SUNDAY, APRIL 17 and SUNDAY APRIL 24—As a journalist covering religious diversity for nearly half a century, the trickiest annual question is: When is Easter?
The question routinely sends me scrambling to double-check my calendar and that’s because, even if I happen to remember the date of Easter for Western Christians, I have to double check what our Eastern brothers and sisters are doing.
Sometimes, the entire Christian world celebrates Easter on the same Sunday. In this millennium, so far, East and West have been unified on seven occasions—in 2001, 2004, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2014 and 2017. Then, we won’t be on the same Sunday again until 2025. Generally, Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate later than Western churches, mainly because much of the Orthodox world still calculates Easter’s date using the older Julian calendar, which “lags behind” the Gregorian calendar, and because Orthodox tradition requires the date to be after the Jewish Passover.
In 2022: Western Easter is Sunday, April 17.
In 2022: Eastern Orthodox Easter is Sunday, April 24.
How are these dates selected? In general terms, Easter’s date is set on a Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox.
Well, the first thing journalists who cover global holidays learn is that the “vernal equinox”—or “March equinox” or “northward equinox”—is not always on the same date. In fact, it can occur as early as March 19 and, right now, we are living through a period when that equinox routinely falls on March 20. However, church tradition dictates that the equinox is fixed on March 21.
That means, if the phases of the moon are perfectly aligned, Easter Sunday could occur on March 22, but not before that date. How rare is it for Easter to fall on March 22? The last time it happened was 1818, when James Monroe was our president. Over at the Vatican, Pope VII ruled the Catholic church, except for a nasty period when Napoleon kidnapped him and held him in France. By Easter 1818, Pius VII was back home at the Vatican again to celebrate that rare astronomical occurrence. (Don’t recall that pope? Well, Americans mainly know him for having expanded the Catholic church in America by establishing dioceses in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Charleston and Cincinnati.)
In short, it’s very very rare to have Easter as early as March 22. The next time the world will see a March 22 Easter? Well, none of us will see it. The moon and the calendar won’t align like that again until the year 2285.
Easter can fall as late as April 25 in the West, so this year of 2022 has a “relatively late” Easter for Western churches. Next year, 2023, Easter will be April 9. In 2024, it will be March 31. Then, in 2025, we get a much later Easter: April 20.
Eastern Christianity’s later Easter can fall as early as April 9 or as late as May 8 as those dates are listed in our contemporary Gregorian calendar.