Why is Orthodox Easter a different day than American Easter?

Orthodox Christianity 101
By Orthodoxy Christianity 101
March 26, 2024


Have you ever wondered why Orthodox Easter, also known as Pascha, often falls on a different date than American Easter? This intriguing divergence stems from historical differences, calendar discrepancies, and ecclesiastical rules that can seem complex but are actually fascinating. So, let’s unravel this mystery step by step, shall we?

A Brief History of Easter

Before we delve into the details, let’s take a quick detour into the past.

The American Easter

American Easter, often referred to as Western Easter, celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, as described in the New Testament. This event is observed by all Christian denominations in the United States and follows the Gregorian calendar.

The Orthodox Easter

Meanwhile, Orthodox Easter is celebrated in countries where the Orthodox Church is predominant, such as Greece, Russia, and Romania. Despite sharing the same religious significance — the resurrection of Christ — it follows the older Julian calendar.

The Basis of Different Calendars

The heart of the difference lies in the calendar systems used by the Western and Eastern Churches.

The Julian Calendar

Introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC, the Julian calendar was widely used until the late 16th century. However, it had a slight inaccuracy — it was about 11 minutes longer than the solar year, which eventually led to significant misalignments over centuries.

The Gregorian Calendar

To correct the inaccuracies, Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian calendar in 1582. However, the Orthodox Church continues to use the Julian calendar for their ecclesiastical calculations.

The Easter Controversy

The discrepancy in the date of Easter is not a modern issue; it’s been a point of contention for centuries!

The First Council of Nicaea

In 325 AD, the First Council of Nicaea decided that all Christians should celebrate Easter on the same day. However, it did not specify which calendar should be used to determine that day.

The Ongoing Schism

Over time, a schism grew between those favoring the Julian calendar (the Orthodox Churches) and those adopting the Gregorian calendar (the Western Churches).

The Calculation of Easter

Both Western and Eastern Christians agree that Easter should fall on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. However, their different calendars calculate this date differently.

American Easter Calculation

The Western Church, following the Gregorian calendar, celebrates Easter on the Sunday following the Paschal Full Moon, which is the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox.

Orthodox Easter Calculation

The Eastern Church, on the other hand, celebrates Easter based on the Julian calendar. Plus, they wait for Passover to be observed before they celebrate Easter, ensuring that Easter always follows Passover, as was biblically the case with Jesus.

Impact on Celebrations

This calendar discrepancy influences how Easter is celebrated around the world.

Observances in the West

In the West, Easter festivities often involve Easter egg hunts, bunnies, and sunrise services.

Traditions in the East

Orthodox Easter celebrations include the Midnight Office, the procession, and the Divine Liturgy of Pascha, highlighting the solemnity and joy of Christ’s resurrection.


In conclusion, the difference in the date of Orthodox and American Easter stems from the use of different calendars and distinct ecclesiastical traditions. While they might celebrate on different dates, both commemorations share the same heart: the joyous celebration of the resurrection of Christ.

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