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The Christian Ecclesiastical Calendar

The church calendar with its movable feasts shows an interesting example of a harmony of several different systems. The key is the reconciliation of the seven-day week with the Roman calendar (see week). The resurrection of Jesus has always been traditionally reckoned as having taken place on a Sunday (first day of the week); hence the annual feast celebrating the event, Easter, should fall on a Sunday. The Bible places the Passion with relation to the Passover. Since the Jewish Passover is on the evening of the 14th (eve of the 15th) Nisan (see below), it may fall on any day of the week; hence Easter must fall on a Sunday near the 14th Nisan. In ancient times some Eastern Christians celebrated Easter on the 14th Nisan itself; these were called Quartodecimans [Lat., = fourteenth]. In 325 the First Council of Nicaea determined that Easter should fall on the Sunday following the next full moon after the vernal equinox, the full moon being theoretically the 14th day, and Nisan beginning with a new moon in March. The vernal equinox was considered by the church to fall on Mar. 21. The paschal, or Easter, moon is the full moon, the 14th day of which falls after (but not on) Mar. 21.

Today Easter is calculated according to a system that does not take all factors of the lunar period into consideration, and it nearly always varies somewhat from what it should be according to true astronomical calculation. Several different systems have been used for determining Easter. In the 6th and 7th cent. in England, there was a great dispute between Christians who derived their rite from the Celts and Christians who had been converted as a result of the mission of St. Augustine. The dispute was settled at the Synod of Whitby in favor of the Roman system, which prevailed from that time over the entire West. For a conventional means of computing Easter, see the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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