The obstacles to the visible unity of all Christians, which our Lord names as His desire for His Church, are immense. Indeed, full unity may not be possible this side of the second coming. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t celebrate even small steps toward such unity. One such has been reported by the World Council of Churches (I know–can any good come out of Geneva? Just read on with an open mind) regarding the date of Easter. According to AP:
Christianity’s largest ecumenical movement expressed hope Thursday that churches were moving closer to a common Easter for the world’s Christians, despite a historical debate nearly as old as the religion.
Catholic and Protestant congregations will celebrate their belief in Jesus’ resurrection on the same day as Orthodox churches in 2010 and 2011 because of a coincidence in the Julian and Gregorian calendars. The common holiday has happened three times this decade.
In case you didn’t know, the Eastern Orthodox churches still use the Julian calendar to calculate the dates of movable church feasts. Their refusal over the centuries to move to the Gregorian probably has more to do with hostility to the papacy (which introduced it in the West in 1582) than with an opposition to astronomical accuracy, but it’s still the reality.
The council said theologians from the Vatican and various Orthodox and Protestant churches endorsed a compromise on May 15 that Easter should be held for all Christians using an equinox based on accurate astronomical data.
Under the plan the unified Easter usually falls as it would under the Gregorian calendar used by, said Dagmar Heller, an ecumenical professor in Switzerland heading the council’s faith and order commission.
In the next 15 years, the only time Western churches would have to change Easter is in 2019 from April 21 to March 24. The bigger adjustment would be for the Orthodox Church, which has experienced several schisms in its history over the question of dates.
There is still a schismatic Greek Orthodox Church that goes by the name of “Old Calendarists,” that not only refuses to use the Gregorian calendar even for secular purposes, but wouldn’t accept a revised Julian calendar promulgated by the official Greek Orthodox Church in the 1920s. I kid you not.
The caveat to all this is that the Orthodox participants will need to sell the agreement to the various national Orthodox churches, as well as to the ethinic branches in the United States. But it looks like there is at least a possibility that the entire Christian world will be celebrating the Resurrection of our Lord on the same day of the year in the future. Thank God for small blessings.