Why is our Pascha so late again?


Why is Orthodox Pascha so late again this year (2021)?

I received today the following question: “I know that our Pascha is always held after the vernal equinox, after the first full moon following that, and also after the Jewish Passover. But, the Passover begins tomorrow (March 27), the vernal equinox was on March 21 and the first full moon after the vernal equinox is on March 28. What factor am I missing as to why our Pascha is on May 2nd?”

The short answer to the question: The calculation of our Pascha is according to the Julian Calendar. In 2021, the Vernal Equinox according to the Julian Calendar is on April 2 and the next full moon is on April 26, hence our Pascha is on May 2nd.

The long answer to the question: The Orthodox Pascha calculation is based on the Julian Calendar, which was in use when the First Ecumenical Council in 325 AD decided when the Resurrection was to be celebrated in order to unify the practice in the whole Church. Hence, Pascha has always been celebrated after the vernal equinox (March 21 with the Julian Calendar) and after the first full moon (after the vernal equinox) and usually occurred after the Jewish Passover (which was also calculated according to the Julian Calendar).

In 1582, the Europeans changed the calendar (under Pope Gregory the 13th) in order to make corrections to the lag of time caused by the Julian calendar, thus creating what we know as the “Gregorian Calendar”, which we follow today in America, as well.

 In 1583 the Pope began to calculate the date of Easter based on the new calendar (disregarding what the Orthodox Churches were doing). With the Gregorian Calendar the vernal equinox was now occurring 13 days earlier than in the Julian calendar and the full moon following that could also be different. He also disregarded the date of the Jewish Passover.

In addition, the Jewish leadership also made adjustments to the calculation of their Passover based on the astronomical adjustments/corrections used in the Gregorian Calendar.

Hence, the calculation of the Orthodox Pascha, which is still based on the Julian calendar, can now happen both after the Western Easter as well as after the Jewish Passover. The biggest span between the two happens when the full moon occurs right before the vernal equinox (March 21 with the Julian calendar, which is on April 2 with the Gregorian Calendar) and the next full moon would be the one considered the Paschal Moon in the calculation, which could put Pascha as much as a month later.

Hence, in 2021, the Vernal Equinox according to the Julian Calendar is on April 2 and the next full moon is on April 26, hence, in 2021 our Pascha is on May 2nd.

NOTE: In 1924 a revised Julian Calendar (the New Calendar) was proposed by a synod of bishops called by the Patriarch of Constantinople. In this calendar the astronomical corrections were adopted, which resulted in making the non-movable feasts (like Christmas) coincide with the Gregorian Calendar (13 days earlier than with the Julian Calendar). Several churches (including Constantinople, Greece, Antioch, Alexandria, Cyprus, Albania, Bulgaria and Romania) adopted this new calendar, while Jerusalem, Russia and the other Slavic countries, along with Mount Athos, did not. In this synod, it was also decided to keep the movable feasts (with Pascha at the center) still calculated based on the Julian Calendar. This was done intentionally in order to keep all the Orthodox Churches celebrating together in unity the “Feast of Feasts”, Holy Pascha, the Resurrection of Christ. This is the reason why in America we celebrate Christmas with the Western Christians but Pascha is different, still celebrated by all Orthodox Christians at the same time.

Fr. Panayiotis