Why Do Christians Celebrate Easter On Different Occasions?

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thorn crown crucifixion
Images: Pixabay

Why is Orthodox Easter celebrated at a different date than Catholic Easter? Well, it is almost impossible to grasp the intricacies of a two-thousand-year-old religion, especially when there is so much controversy around it. There is an ocean of written information for those interested in more profound diggings, but I will attempt a simplified explanation.

Christianity is not the first monotheistic religion. Allegedly, Zoroastrianism seems to be about 12.000 years old and had lasted a few thousand years (even until today in some areas).

In contrast, Akhenaten’s attempt to impose a monotheistic religion by instating Ra as the sun god and the creator of the universe in ancient Egypt did not last after the pharaoh’s demise.

Of course, all the history we know is based on the writings left by our ancestors. But where there was no alphabet or the form of writing is so old that it is impossible to decipher, the wisdom perpetuated orally is largely ignored. However, the knowledge of it has survived to our times (see Zalmoxianism).

Contempt seems to have survived better since today people still call the old polytheistic religious beliefs “paganism”. What if suddenly a new polytheistic religion emerges? What would the current ones be called then? I am not worried we will not find an equally scornful label!

Christianity is a monotheistic religion that followed the polytheistic ones after the ancient Greek and later Roman Empire’s demise.

From his star, the God we have known of for thousands of years must have a great view over his creation. He surely sees us squirming on a tiny planet, taking for granted a worry-free life, often putting everything we do on his shoulders (“It was God’s will!”) and begging for help and forgiveness when it gets tough.

Most likely, humans are not his only creation; if God does not answer every individual call, it might be because he’s busy contemplating others, on other planets, in different universes, also his work. Probably. This is what some of us accept, based on the current religious norms.

Spirituality and religion are different concepts. One has more to do with philosophy, with inner, personal beliefs, while the other is more a set of established dogmas, canons, etc. Does a deity or another impose religions on people? It is more of an efficient human attempt to control and manipulate large masses.

One’s personal connection with spirituality should have more to do with love and compassion than with fear that this or that will happen to you if you do or don’t do this or that as imposed by other humans. Hence each village on this planet has a different understanding, traditions and practices of the same belief.

Historically, armies of soldiers killed their fellow humans and sacrificed their lives in wars for millennia. If faith is all about love and compassion, I doubt any god has ever explicitly told anyone, “You must kill your fellow humans so that this or that gains more power!” Yet, so many wars started on religious grounds. By humans.

A ruler with more imagination and persuasive power would have easily won as his army would sacrifice lured by a promise of endless happiness or threatened by a fear of eternal damnation. In essence, greed was and still is the real winner, a whim is a real motive, and manipulation the effective delivery method.

It is all reduced to superb control skills, practised and mastered over millennia. Crash the real connection with the individual’s spirit and dominate by instilling irrational fear of the unknown.

There is one law that governs the world beyond any physical law known to humans. It is called love. It has a funny way of healing, appeasing, pacifying.

love, bible

Jesus mentioned it, but some were afraid this law based on human emotion would undermine their position of political power. So, they barbarically killed a man who did not wrong anyone.

Some three centuries later, the Roman emperor Constantin I repented after killing left and right, including his wife and eldest son, and imposed an old-new state religion on remorse. Almost from the start, the new (old) religion has known rifts based on doctrine; the East and the West (Rome and Constantinople) had a hard time agreeing on many aspects, including calendars. But still managed to put together a set of rules that make a state religion. Made by humans.

Fast forward another seven centuries; a so-called great schism fractured Christianity during the dark ages. Constantinople and Rome finally separated. A thousand years old Roman Empire reached an end.

The two main branches of Christianity based their separate calendars on the lunar, respectively solar-lunar cycle on their division. 

Hence, we celebrate Easter on different occasions, typically at a week distance. This year is the longest distance I remember, about a month after the Western Easter. It is difficult to call it Catholic Easter since the Western Christian religion is also subdivided (does Henry VIII, for instance, breaking with Rome on love whims sound a bell?)

Therefore, in 2021 the Orthodox Easter is celebrated in Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, Georgia, Ukraine, Russia and some parts of the Middle East and Africa on the 2nd of May. The rest of the Christians have already observed it on the 4th of April.

Since we go through the celebration again, perhaps it is a good idea to take a minute and give some thought to the beginnings of this religion, its spread and division, its complicated history and the meaning of believing in something not always easy to conceptualise. And also, do what we do best on holidays: splash cash on commercial goods and gorge on foods!

At least, on Easter Sunday, the Romanian still greet each other with the acceptance of the only known miracle performed by a man: “Christ has risen!” And the reply still is: “In truth, he has risen!” before we wish each other a “Happy Easter!” and share red painted eggs and cozonac! All of these are old, thousand of years old customs.

Other nations in the Balkans probably keep the same traditions. Still! Given the hallucinating speed of life the modern world is witnessing, traditions, history, beliefs, and everything else some of us still cling to might become just a thing of the past.

This was the hardest post to write. Honestly! Next time I’ll stick with chocolate bunnies – a lot less demoralising and thorny!

Sources: Historia, Britannica, World Library.


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22 Responses

  1. Thank you for the simplified explanation. I noticed that Macedonia was not on your list of countries that celebrate Orthodox Easter. In our household, we get three Easters because my husband is pagan and celebrates Easter on the Equinox. We have a lot of celebrating between March and April, sometimes May too, like this year, lol!

  2. Leah says:

    This is so interesting to me! So I’m Protestant and my sister is Catholic so I get most of my Catholic knowledge from her. She told me that all Catholics around the world have the same mass message each day/service. I wonder how that plays out with two different Easter dates? Here in the US, we celebrated Easter on the same day. I can definitely see why this would be your hardest post. There’s so much history to dive into!

    • It is the main branches – catholic and orthodox – that observe a difference according to the Gregorian/Julian calendars. What really bugs me is the division within the same religion and the deeper one within the two branches created by dogma, which is purely human incapacity to agree on things. Everything has to serve an interest, that’s the problem!

  3. Isuru says:

    Thank you for this great post. I always love your writing style in all your posts. Keep up the great work. Also I learned a lot, as I didn’t realize Easter was celebrated in different ways.

  4. Anwuli says:

    This was a detailed explanation. The dates sometimes confuse me especially mothers day.
    Thanks for sharing

  5. Gabriela Herrera says:

    Thank you so much for this article. I had no idea about the different Easters. In Mexico we do not celebrate Easter. No eggs, no bunny no baskets. Thank you so much for such valuable information.

  6. Jeannie says:

    Interesting! its good addition of information I only am aware of catholic easter.

  7. I love reading about the history of different celebrations. I never really paid attention to Easter being celebrated at different times during the year.

  8. Patrice says:

    I didn’t know the story about the two Easters! Thanks for all your research and for presenting everything in an easy-to-read manner.

  9. Nora says:

    Wow! This is so interesting! Didn’t know those details! Thank you so much!

  10. I didn’t even know that there are two kinds of Easter! Now I know. It is crazy to me how humans started Christianity after Jesus, and the apostles were gone. Easter is celebrated in so many different ways, and it has lost its true meaning. I love how you guys greet each other in Romania on Easter day; I love how you say Christ has risen to each other. It emphasizes the true meaning of Easter that Christ is risen to save the world.
    Thanks for sharing this post, you did a great job researching it, and it opened my eyes.

  11. julia says:

    Wow – this was interesting. I understood some of this before, the fact that Easter is celebrated at slightly different times but hadn’t really understood the reasons why. I’ve even read about the split of Rome and Constantinople before and not quite appreciated this difference in where Easter falls. Thank you for the enlightenment.

  12. Andra says:

    Thanks for writing this, it is indeed demoralising when you start looking at some parts of history. Some traditions will definitely become a thing of the past, but hopefully making Cozonac will stay :D.

  13. Freya says:

    Such a fascinating article! I hadn’t thought about why Easter was celebrated in different ways, thank you!

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