Jackson

      Orthodox Pascha is May 1, 2016. Nonetheless, it is true that the calculation of the Jewish Passover has nothing to do with the calculation of Pascha.

      • Sam James

        …not according to Margoulais who says that Orthodox Christianity “continues to adhere to the rule set forth by the First Ecumenical Council, held in Nicea in 325 AD, that requires that Pascha must take place after the Jewish Passover in order to maintain the Biblical sequence of Christ’s Passion.” Looks like it’s a requirement that Pascha be held after the Jewish Passover…which would have everything to do with its’ calculation!

        • Dr_Jackson

          I understand that is what Fr. Jon has argued in this article. I read it myself. He is nonetheless incorrect. Read the records of the council itself, and you will find no such rule. Fr. Jon’s assertion that “the Western Church has rejected the part of the Nicene formula that requires that Pascha ‘always follow the Jewish Passover'” Includes a subquote “always follow the Jewish Passover” which is not to be found in the Nicene rule. I have no idea what exactly he is quoting. One of the goals of Nicea I was precisely to decouple the calculation of Pascha from that of Passover.

  • Truth_Will_Prevail

    First off, the very name that Western cultures have attributed to the Holy day (Easter) is not Orthodox in and of itself. It is a derivative of the pagan goddess Eostre. Never the less, without delving into a history discussion, what is important is not the name this event is known by, but the intent in the heart of those who celebrate in worship to Yahweh and His Messiah Yeshua the Christ.
    Second, no where in the new Testament, (including the Orthodox NT) is there even an instruction to set aside one day in the year to honor the sacrifice of our Savior, but rather we should celebrate this reality on a daily basis. I believe there is nothing wrong with taking a specific day to give special recognition to these facts, as this can be a more poignant message of God’s love for man to the world. But, I think we do a disservice to our Lord and His sacrifice by quibbling over dates rather than focusing of the message and meaning of our celebration, that Christ died once for all, and more than that, was raised to life that we, through faith in Him, might have eternal life.
    The apostle Paul tells us,”One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.” Romans 14:5
    I pray this will find each person who reads it in the intent of love and unity within the Body of Christ that was intended. Peace to all.
    (Full disclaimer: I am not Orthodox, But my grandfather Walter Peyovic was devout Eastern Orthodox and my father has carried on an interest in knowing the Orthodox tradition and beliefs. I have a deep respect for the Orthodox church and believe there is much that American evangelicals can learn from the Orthodox churches.)