Why the Greek Easter is Celebrated on May 5th This Year

by Mary Papoulias-Platis

easter at church

 As a child growing up in the Greek Orthodox Church, I was fortunate to have two Spring breaks (they were called Easter Breaks when I was a young), which was something I looked forward to every year. My school friends always questioned my absence from school, but I would kindly say it was for religious reasons. The difference in the dates for this holiday can be slightly complicated, but I will attempt explaining it in a simpler version. In our Greek household, Easter baskets were not a tradition in our family, as they are today. Pretty dresses and new white shoes were also non existent – we were given practical play clothes for the local Greek picnic, which we attended with all our extended families every year at Flynn Springs in San Diego. We continue our Easter Sunday celebrations today (these are my cousins) having several choices of churches and picnic locations as the Greek community has seen growth over the years.

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The picnic menu was the traditional  red-dyed eggs, beautifully braided Easter breads, and rosemary scented lamb and orzo. In the Greek Orthodox religion, the Resurrection is the most sacred day of the year. I attended church every night during holy week, and fasted for the month from any animal products. We ate a lot of peanut butter sandwiches and french fires for dinner.

Let me explain to you why this Greek religious holiday is so late this year. First of all we follow a different calendar called the Julian calender. While the Western Christians follow the New Calender we have today. What are the differences between the two?

  • The date is determined by a computation of the vernal equinox and the phase of the moon.
  • Easter Sunday should fall on the Sunday which follows the first moon and the vernal equinox.

  • The Jewish Passover must occur first on the first moon after the equinox, which begins on March 25th.

 

The Julian Calender is 13 days behind the New Calender which explains the Greek Easter Date.

  • It has been found that the Greek Orthodox Easter dates have been set for the next 100+ years or so.
  • The church determines these dates by using a formula of Nicaea and the study of Astronomy (following the moon).

A large gathering occurred in 1977 in Aleppo, Syria to determine if one common date can be established. Obviously, they didn’t agree because today we continue to celebrate the Greek Easter in May, once again. To read more about this meeting visit the site: World Council of Churches.

A more detailed article was written by Dr. Vrame the director of the Archdiocese Department of Religious Education.
This article can be found at  The Orthodox Observer, March 2013. To read more in detail see this article.

More recipes and stories can be found under Lenten and Greek Easter

© 2013 – 2015, Mary Papoulias-Platis. All rights reserved.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Laura @ Family Spice

Yeah! I finally got to read this article. I find this so fascinating, seeing how one culture can celebrate the same holiday on a different day as another culture. Between the lunar, Julian and modern calendars and everyone claiming theirs is accurate, I don’t think they will ever come into agreement!

2 Mary Papoulias-Platis

Really! You should be…

3 Mockingbird

Dr. Vrames’s article is slightly misleading on one point. It implies that the western churches still use an 84-year Easter cycle, when in fact no 84-year cycle has been used in the west for over a thousand years. In this he seems to be relying on Dr. Patsavos’s earlier article, which gives the same implication.

You write above, “the Julian Calender is 13 days behind the New Calender which explains the Greek Easter Date.” This is only partly true. It explains why Greek Easter is in the next moon after ours, but it doesn’t explain why Greek Easter is more than a week after the full moon on April 25th. The missing, 2nd part of the explanation is this: the Greek full moon, like the Greek equinox, is late. The equinox is 13 days late, as you note. The Greek full moon this year is 5 days late. The astronomical full moon was on April 25th. The Greek full moon or νομικον φασκα will be on the following Tuesday, April 30th.

So there is both a solar and lunar component to the difference between western and eastern Easter.

4 Donna Campbell

Thank you for clearing up my confusion. My grandfather was Greek Orthodox. I know his holidays were 2 weeks after ours. He passed away several years ago. My daughter joined the Peace Corpe and was sent to the Ukraine a few weeks ago. She said the Easter over there is May 5th. I didn’t know why. Now I understand.

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