Finding a common date for Easter has long been an aspiration of the Catholic and Christian Orthodox Churches—and both are closer to achieving that goal than ever before following a recent meeting between Pope Francis and His Holiness Mar Awa III, the Catholicos-Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East.
Pope Francis had an audience with Mar Awa III on November 19, marking the first official visit to the Vatican by the Iraq-based Orthodox leader since he was elected to head the Assyrian Church in September 2021.
In an address to Awa, Francis stressed the importance of the “ecumenical journey” that their two churches share. Both institutions, the pope said, should “have the courage to put an end to this division that at times makes us laugh: ‘When does your Christ rise again?’”
“The sign we should give is: one Christ for all of us,” the pontiff proposed, asking Awa to pick a date for Easter. “Agree and we will go where you say,” he said, echoing the conciliatory words of Saint Paul VI. “Let us be courageous and search together: I’m willing, yet not me, the Catholic Church is willing to follow what Saint Paul VI said.”
“I dare even to express a dream: that the separation with the beloved Assyrian Church of the East, the longest in the history of the Church, can also be, please God, the first to be resolved,” Francis said.
The Assyrian Church of the East, which does not share full communion with any Orthodox church, has been engaged in a theological dialogue with the Vatican since the mid-1990s.
For Christians, Easter Sunday is the year’s most holy day, commemorating the resurrection of Christ. Early Christians celebrated the occasion on or in close proximity to the date of the Jewish Passover. In fact, the Bible has no mention of a separate Easter celebration.
But over the centuries, different calendar systems resulted in the dates of Passover and Easter drifting apart. Western churches began celebrating Easter on the first Sunday after the full moon that comes on or after the vernal equinox that marks the onset of spring—a date that falls anywhere from March 22 to April 25.
The pope noted in his address that in 2025, Christians are scheduled to celebrate the 1,700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea, when the Gregorian and Julian calendars will align, allowing Christians from the Eastern as well as Western traditions to celebrate Easter on the same day. (Francis was referring to the first ecumenical council of the Christian church that was held in 325 A.D. in present-day Turkey in an attempt to resolve ecclesiastical differences between Eastern and Western Christianity.)
Awa expressed his hope—along with that of millions of other Christians— that the time would come when Christians would celebrate Easter on the same day.
“I want to say—indeed, to repeat—what St. Paul VI said in his day,” Francis responded, thanking Awa. “We are ready to accept any proposal that is made together.”
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