Saturday, 18 April 2009



It is Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday today. This is a relic of the older calendrical system of the Julian reckoning. The Greek Orthodox Church has (grudgingly) embraced the Gregorian calendar for all “fixed festivals” (e.g. Christmas and the commemorative Feast Days of Saints) that recur on the same date every year. However, when it comes to calculating the “moveable festivals” (e.g. Easter and all of the associated feasts such as Ash Wednesday, Ascension, Pentecost, etc), the Orthodox Church uses the Julian Calendar. This leads to the curious situation of the Greek Orthodox and Catholic devotees celebrating Christmas together on the same date and Easter at different times.

Easter is an interesting example as the Paschal dates are calculated on the seasonal calendar, re-enforcing the fact that Easter is an old Spring fertility festival (Eostra was the name of the Celtic Spring goddess). Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first “Paschal” full moon following the Spring Equinox on the 21st of March. The dates of all other moveable feasts are calculated in connection with the date set for Easter in that year. If there is no full moon between the Spring equinox calculated according to the Gregorian calendar and the Spring Equinox according to the Julian calendar, then Catholic and Orthodox Easter occur at the same time. This recently happened in 1977, 1987, 1991, 2001, 2004, 2007 and will periodically recur (2010, 2011, 2014) until reason prevails and the Gregorian calendar is adopted universally. An even more logical approach would be to specify Easter as always being celebrated on the third Sunday in April, for example. What a boon for time-tablers, schedulers and forward planners that would be!

Today was a relaxing day with family and friends. Because Greek Orthodox people still fast during Lent, and especially so the Holy Week before Easter, Easter Sunday is a day when eating and feasting is universally adopted. The feasting starts after the midnight mass where the joyful announcement of “Christós Anésti” (Christ is Risen) is made. Everyone takes out their red dyed eggs and they try to crack each other’s by hitting them end to end. The lucky winner is the one with the uncracked egg. The eating begins after the mass when everyone goes home and eats a traditional soup made of lamb offal (liver, lung, intestine), spring onions, dill and egg and lemon.

The next day, even the poorest families will consume the Paschal lamb, roasted on the spit. It is time for families to get together (and usually go out of the cities in order to enjoy the Springtime and visit other family members who live in villages or smaller towns. The feasting continues all of the following week (even on Wednesday and Friday, which are the usual fast days when meat should not be consumed right throughout the year).

For Art Sunday today, Mikhail Nesterov’s “Resurrection” from the end of the 1890s.


  1. Eastern and Western Easter are a moon apart in years 3, 8, 11, 14, and 19 of the 19-year Easter cycle. (This year, 2005, is year 15.) In those years, the dates differ by 4 or 5 weeks. In the other 14 of the 19 years, they are 0 or 1 weeks apart, depending on where the eastern and western full moons fall in relation to Sunday. If a Sunday comes between our full moon and yours, then the festivals are a week apart. Since the two systems' full moons are always at least 4 days apart (sometimes 5), this happens fairly often. Otherwise, the two calendars agree. This year, our full moon was on Friday, April 10, and yours was on Tuesday, April 14. (The astronomical full moon was on April 9.)

    Thought you might find this interesting. Have a blessed Easter.

  2. Oops. That should be "2009" for this year.