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Question 21.

Dear Father Christopher,
Greetings in Christ. 

According to the Holy Canons of our Church the Christian Pascha cannot be celebrated on the day on which the Jewish Pascha (Passover) is celebrated. Why is this?


Answer to Question 21
Dear Constantine,
The VII Apostolic canon says: “If any Bishop, or Presbyter, or Deacon celebrate the holy day of Easter before the vernal equinox with the Jews, let him be deposed.”
The sun passes through two equinoxes during the year, one in the springtime and the other in the season of autumn. They are called equinoxes because the day is equal to the night and the night equal to the day. The autumnal equinox occurs during September; the vernal or spring equinox occurs in March. Because of the irregularities of the sun’s course in its motion from west to east the vernal equinox does not always occur on one and the same day. In the time of the Apostles it was on the 22nd March, in the time of the 1st Ecumenical Council it was on 21st March and in our times it occurs on the 8th or even 7th March. These dates are according to the Julian calendar as the Orthodox Easter is always calculated to this calendar and not the reformed Gregorian calendar. The VII Apostolic canon forbids the celebration of Easter before the vernal equinox. The Jews celebrated the Passover twice. There were the wisest and learned of the Jews who observed the Passover after the equinox just as Moses had enjoined it, and the less refined Jews who celebrated it before the equinox which is the reference made by this canon. The official and legal Jewish Passover falls on the 14th of the month Nisan or March and always after the equinox. The month of Abib or Nisan as it came to be known afterwards began with the first new moon after the equinox. The Jewish calendar is primarily lunar, with each month beginning on the new moon, when the first sliver of moon becomes visible after the dark of the moon. In ancient times, the new months used to be determined by observation. When people observed the new moon, they would notify the Sanhedrin. When the Sanhedrin heard testimony from two independent, reliable eyewitnesses that the new moon occurred on a certain date, they would declare the rosh chodesh (first of the month) and send out messengers to tell people when the month began.
The Christian Pascha always comes after the Jewish Passover because that was the historical order of events during the time of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection The Evangelist John says: “Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover.” (John 18:28) The passage “The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,)” (John 19:31) also makes reference to the Jewish Passover. That Sabbath was not like any other Sabbath, but was a high day meaning it was the Passover. The Jewish Passover occurred on the Saturday and the Resurrection of our Lord occurred during the early hours of Sunday. Celebrating Easter after the Jewish Passover serves to remind us of this historic truth.
There are four factors which are taken into account in connection with finding the date of Easter. The first is that Easter must always be celebrated after the occurrence of the vernal equinox; the Second that it must not be celebrated before or on the same day as the Passover of the Jews. These two factors are ordained by the present Apostolic canon VII. The third that it is not to be celebrated simply after the vernal equinox, but also after the first full moon of March that happens to occur after the equinox and fourth, that it is not to be celebrated on the first Sunday that comes after the full moon. These two factors are derived from tradition and not from any canon.
The formula for Easter “The first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox” is identical for both Western and Orthodox Easters, but the two churches base the dates on different calendars: Western churches use the Gregorian calendar, the standard calendar for much of the world, and Orthodox churches use the older, Julian calendar. The Eastern Orthodox Church also applies the formula so that Easter always falls after Passover, since the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ took place after he entered Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. In the Western Church, this is ignored and Easter sometimes precedes Passover by weeks.

Yours in Christ
Fr. Christopher