Catholic Easter: Here’s Why Orthodox Christians Celebrate Easter Later

Why is Orthodox Easter different than Catholic

As Catholics and most Christians around the globe celebrate Easter this Sunday, we asked a Greek-Orthodox priest to explain why the Orthodox Christians celebrate Pascha (Easter) on a different date. Here’s his well documented explanation.

By Fr. Jon Magoulias* – As Greek-Orthodox Christians prepare to celebrate Easter on Sunday, May 1st, we would like to shed some light on the reasons why the Orthodox Christian Church celebrates the Resurrection of κJesus 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 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.

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.

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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


  • Gregory Walker Levitsky

    I’m sorry to say that Fr. Jon is mistaken. The Orthodox Church does not take the date of the Jewish Passover into account in any way, and the Council of Nicaea, rather than mandating, actually forbids this practice, because the date of the Jewish Passover stopped being authoritative for us by the 4th century.

  • Gregory Walker Levitsky

    Fr. Jon is propagating a commonly believed, but nevertheless erroneous “fact:” Passover has no basis in the calculation of Pascha, for either Catholics or Orthodox.

  • DomineNonSumDignus

    Funny how Fr. Jon states that, “For Orthodox it is important to maintain the teachings and traditions of the Church intact and pure,” EXCEPT when it pertains to recognizing the primacy of the Pope. Talk about cafeteria Christianity!

    • StackinGreen

      Christ is Risen! to all of our western brethren.

      PuerDei clearly intends to provoke, so he must be reproved, with humility and the truth. So here goes:

      The Eastern Orthodox Churches are in fact the only Church (they are one in doctrine and practice) that has not changed since the Apostles handed the faith down to particular communities and instituted the episcopacy. This starting point is the crucial one, namely that all Apostles share in the fullness of the faith; they are all universal teachers of the one true Faith. If that were not always obvious to you, let us prove it again with the realities of Christian history from the Apostles. The first Council was Acts 15 where James had the final word, being the voice of that council (not Peter). Peter himself was a universal teacher of the Faith in Antioch and handed down the teaching and Holy Tradition (to a “bishop” read: not one of the original Apostles) years before he ever went to Rome. Yet Antiochian christians do not claim a special place for themselves; they are Eastern Orthodox Christians. This leads to another critical point: People do not have Apostolic Succession, CHURCHES do. That’s why synods/councils are called (even ironically in the Roman Catholic West to decide who is Pope, he does not choose his successor!), because only churches who decide who our bishops are going to be. “Primacy” could just as easily be looked at as the greatest metropolitan center (this is in fact the whole reason it was Rome in the first place) … then Constantinople later if you wanted to use that definition, which is arbitrary. History properly followed and understood clearly shows that Rome never went away, it just moved to Constantinople, and the Goths sacking Old Rome sent the West into subjugation under Frankish papal control. Changing the Creed, creating the Avignon papacy, and seeing that the old Romans were actually both “Greek” and “Orthodox” in a way far more similar to the East than the Frankish conquering factions (led by Charlemagne) show that any claim otherwise is incomplete and lacking in describing the actual events in what was retrospectively called “The Great Schism.” I urge anyone to consider all of these points, which are verifiable and common sense, once you study history and piece it together. The Church is one and we have, and will continue, to defend it with honor, peace and truth. ICXC NIKA

      • DomineNonSumDignus

        Save the spin, Lemon Soup. You and I both know that it is because of the sin of PRIDE that the Orthodox lack full unity.

        • Thersander

          Right, because there was no issue of pride when a local Roman bishop decided he had to run everything according to his will. No pride at all.

      • Dastardly

        Your scholarship of Scripture needs more work, Peter was the voice of the council in Act 15,James agreed with him Peter’s position on the Gentiles. Likewise in History the proof is in the See of Rome being in a special status (thanks to Peter and Paul) well before the Emperor moved East 300 years later.

    • Myra

      Your Pope would be ashamed of your polemics.

      • DomineNonSumDignus

        Which, in this day and age, I consider a good sign.

  • smc

    The Orthodox “church” is so anti-Roman that it continues to use an outdated calendar. It should be noted that many Protestant groups were slow to adopt the better calendar, as well as the United States government which continued to use the old calendar considering the new one to be papist in nature. But then again, both of these calendars were put together under the authority of popes.

    • Myra

      “…both of these calendars were put together under the authority of popes.”

      The Julian Calendar was put into force by Julius Caesar before Christ’s birth. I don’t think a Pope Julius Caesar is on the bishop lists.

  • God makes the rules, man’s mission seems to be…. to change them to suit man’s idea. Resurrection represents the triumph of good over evil, of life over death. When this is celebrated is pointless. It’s important to believe it and live it. As for the creeds established they have destroyed true Christianity. Our Lord and His apostles taught that there is a High Calling to become part of Christ’s body (a call to Heaven) and a Low Calling to inherit the Earth. Those called to be part of Christ’s future ministers are called,selected and tested now, the rest of the world will be judged when the complete Christ returns to implement God’s kingdom on Earth. His Kingdom will cover the entire Earth as seen by Daniel, a little rock that will demolish the man-made “kingdom” and will grow from North Pole to South Pole and from Hawaii to Japan and back. All people will be resurrected to stand trial in His Kingdom, even Sodom and Gomorrah even the worst dictators and human beings. Christ’s blood was shed for them too and during His Kingdom the redeeming blood will apply to them as well. They will only have to accept His dominion. Those who don’t, will go into second death. Emphasis on the word second, showing that they will come out of graves to stand trial. This Millennial Reign is shown throughout the Bible and will display the 4 major attributes of YHWH: Justice, Wisdom, Love and Power. For the first time mankind will experience prosperity, peace, and everlasting life if they will support Christ’s government. Looking back to our days, mostly will accept Him and adore Him. True Christianity is actually Good News….