Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrated the Pentecost on Sunday, one week after their Western counterparts had.
Pentecost, which in Greek means “the fiftieth day,” is celebrated seven weeks after Easter Sunday, or 50 days after Easter if the Easter day is counted.
For Eastern Orthodox Christians, Pentecost this year fell on June 7, based on the Julian calendar. For Western churches, who calculate Easter based on the Gregorian calendar, Pentecost this year fell on May 31.
Next year and the year after, both Eastern Orthodox Christians and their Western counterparts will be celebrating Easter and Pentecost on the same day, as the calendars for both will produce a common Easter date in 2010 and 2011.
But even when Pentecost is marked on the same date over the next two years, the two sets of believers will be celebrating the day in different ways as they did this year and the many before.
While Western churches particularly focus on the empowerment of the Church, traditionally associating the day with the color red (for the “fire” of the Holy Spirit), Eastern Orthodox churches associate the day with green, the color of creation, and traditionally decorate churches with trees, herbs and flowers of different colors.
"The green means rebirth or new life," explained Presbyter Michael Shuster of the Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Spring Hill, Fla.
“It (Pentecost) celebrates the birthday of the church, as we call it,” he told the local St. Petersburg Times.
Despite the differences, church leaders from both sides are hoping that the years 2010 and 2011 will serve as a period during which all Christians would join efforts "to make such coincidence not to be an exception but rather a rule" that will produce a common Easter date for every year to come.
A set of proposals that resulted from an ecumenical consultation held in March 1997 in Aleppo, Syria, has been circulating among member churches of the World Council of Churches, the Roman Catholic Church, and Orthodox churches.
The Aleppo proposal, which one evangelical pastor from Germany said “seems to be the most reasonable solution so far” to establishing a common date for Easter, takes up what the Orthodox meetings in 1977 and 1982 at Chambésy had proposed, namely “(a) to maintain the Nicene norms, (b) to calculate the astronomical data, (c) using as the basis for reckoning the meridian of Jerusalem.”
According to the Rev. Dr. Dagmar Heller, who serves on the WCC's Faith and Order Commission, the responses received so far have been generally favorable.
“Although a change might not happen in the nearest future, there is some hope, that things might eventually change if the discussion goes on,” the German pastor said after an international ecumenical meeting last month that reaffirmed the hope for united Easter celebrations.
Should churches come to agree to the Aleppo proposal, Eastern Orthodox and Western Christians will mark Easter together in 2012 on April 8, instead of April 15 and April 8, respectively.
In the meantime, both traditions will be looking forward to celebrating Easter together in 2010 on April 4 and in 2011 on April 24.
At the Council of Nicea in the year 325, the date of Easter was established as the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox.