2017-04-13 / Faith Community

When Easter Merges for Both Christians and Orthodox

By James Merolla


Easter eggs are often dyed red to symbolize Jesus Christ's blood during the Orthodox Easter period. 
(©iStockphoto.com/ vaskoni) Easter eggs are often dyed red to symbolize Jesus Christ's blood during the Orthodox Easter period. (©iStockphoto.com/ vaskoni) The date for celebrating Easter, among the Orthodox, can be anything but orthodox.

The Assyrian, Greek, Russian and other Orthodox, considered the world’s first Christians, don’t usually celebrate Easter on the same date as Catholics and Protestants. But this year, in a rare occurrence of polemic synchronicity, both the Orthodox Christians and Catholics will celebrate Easter on April 16.

Can there be two Easter Sundays? The answer is, in some circumstances, yes.

All Christians use the same method for determining the date of Easter, though they can arrive at a different result. As described in “The Reckoning of Time,” by eighth-century English scholar, Bede, “The Sunday following the full moon which falls on or after the equinox will give the lawful Easter.”

The equinox is observed on March 21. This straightforward method, based upon an easily observable natural phenomenon, survived the Schism of 1054 when the Catholic and Orthodox churches split. Still, if you have Orthodox Christian friends or visit a predominantly Orthodox country such as Greece and Russia in late spring, you may find yourself celebrating a second Easter. In some years, the Easter celebration by Greek Orthodox and Christians of other denominations can be separated by as much as six weeks.

But not this year.

Father John E. Afendoulis, pastor of Saint Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church in Newport, the only Orthodox Church on Aquidneck Island, provides an explanation.

“For the Greek Orthodox, we calculate the date for our Savior’s Resurrection based on a decision adopted by the First Ecumenical Council of 325 A.D., where a 19-year-cycle was established for the calculation of the date of Pascha (Easter) taking into account the spring vernal equinox, the Jewish Passover and the Julian calendar,” he said. “On the other hand, the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant churches base their calculations on an 84-year-cycle and the Gregorian calendar.”

At Saint Spyridon, the journey to the Savior Resurrection is introduced four weeks prior to the beginning of The Holy 40 Day Fast. It is similar to other church’s Easter celebrations, but it varies based on cultural tradition.

“As we transition from this pre-fast period, we enter the beginning of the fast period, and the services start to intensify and are unique to this period, namely the services of Great Compline, the Liturgy of the pre-sanctified gifts, and Friday evening service of the Salutations to the Mother of God, the Virgin Mary, which are celebrated on a weekly basis,” he said. “The services take a different turn the week before (Easter), when the themes are more pronounced.”

"On Holy Friday, Christ is removed from the cross while the children receive his body (in the form of an icon) from the cross and help the priest lay him in a tomb, which has been beautifully decorated with flowers and greens, and placed in the center of the church.”

In the evening, parishioners chant the funeral and Resurrection dirges, followed by a procession into Thames Street with the decorated tomb. Celebrations for the “small resurrection” are held on Holy Saturday morning, with a chanting Resurrection Service at 11:30 p.m. that evening.

At the conclusion of the Resurrection service at 1:15 a.m., Easter eggs are distributed and a meal is served in the Community Hall, ending the fast.

On Sunday morning, the church will celebrate the agape vespers and the Gospel will be read in various languages of the world. The service concludes with an Easter Egg Hunt for the children.

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