March 26, 2010
Religion News Service
by Nicole Neroulias
Easter usually comes twice to the Kringas household in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.: first with baskets of pastel eggs and a ham baked in the oven, then a week or more later with dark red eggs and lamb roasted on a spit.
Maureen Kringas, who splits her time between her mother's Catholic parish and her father's Greek Orthodox church, grew up attending both sets of Holy Week services, from Palm Sunday to midnight Mass on Holy Saturday.
Because Western (Catholic) and Eastern Orthodox Easter typically fall on different dates, it made for an extended Easter season for Kringas, now a 21-year-old nursing student.
When the Easter dates periodically share the same date, as they do for the next two years, interfaith families may struggle to sync their menu and worship options, but Kringas, for one, loves the result.
"I like to be able to mix and match the services, and at college, I only have time off for Catholic Easter," she explained. "It's so much easier when they're the same."
All the world's Christians will celebrate Easter this year on April 4 and on April 24 in 2011 -- a two-year East-West convergence that hasn't occurred since 1943 and won't happen again until 2037. The National Council of Churches has seized this as a chance to renew its call "to set a common date for the annual celebration of the most important event in Christian history," hoping to coax Eastern Orthodox traditionalists to budge on their calendar.
Orthodox churches use the old Julian calendar's equinox and lunar cycle calculations; Catholics and Protestants use the Gregorian method, adopted in the 16th century and the basis for the secular January-December year. (Isolated exceptions include Greece's Catholic minority that uses the state-approved Orthodox Easter date, and Finland's small Orthodox community that celebrates with the Protestant majority.)
In 1997, the World Council of Churches met in Aleppo, Syria, and proposed scientifically updating both calendars -- a compromise favored by the West, but still troublesome for the East.
"It is difficult, especially for the Orthodox churches, to change anything," said the Rev. Dagmar Heller, a German pastor who serves on the WCC's Faith and Order Commission and helped organize the 1997 conference in Syria. Calendar updates have caused schisms before, including 20th-century rifts when some branches of Orthodoxy moved their Christmas to Dec. 25 instead of the January date maintained in Russia and some other countries.
"There's a conviction that you just do not touch the calendar," said the Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, ecumenical officer of the Orthodox Church in America. "Any attempt, even a perfectly appropriate one, in historical and theological terms, is interpreted at the popular level as an assault on tradition."
While the relatively young and small OCA seems more receptive to adopting the Aleppo plan than the Greek and Russian heavyweights, Kishkovsky's church won't act independently, he said.
Lewis Patsavos, a canon law professor at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, says Eastern church leaders will eventually be forced to update their calendar system, if only because their Easter Sunday will eventually start heading off course, into summer, in a few centuries.
"It's a scandal that the most important feast of the Christian church is celebrated by two different methods of calculation; any serious theologian understands that this cannot continue indefinitely," he said. "We really need to put our heads together and start seriously considering how to update this matter."
With dates converging four times in the next 10 years, there may be a shift in momentum toward establishing a common Christian calendar. The Catholic Church would welcome a return to the universal celebration of earlier centuries, said the Rev. Ron Roberson, ecumenical officer for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"It would be ideal to celebrate together, as Christians," he said, adding that it would offer some practical benefits, such as establishing a common work holiday across the European Union, for example. "It's a very joyful thing when it happens two years in a row, and we certainly wish we could do it all the time."
Then again, there are some advantages to maintaining dueling calendars. Orthodox Christians working in the West may find it easier to get vacation days approved when they're not competing with Catholic and Protestant colleagues. In Jerusalem, crowding and security issues are far more manageable with two sets of Holy Weeks, especially when the dates also stray from Passover, Kishkovsky added.
And some people just like to be different.
"It might sound very silly, but for some people, this is what they see as making us distinct," Patsavos said. "We follow the letter of the law, though not necessarily the spirit."
With no compromise in sight, the Kringas family and other East-West clans will continue celebrating Easter twice. Maureen's mother, Patricia Kringas, says she prefers it this way, as long as the two Easters are far enough apart that Orthodox Palm Sunday doesn't run into Catholic Easter Sunday.
"When it's the same or too close together, you feel you're always going to shortchange one of them," she said.