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World Council of Churches
Press Release
For Immediate Use
24 March 1997
 
THE DATE OF EASTER:  SCIENCE OFFERS SOLUTION TO ANCIENT RELIGIOUS
PROBLEM
 
Senior church representatives have come up with an ingenious
proposal to set a common date for Easter.
 
At present, churches in the East and West celebrate Easter, the
Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, on two different
dates in most years.
 
It has long been recognised that to celebrate this fundamental
aspect of the Christian Faith on different dates gives a divided
witness and compromises the churches' credibility and
effectiveness in bringing the Gospel (good news) to the world.
 
At a recent consultation in Aleppo, Syria (5-10 March), organised
by the World Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of
Churches, representatives of several churches and Christian world
communions became convinced a solution to the problem is
possible, based on modern astronomical science.
 
Churches in the East and West calculate the date of Easter by the
same principle. This is the one given by the Council of Nicea in
325 which determined that Easter should be celebrated on the
Sunday following the first full moon after the March equinox.
 
Differences in dating occur because churches follow different
calculations of the equinox and the full moon.
 
The recent Aleppo gathering has proposed that, from the year 2001
the date of Easter should be calculated using precise modern
astronomical determinations.

In this way, the Nicea principle will be preserved and neither
churches in the East or West will have to change their policy.
 
Astronomical observations, of course, depend upon the position on
earth which is taken as a point of reference.  Therefore, it is
proposed that the basis for reckoning be the meridian of
Jerusalem, the place of Christ's death and resurrection.
 
The consultation proposal will be sent to churches throughout the
world together with a chart showing possible dates for Easter in
the first 25 years of the 21st century if their suggestion is
accepted.  The chart also shows the dates if calculated by the
old methods.
 
The consultation recognised that differences in dating Easter are
not due to fundamental theological differences,  but also
acknowledged that past attempts to address this thorny question
have led to schism.
 
Churches in the East will be most affected by the new dating
system.  However, in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, where
Christian churches have lived with the challenge of other
religions or materialistic ideologies, loyalty to the *old
calendar* has been a symbol of the churches' desire to maintain
their integrity and freedom from the hostile forces of this
world.   The consultation therefore concluded that there will be
need for great pastoral sensitivity among church members  as the
proposal is pursued.
 
It is suggested that the new method of calculation begin in 2001
when the date of Easter, using the old methods and the new,  will
be the same, viz 15 April, and that a common date be kept from
then on. However, before that can happen, churches must consider
the proposal and give their reactions.  The consultation called
on the WCC to organise a meeting between now and 2001 to receive
reports and discuss possible implementation.


Represented at the consultation were: Anglican Communion,
Armenian Orthodox Church, Ecumenical Patriarchate, Evangelical
Churches in the Middle East, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of
Antioch, Lutheran World Federation, Middle East Council of
Churches, Old-Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht,
Patriarchate of Moscow, Pontifical Council for Promoting
Christian Unity,  Seventh-day Adventists.
 
The Syrian Orthodox Church hosted the meeting.  Consultants came
from the Orthodox Church in America and the Pentecostal
Assemblies of Canada.
 
Fr Dr Thomas FitzGerald (director) and  Rev Dr Dagmar Heller
(executive secretary) from WCC Unit I: Unity and Renewal staffed
the gathering and are available for interview.  A 9-page briefing
paper prepared by the consultation is available upon request.
 
 
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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now
330, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually
all Christian traditions.  The Roman Catholic Church is not a
member church but works cooperatively with the WCC.  The highest
governing body is the Assembly, which meets approximately every
seven years.  The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in
Amsterdam, Netherlands.  Its staff is headed by general secretary
Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.
 
 
World Council of Churches
Press and Information Office
Tel:  (41.22) 791.61.52/51
Fax:  (41.22) 798 13 46
E-Mail: jwn@wcc-coe.org