Gregory XIII (Pope of the Roman Catholic Church) revised the calendar for use
by people all across Christendom, resulting in a new set of dates for Easter.
Universal adoption of the Gregorian calendar occurred slowly. By the 1700's, though,
most of western Europe had adopted what came to be known as the Gregorian Calendar.
The rules for determining the date of Easter are:
Easter falls on the first Sunday following the first full moon that occurs on
or after the day of the vernal equinox; the vernal equinox is fixed as March 21.
There are some highly technical rules for determining the actual date of the full
moon, but when you take all this into account the result is that Easter can
never occur before March 22 or later than April 25.
Orthodox churches use a variant of these rules that result in those churches celebrating
Easter on a different Sunday.)
Easter, the most important holiday
for Christians, commemorates Christ's resurrection on the third day following
his crucifixion. So important is the resurrection to Christians that it has been
said that every Christian worship service is a celebration of the resurrection.
For several hundred years, Easter was not called "Easter."
Prior to the fourth century, Christians observed Pascha, Christian Passover,
in the spring of the year. Adapted from Jewish Passover, Pascha was a festival
of redemption. As Jews, these early followers of Jesus celebrated both their liberation
from slavery in Egypt, and their new liberation from the power of death itself.
As Christianity spread throughout the Roman world, however, the celebration
became more and more a distinctly Christian one. But there also developed some
disagreement about when and how the holiday should be observed. One of the principal
reasons for organizing the council of Nicea in 325 CE was to set a firm date for
Though the record is not complete, the church fathers
were intent on making the holiday into something that those acquainted with the
gods and goddesses of the Greco-Roman world be comfortable with. Thus the festival
came to be known as "Easter," a name derived, some think, from "Eostre,"
the Mother Goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe; others suggest it was
derived from an ancient word for spring "eastre." Without doubt some
elements of pre-Christian religious practice have been incorporated into the Easter
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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.