Christians Urged to Agree on Common Easter Date

Both western and eastern Christians will celebrate Easter on the same day this year.

And one ecumenical leader hopes that such a unified celebration will continue in the future.

In a letter to church bodies worldwide, the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, renewed a call for a common Easter date.

Almost every year, "the Christian community is divided over which day to proclaim this Good News," Kinnamon lamented. "Our split, based on a dispute having to do with ancient calendars, visibly betrays the message of reconciliation. It is a scandal that surely grieves our God."

Protestant bodies and the Roman Catholic Church use the Gregorian calendar while Eastern Orthodox churches and Oriental Orthodox churches use the Julian calendar to observe Easter, typically on a later date. Rather than a difference in theological outlook, the conflicted Easter dates between western and eastern Christians are mainly due to the calendars and lunar tables employed, church leaders say.

According to Kinnamon, a common date for Easter has been on the ecumenical agenda since the 1920 encyclical of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

In 1997, church leaders from around the world came together at the Aleppo conference, hosted by the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, and took a major step toward establishing a common Easter date. Differing Easter dates, they said, constitute a "painful sign of separation."

The participants offered three recommendations, one of which asks all Christians to "celebrate Easter on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox, thus maintaining the biblical association between Jesus' death and Passover."

Kinnamon has asked churches to again consider adopting the proposal.

"Easter, of course, is the very heart of our faith as followers of Christ," Kinnamon wrote in his letter. "The resurrection [of Christ] is the ultimate expression of the Father's gift of reconciliation and unity in Christ through the Spirit. It is a sign of the unity and reconciliation which God wills for the entire creation."

Easter falls on April 4 for all Christian traditions this year. Next year, both western and eastern Christians will again share a common Easter date, April 24.

"May God grant that in 2012 and beyond we may continue to proclaim with one voice that 'Christ is risen!'" said Kinnamon.

The NCC represents some 45 million Christians from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches across the country.