Greek Easter: When Is Eastern Orthodox Easter Day? Why Do Orthodox Christians Celebrate on a Different Date?

Great and Holy Pascha (Easter) is celebrated by Eastern Orthodox Chrisitans (officially known as the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as Greek Orthodox), and this year it falls on April 28. But why is this different from when Roman Catholics and Protestants celebrate Easter (April 21 this year) and how is it determined?

What Is The Great and Holy Feast of Pascha?

According to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Orthodox Christians celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on Great and Holy Pascha. It is the most significant day in the life of the Orthodox Church, and is a celebration of the defeat of death.

On this day, Orthodox Christians refrain from meat, fish, dairy and egg, but are allowed to have wine and oil.

Why Is The Eastern Orthodox Easter Date Different To The Roman Catholic and Protestant Date?

First, we need to understand why the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox split from each other. Quite simply, due to centuries of war across the early Christian era and Middle Ages, Rome fell under the command of the Holy Roman Empire in the west, and Constantinople (now Istanbul) fell under the Eastern Roman Empire in the east.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, this meant that the "West" theology was under the influence of St. Augustine of Hippo, while in the "East" it was shaped by the Greek Fathers. With political tensions coming into the fray, the "Schism of 1054" led to the final separation between the churches.

Greek Orthodox Christians follow the Julian calendar year rather than the Georgian calendar. According to Britannica, in the 40s B.C. Julius Caesar was advised by Alexandrian astronomer Sosigenes to introduce the Egyptian solar calendar with a year length of 365 1/4 days.

However, Sosigenes miscalculated the length of a year by 11 minutes 14 seconds, and by the mid-1500s A.D. this resulted in dates of seasons being 10 days out since Caeser's time. Pope Gregory XIII's reform in 1582 moved the dates back to match the seasons of 325 A.D. However, with the Orthodox Christian Church not under the rule of the Pope, they stayed with the Julian calendar. The Julian and Gregorian calendars are now 13 days out of sync, becoming 14 days in 2100, according to Britannica.

To determine when Easter will be celebrated, there is a complicated set of calculations based on the lunar calendar. Simply put, Christians look to the paschal full moon, which falls on or after the ecclesiastical northern hemisphere spring equinox (set as March 21 based on a solar calendar). The paschal full moon refers to the 14th day of the lunar calendar month, and not an actual astronomical phase of the Moon.

Christians celebrate Easter on the first Sunday following the paschal full moon. The word paschal is derived from Passover, a reference to the belief that Jesus Christ took his Last Supper with his apostles to celebrate Passover.

And so, as the Eastern Orthodox follow a different calender to the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, thus Easter Sunday will fall on different dates.

How Do Greek Orthodox Celebrate Easter?

The 50 days before Easter are the period for strengthening faith in the Lord, according to Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Followers of the faith do this in three ways: repentance; prayer; and self-control.

Starting from the week before Lent, Greek Orthodox followers have to fast and avoid foods such as dairy, eggs and meat. When the Holy Week begins—the week leading up to Holy Pascha—fasting begins from Thursday evening and is considered the strictest fast of the year. After St. Basil's Liturgy on Holy Saturday, a little wine and fruit may be taken for sustenance.

Is Pascha A Federal Holiday?

Greek Orthodox Easter is not a national holiday in the U.S. and the majority of stores will operate normal Sunday hours.

Even Greek restaurants, such as Cypriana in Baltimore, Maryland, are staying open and celebrating with a special menu.