All around the world Christians celebrate Easter. On that day we come together to remember and celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. However, not all Christians meet on the same day of the year. There are two different days (most years) that Christians around the world celebrate Easter. You may wonder why. The answer is found in the pages of church history.
The early Christian church did not have a set date to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Most churches recognized the holiday on any given Sunday in spring. So when the First Nicaean Council was held in 351 AD on the agenda was when Christians should celebrate Easter. The council made a twofold decision, 1) Easter should be celebrated on the same day by all Christians and 2) Easter should be independent of the Jewish Passover Feast. Before the council, many Christian churches consulted the Jewish calendar and celebrated Easter after Passover. The Council of Nicaea decided that Easter was a Christian holiday that should be celebrated separately from the Jewish calendar. The Council did not decide a specific computation for Easter at Nicaea. It took many years for the church to decide when to hold the holiday.
Easter was one of the many Christian rituals affected by the Great Schism.
Eventually, it was decided that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox (the first day of spring). However, by the time this computation was settled, the church was not as unified as it once was. In 1054 AD, the church suffered a split known as the Great Schism. The schism split Christianity into the Western and Eastern Churches. Easter was one of the many Christian rituals affected by the schism. While Western Christians used the Gregorian calendar, Eastern Christians used the Julian calendar. Also, the Eastern Church decided that Easter should always follow the Jewish Passover. These two differences put the Eastern celebration later in the spring than the Western.
In the West, Easter falls between March 22nd and April 25th. In the East, Easter is between April 4th and May 8th. Some years, such as 2010 and 2011, Easter lands on the same day in both the East and The West. This year, Christians in Western countries will celebrate Easter on April 21st. Eastern churches, in countries like Romania and Russia, will celebrate on April 28th. The dates are different but the purpose of the holiday is the same.
All believers recognize Easter as a time to celebrate Christ’s victory on the cross and his defeat of death at the resurrection. And for what greater purpose could Christians gather than to remember the pinnacle of human history when God became man and gave his life for his people and for his glory. So no matter the day, may you join with your brothers and sisters in Christ this Easter season and celebrate our risen King! May our hearts sing the words of this beloved hymn:
Behold the man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life –
I know that it is finished.
I will not boast in anything,
No gifts, no power, no wisdom;
But I will boast in Jesus Christ,
His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer;
But this I know with all my heart –
His wounds have paid my ransom.