Why isn’t Easter always on the same day every year?

Staff writerApril 20, 2014 

The Rev. Seraphim Majmudar, pastor at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Tacoma, said his parishioners sometimes ask him why the Easter dates usually differ for Eastern and Western Christians.

“It’s just like explaining a math problem,” Majmudar said. “Once you spend a few minutes explaining things, then people kind of get it.”

The two Easters fall on the same date only sporadically. The holiday occurred on the same Sunday in 2010 and 2011. After this year, they won’t coincide again until 2017, and then not again until 2025.

Christians weren’t always divided this way. They shared a common calendar, and the same Easter, after coming together at the Council of Nicaea in 325.

The split between East and West happened in 1054, when the Orthodox Church separated from the Roman Church over theological differences.

The Western Church uses the later Gregorian calendar. It is considered more astronomically accurate than the old Julian calendar, which both East and West followed for centuries.

The formula for calculating Easter is complex.

Both the Western and Eastern traditions maintain the holiday must be celebrated on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

The date of Easter changes every year for Western Christians according to the fluctuations of the lunar cycle.

The date changes on a different pattern for Eastern Orthodox Christians because they have a different definition of what constitutes a full moon and an equinox.

In addition, the Orthodox Church always celebrates Easter after the start of Passover, which also moves from year to year.

What about Christmas? Orthodox Christians in the Tacoma area celebrate Christ’s birth on Dec. 25, just as mainline Christians do. But many Orthodox Christians in the world celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7, under the Julian calendar.

A TALE OF TWO EASTERS

The eight times when the holidays happen to line up during the first quarter of this century are highlighted.

Year | Western Easter | Eastern Orthodox Easter

2001 April 15 | April 15

2002 March 31 | May 5

2003 April 20 | April 27

2004 April 11 | April 11

2005 March 27 | May 1

2006 April 16 | April 23

2007 April 8 | April 8

2008 March 23 | April 27

2009 April 12 | April 19

2010 April 4 | April 4

2011 April 24| April 24

2012April 8 | April 15

2013March 31 | May 5

2014April 20 | April 20

2015April 5 | April 12

2016March 27 | May 1

2017April 16 | April 16

2018April 1 | April 8

2019April 21 | April 28

2020April 12 | April 19

2021April 4 | May 2

2022April 17 | April 24

2023April 9 | April 16

2024March 31 | May 5

2025April 20 | April 20

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