Eastern and Western Christian traditions have different ways of calculating the date of Easter, or as we Orthodox call it (because we like to be exotic and stuff), “Pascha.” Do not ask me to explain what those different ways of calculating Easter are or why they are different. You have Google for that. All I want to say in this short post is that they need to stop being different. I mean, come on, folks! This is dumb!
My Catholic and Protestant sisters and brothers begin their journey to Emmaus today, with Ash Wednesday. In the Orthodox Church we begin Great Lent with Forgiveness Sunday, a different ceremony in which all members of a parish ask forgiveness from each other. (This is the part where pedantic Orthodox readers say, “Well, actually Great Lent begins on Clean Monday when…”). This year, that happens on March 13. March 13! That is two weeks shy of when “the West” celebrates Easter.
I have heard recent rumors about fixing a common date for Easter. Then again, I heard similar rumors a decade ago. This is something various parties keep talking about, but I honestly remain a bit pessimistic about any positive developments on this front. It could be that I am just generally more pessimistic these days (thanks Obama!), but I think there are some good reasons for my pessimism. For one, even if we were to fix the date of Easter, I doubt all Christians would still celebrate at the same time. There will be some fundamentalist groups out there who refuse to acknowledge whatever decision the leaders of “false” churches (i.e. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox) reach.
But more to the point there are powerful fundamentalist forces within Orthodoxy that would see any kind of compromise with the West as heresy in the extreme. They would talk about how the calculations for the date of Easter were fixed at Nicea. It would not be a valid argument in this case, but it would sure as hell confuse a lot of people. Savvier fundamentalist Orthodox will resist any compromise by waxing ecumenical (never-you-mind that most of them hate ecumenism as well). They will say that we have bigger things to worry about, like the filioque, papal authority, and beards.
I hear that! I agree with it! Truly! The Council of Toledo’s well-intended but heretical decision to change the language of the Creed is arguably a much bigger fish. Or at least it seems that way. On the other hand…maybe it isn’t.
We Eastern and Western Christians have a lot of things to work out if we are ever to be reunited. But this is the most important feast of the church. How are we going to be able to gather around the table, so to speak, to talk through any of our differences if we are all coming to the table at different times?
I may be pessimistic, but mostly I am pessimistic about my people. I mean, we cannot even agree with each other about when to celebrate Christmas. We Orthodox sure do love our infighting. (Case in point: check out the hubbub over the Great and Holy Council which may or may not happen this summer.) There is still the possibility that Pope Francis may say, “Okay you crazy Orthodox kids. Have it your way. We’ll do Easter when you do.” Decisions in the Roman Catholic Church are not quite as easy as that. The pope is not, practically speaking, a dictator. His word is not exactly law. But the greater centralized authority exercised within the Roman Catholic Church, as well as a generally more positive attitude toward ecumenism, make it much more likely that the West will meet us where we are than the other way around.
Frankly, if that were to happen, it would be a shame. I mean that literally. If the bishop of Rome (dammit!) were to shrug his shoulders and say, “Whatevs. Let’s do it your way,” then we Orthodox should be ashamed of ourselves. It would mean that we have become ridiculously intractable. Stubborn. Thick-necked and hard-hearted. If Pope Francis (Patriarch of the West) were to take that kind of unilateral action, it would be a great argument in favor of the Roman Catholic Church. I do not mean that in terms of doctrine or liturgy. I mean in terms of charity. In general, this pope seems a lot more willing to try to work out the differences between East and West, whereas, in light of all the bickering and posturing in advance of the Great and Holy Council, we Orthodox Christians seem barely interested in working out our differences with each other.
So, Western Christians, I wish you a blessed Fast! See you next month!