On 15 May 2009 the international seminar “A Common Date of Easter – Possible: The 1997 Aleppo Consensus” was held at the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) in Lviv. The participants considered the recommendations of the meeting in Syria concerning a common date of Easter to be acceptable for all Christian churches of both the East and West today.
At the same time, the speakers accented on the fact that the main problem lies not in deciding the calculations but in the lack of trust between the different Christian denominations due to long division.
The aim of the seminar, as the organizers mentioned, was to inform the broader public and to discuss “the good news concerning the consensus which Christian churches at Aleppo have achieved for the common celebration of Christ’s resurrection,” At the same time, it intends to raise the level of trust between Christian confessions.
According to the words of the organizer of the seminar, the director of UCU’s Institute of Ecumenical Studies, Dr. Antoine Arjakovsky, the seminar in Lviv is the first such meeting of this character after the consultation in Aleppo. He stressed that it was very important that the representatives of all of the confessions which participated in the seminar and also representatives of the World Council of Churches and Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity reach an agreement concerning the proposals of Aleppo that they are the most acceptable for having one date of Easter.
In the 20th century, Roman Catholic and Protestant churches of the West were even ready to accept a fixed date of Easter on the second Sunday of April, presuming that such a proposal were to find agreement among all Christian churches. Responding to this, a commission from the Orthodox churches, which was formed with the intention of giving such a response to this proposal, declined the idea of a fixed date of Easter after the proposal was given at a consultation in 1977 in Chambesy. This decline on behalf of the Orthodox commission came due to the fact that it would be in contradiction with the ancient method of calculating the date of Easter. All of the members expressed their desire to calculate the feast of the resurrection according to the rules of the Nicene Council that mandates that Easter is to be celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox in accord with modern, astronomical data.
Responding to this, the World Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of Churches, by the invitation of the Syrian Orthodox Church, organized the 1997 Aleppo consultation where the theologians of all of the represented churches accepted the decision of the Orthodox conference and decided that the most acceptable and traditionally rooted method of calculating the date for the celebration of Easter would be following the norms of the Nicene Council and that the celebration of Easter would take place on the first Sunday after the full-moon following the vernal equinox using the calculations of modern, astronomical data. The consultation also recommended that the calculation be made on the basis of the Jerusalem meridian.
Dr. Antoine Arjakovsky emphasized that it is an important fact that these proposals of the seminar were supported by the major Christian churches of Lviv. During the meeting, formal remarks from Metropolitan Andriy (Horak) of the Lviv-Sokal Metropolitanate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate; Archbishop Makary Miletich of the Lviv Archeparchy of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church; Archbishop Ihor Vozniak of Lviv of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church; Rev. Dymytro Kolesnyk, pastor of Hosanna Church and director of the Youth Christian Association of Lviv; Rev. Roman Solovij, representative of the Evangelical Churches of Ukraine, and rector of the Lviv Theological Seminary; Rev. Mikhailo Mokienko, a representative of the Evangelical Churches of Ukraine and dean of the Dnipropetrovsk Bible College; and the administrator of the Armenian Cathedral in Lviv, Father Tadeos Gevorgian.
Expressing joy that such an important theme had been raised in the seminar, Metropolitan Andriy Horak mentioned that such a detailed answer from the Orthodox representation concerning the Aleppo proposals could be received only after a Pan-Orthodox consultation and, eventually, a council. It is worth mentioning that Fr. Milan Zust, S.J., representative for the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said that the Roman Catholic Church is waiting for a response from the Orthodox churches and he thinks that if the Orthodox would accept the Aleppo recommendations, then there would be no problems with establishing one, common date of Easter. If some remarks would come from the Orthodox representation or if they were to propose another variant, then the question would definitely need to be reviewed.
Dr. Konstantine Sigov, chief director of the publishing firm Spirit and Letter, who spoke in the name of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), mentioned that it is of huge importance to spread information about the possibility of establishing a common date for Easter – especially within an academic environment as well as among the broader public.
As it was declared in the seminar in Lviv, the participants declared the task before themselves to “gain the attention of all Christians to the difficult question of the division in celebrating the feast above all feasts, the solemn day of Easter, and to inform with invigorated power, concerning the consensus and the progress which has already been attained by Christians with regard to this issue.”
Expressing his point of view concerning this issue, which was explored within the seminar, UCU Vice Rector Myroslav Marynovych mentioned that cultural barriers are the main obstacle. “When we think about one date of celebrating Easter for Christians, we think first of all, who wins or who loses,” mentioned Marynovych. He gave an example as experienced within the forced labor camps of the Soviet Union saying that all Christian feasts were celebrated together and Easter was celebrated twice. According to his words, people are united primarily by an animosity against a common enemy. “Why is it today that we do not have a sentiment that the best ‘glue’ is not a common enemy, but is rather a common God.” He placed this as a rhetorical question to the participants.
In 2010 and 2011, the dates of Easter will coincide in both the Eastern and Western traditions. As mentioned by Dr. Arjakovsky, we need to place an accent on the fact that the dates for celebrating Easter not only coincide according to the Julian and Gregorian calendars, but also with astronomical data. “This is an important witness that the time has come to celebrate Easter jointly not only from time to time, but as a rule ,” mentioned Dr. Arjakovsky.
The participants of the seminar, as the final communique stated, encouraged all Christians to actively join in discussion concerning this issue and to put all of their efforts to make the coinciding of the celebration of Easter by Christians to be not merely an exception, but a rule. It is the hope that the Christian churches of both the East and the West will jointly celebrate the feast of Easter and this would constitute a real step toward establishing full communion in the future.