Saturday, May 4, 2013

What Easter?!

Lilies, Easter's traditional flower :: All Pretty Things
I have been asked many times when our Easter doesn't coincide with the Western one - what religion are you?

I answered Orthodox many ways just to have confusing looks - people would think Jew Orthodox and that doesn't blend properly with Easter, does it?

We are Eastern Orthodox (Greek Orthodox, Russian, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Serbian, Romanian,and some African and Middle Eastern countries where they celebrate Orthodoxy too). We are Christians too, like Catholics and all its flavours. However the 2 churches separated in medieval times, in 1054 after the 'Great Schism' and separated they remained to these days.

There are a few notable differences in the theology of the 2 religions:

  • the first is the absolute authority that the Pope has over the bishops: Eastern Orthodox did not agree with that (and that is the root of the Great Schism, which started with the excommunication of some Eastern bishops)
  • the second - and most important theologically - is the 'Filioque': in the Eastern Creed we believe the Holly Spirit proceeds from the Father *and* the Son, while Catholic Creed has the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father only. It is physically transferred in how we make the sign of cross: we put together 3 fingers (middle, index, and thumb), while Catholics only 2 (middle, index)
  • the third is how each Church views the Virgin Mary: Catholics see her as born without sin, while Eastern Orthodox believe she was capable of sin, but resisted it successfully all her life. The view of sin is also different for ordinary people: Catholics believe in the original sin (Adam's) and that we are all guilty of it and we carry that guilt. Eastern Orthodox believe that we have inherited the sin, but we are not guilty of it. Catholics believe "all men have sinned through Adam's sin", while the Orthodox interpretation is "all humanity sins as part of the inheritance of the original sin". A subtle difference which says that we believe in the Original Sin and that all men have the propensity to sin, but they have not implicitly sinned through Adam's Original Sin. [confusing, eh?!]
  • another interesting difference is on celibate: all Catholic Priests must maintain celibacy, while Eastern Orthodox must do so only if they have been ordained priests before marriage. Basically, a priest can marry if he does so *before* being ordained priests. The heads of the churches (bishops, archbishops etc.) are elected from the monks, though. But an ordinary priest can marry and have a family, which is quite nice and makes them very human and approachable. 

For more details on the subject please check–_Roman_Catholic_theological_differences.

The one everybody sees the most is the temporal difference: the time we celebrate holidays.

This is what happens: most of the Eastern Churches celebrate the 'moving' date holidays on the old calendar, and the fixed dates holidays on the new calendar. You might be aware originally everyone followed the Julian calendar. Then in 1582 Pope Gregor changed it to align the Easter to the date originally set at the First Council of Nicea - thus moving the calendar forward 10 days. A few other adjustments were made over the years - so today the civil calendar is moved 13 days in advance.

Funny fact: that's why what some of you might have heard of as 'The October Revolution' (the Russian one) is celebrated in November :)

However - the Easter countries were really slow in adopting the change (mainly because they were Orthodox and quite not following the rules of Catholics) - but they eventually did as countries and governments... not as Churches.

That's why we all think of March 11 as March 11 these days - but... when it comes to religious holidays we follow 2 different rules (yes, it's quite confusing, I know):

  • the countries associated with Greek Orthodox keep the fixed date holidays (like Christmas) on the civil calendar - thus we celebrate on December 25th. However we keep the moving date holidays (like Easter) on the old Julian calendar - thus we celebrate God knows when, 'cause it's quite complicated to calculate :)
  • the countries associate with Russian Orthodox keep *all* Holidays on the old, Julian Calendar. Thus they celebrate Easter when we do, but Christmas on January 6th.

And that is in a nutshell :)


  1. Thanks, Alicia - this is really interesting and informative! I learned a lot.

    1. Thanks, Lisa, I am glad you found it helpful and interesting!

  2. Thank you for shedding more light on your Faith, Alicia. I have a question about #2. When making the Sign of the Cross (in the horizontal part) does the hand move first to the right shoulder (as in the Russian manner)? Roman Catholics and select Protestant groups move the hand to the left shoulder first. Also, in modern usage, many Catholics in this part of the world use an open palm.

    1. Thanks, Monique - yes, you're right, Eastern Orthodox move first to right shoulder, then left; I forgot about this difference - and I will have to research why it exists. I find it interesting that most of the traditions have some foundation in the past (mostly in the Christian Councils of the old times).

  3. Just found your wonderful blog. And I actually read this post -surprising because I often just look at photos early in the morning. Very interesting and I learned something new today. Thanks for taking the time to write this.

    1. Thank you, Eileen! I am happy you found it interesting and took the time to read it: I know it can be confusing and it took me some time to clear my thoughts enough to put them in legible sentences :) I actually did some research in the past few years, since my son started to ask all sorts of 'whys' and I discovered that I don't know 'why' I just know this is the tradition. It's fun to find out traditions are firmly planted in past events.


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