church bell from below

No Other Foundation

Reflections from Fr. Lawrence Farley

As reported in the Byzantine Texas blogsite, the Ecumenical Patriarch is calling for a unified observance of Easter by next year, 2025, to coincide with the 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicea. In a sermon he said, “We beseech the Lord of Glory that the forthcoming Easter celebration next year will not merely be a fortuitous occurrence, but rather the beginning of a unified date for its observance by both Eastern and Western Christianity.”  Patriarch Bartholomew went on to declare that it was “a scandal to celebrate separately the unique event of the one Resurrection of the One Lord”. 

One is unclear exactly what he is proposing or planning.   Sometimes the Orthodox celebration of Pascha coincides with that of western Easter; sometimes our celebration is a week or so later.  Sometimes, like this year, it is about a month later.  Next year the dates happen to coincide.  Is the Patriarch planning on readjusting our Orthodox calendar for those in his own jurisdiction so that they will thenceforth coincide every year, with the result that some Orthodox will share the Paschal cycle with the West while other Orthodox will not?  That would be interesting.

But is it also desirable?  I suggest not.

I admit that it would be astronomically more accurate.  The formula for determining the date of Pascha is:  the first Sunday after the full moon after the spring equinox.  Both east and west use the same formula, but we sometimes have different dates because (I am given to understand) the east still uses a Julian equinox which is 13 days out.  (I welcome correction if I wrong.)  The western churches use the more accurate equinox, so that, astronomically speaking, the west has the more accurate date. 

But the question is not one of mere astronomy, and nobody pretends that it is.  The scandal to which the Patriarch tearfully alludes is not astronomical and scientific, but ecumenical.  For him and for those like him, all Christians should manifest their unity by using the same calendar when keeping the same feasts.  Having a different Paschal cycle and date for Pascha is an embarrassment, for it advertises our lack of unity for all the world to see.  That, apparently, is the scandal.

I emphatically disagree.  The true scandal is not having different dates for celebrating Easter, but the prior and more fundamental fact that we have radically divergent understandings of the Christian Faith.  Indeed, there is something misleading (and to my mind, a bit pathetic) about trumpeting our unity through the securing of a common date for Easter when we disagree about so many other important things.  Our disunity with others in the West is so gigantic and staggering that celebrating unity from a common calendar date is quite disingenuous.  The Anglicans in UK are ordaining lesbian clergy, and the Pope in Rome has just recently countenanced blessing gay unions through his Fiducia Supplicans.  What can it mean to observe a common date for Easter with churches like these when we dissent so profoundly with so much of what they are doing?

It is easy to grab headlines and celebrate meaningless ephemeral things.  (One thinks of the so-called “Holy and Great Council” of Crete in 2016.)  It is harder to do the long and difficult work of dialogue, argument, and counter-argument which is necessary before real unity can be reached by resolution of actual disagreements.  To date, almost none of that has been done.  It is easier to have wine and cheese gatherings and produce “agreed statements” (often consisting of statements of the lowest common theological denominator) which have zero effect on the actual lives of churches.  Resolving schism and producing real unity is hard work.  That is why it so rarely happens.  Pretending to have more unity (by having a common date for Easter) is much easier, and costs almost nothing.

Except that it wouldn’t cost almost nothing.  When some of the Orthodox churches adopted the new calendar (of which I heartily approve), it created a schism, and a de facto calendrical disunity between friendly jurisdictions which persist until this day.  Does anyone doubt that adopting a common Paschal cycle and date for Easter would create an even greater schism?  And for what?  Unity with the vanishing Church of England and the rapidly disintegrating church of Pope Francis?

The real issue and the drive towards a common date for Easter is not scientific, but pollical and ecumenical.  In the absence of any real progress toward resolving schism and achieving unity (how long as the World Council of Churches been around?), one wants to grasp at straws such as this.  In the case of Patriarch Bartholomew, there is also a delight in grabbing headlines and appearing to be progressive.  His past actions in Ukraine and elsewhere have demonstrated that inter-Orthodox unity is not much of a concern for him.  This apparently includes loss of unity resulting from adopting the western date for Easter.

We wish the West well.  But truth has always been more precious to the Church than unity.  That is why heretics were expelled.  In our striving towards the recovery of unity with the erring western churches, we must be realistic and honest.  Our understandings of what constitutes basic Christianity still separate us, and there is no use trying to deny this fact by adopting a common date for Easter.  Such smoke and mirrors have long characterized the World Council of Churches and related organizations, but are of no real value to sinners for whom Christ died.  It is the truth which will set men free, not ecumenical sleight-of-hand suggested by the present episcopal incumbent in Istanbul.


Fr. Lawrence Farley

About Fr. Lawrence Farley

Fr. Lawrence serves as pastor of St. Herman's Orthodox Church in Langley, BC. He is also author of the Orthodox Bible Companion Series along with a number of other publications.