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Church leaders willing to discuss fixed Easter date

By Alf McCreary

Published 18/01/2016

Justin Welby is making a case for Easter to be on the same day every year
Justin Welby is making a case for Easter to be on the same day every year

Senior church figures in Northern Ireland have given a cautious welcome to the suggestion from the Archbishop of Canterbury that there should be a fixed date for Easter.

Unlike other Christian holidays such as Christmas, the dates for Easter are not always the same from one year to the next.

This year Easter Sunday falls on March 27, while next year it will fall on April 16, and in 2018 it will be on April 1.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, said he hopes to see Easter become a fixed date by the time he retires.

Speaking after the meeting of Anglican primates in Canterbury this week, he said it might take a decade to happen.

"I would expect between five and 10 years' time - I wouldn't expect it earlier than that, not least because most people have probably printed their calendars for the next five years," he told the Telegraph.

"School holidays and so on are all fixed - it affects almost everything you do in the spring and summer.

"The answer is, I don't know, but I would love to see it before I retire."

Methodist President, the Rev Brian Anderson, said: "Bearing in mind different Churches in Christendom work on different calendars, if a single date could be arrived at to celebrate Easter, it would be beneficial to all for making arrangements for the celebration of Christ's resurrection."

The Clerk of the Presbyterian General Assembly, the Rev Trevor Gribben, said Presbyterians "would, of course, be willing to take part in any discussions around setting a fixed date".

He also said that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ "is absolutely central to the Christian faith".

"This truth has significance for all of us throughout the year, and not just on a particular date," he added.

Canon Ian Ellis, the editor of the independent Church of Ireland Gazette, said: "It is important any change on the observance of Easter should have wide agreement, across the different denominations and around the world. So any change would have to have international, ecumenical assent. It is clear that finding a fixed date would be a very complex process."

Canon Ellis also commented on the motive for a change, saying: "I am somewhat concerned that the calls for a fixed date for Easter may be driven more by secular concerns than by the actual needs of the Church."

Fr Patrick McCafferty of the Catholic Church, said: "Pope Francis has indicated his willingness to celebrate Easter on a date decided in agreement.

"Personally, I see it as advantageous. It would allow the various Christian denominations to bear united witness to the Resurrection of the Lord."

How the date is decided each year...

The fixing of the Easter dates each year is complex, and arises from a decision made in 325 AD.

Members of the Council of Nicea decided that Easter Day should be celebrated on the Sunday following the full moon that falls on or after the Spring Equinox.

In practice this means that Easter is celebrated annually on a Sunday through several weeks stretching from mid-March to mid-April.

A fixed date for Easter would dispense with the yearly variations and would simplify church, family, schools, business and other calendars throughout the world. The complexity of an agreement is underlined by the fact that the other great branch of Christianity, the Eastern Orthodox Church, already celebrates Easter on a different day from that chosen by the Roman Catholic and Reformed Churches in the West. The Council of Nicea of Christian bishops was convened in Bithynia by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in AD 325.

This first ecumenical council was the first effort to attain consensus in the church through an assembly representing all of Christendom.

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