A Further Report (2001)
Dr Tom Best, executive secretary of the Faith and Order Commission of the World
Council of Churches (WCC), referred to an initiative launched in 1997 by the
Middle East Council of Churches and the WCC to enable all churches to celebrate
Easter together every year.
At a meeting held in Aleppo, Syria, in March 1997, representatives of the world's
main Christian traditions agreed on what the WCC described as "an ingenious proposal
to set a common date for Easter".
The initiative has been warmly welcomed by many churches around the world, though
hopes that this year might mark the end of division over the dates have proved
Dr Best said that the Aleppo proposal sought to avoid a "clash of calendars"
by continuing to use the Nicene formula to determine the date of Easter, basing
calculations on the best astronomical data available and taking the meridian
of Jerusalem as the reference point.
Differences over Easter date back to early Christianity. At present Western
churches calculate the date of Easter using the Gregorian calendar, introduced
in 1582 and now the standard calendar world-wide, whereas most Orthodox churches,
including the Russian church, maintain the older Julian calendar to calculate
the date of Easter.
According to Dr Best, about 25 churches have sent positive responses to the WCC
over the Aleppo proposal, although the initial response from the (Orthodox) Church
of Greece was negative. He pointed out that several international Christian
bodies, including the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops, the Vatican's Pontifical
Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Conference of European Churches and
the Lutheran World Federation have expressed strong interest in the plan.
Asked about prospects for the Aleppo proposal, Dr Best said that "the reaction
is very positive so far. We understand that the Orthodox churches have particular
difficulties with the proposal - the tradition of using the Julian calendar to
determine the date of Easter is deeply rooted for the Orthodox churches and we
understand that it would be difficult for them to make an abrupt change."
However, he added, the Orthodox churches themselves had anticipated the Aleppo
proposal at a meeting at Chambesy, Switzerland in 1977, and the Aleppo proposal
responded to many of the Orthodox concerns.
Two leading Orthodox bodies, the patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow,
have informed the WCC that they are studying the proposal, which has also been
welcomed by other Orthodox-linked agencies in North America. In the meantime,
a leading Russian Orthodox official, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad,
who heads the Moscow Patriarchate's department of external relations, has called
on Western churches to reform their religious calendars and calculate the date
of Easter using the Julian system. Orthodox churches in Australia have made
a similar suggestion to the WCC.
Asked what the prospects were now, given that agreement had not been reached
this year as the Aleppo meeting had hoped, Dr Best said that there were possibilities
that plans for a common Easter date would be explored by churches on a regional
basis - for example in the Middle East, where the division over the celebration
of Easter is especially visible. This had in fact been a suggestion of the
He also pointed out that "we are presented - happily - with the fact that in
the next few years, Easter will often fall on a common date". In 2004, 2007,
2010, 2011, 2014 and 2017 the dates coincide.
"We hope people will get attached to celebrating Easter together," Dr Best said.
"We would ask the churches to focus on these years of common celebration, emphasising
this as a sign of our unity. We hope there will be a growing sense that the
common celebration of Easter should be the norm, not the exception."