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July, 2019
Volume 45, Number 2
17 August 2012
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

In this image from last month, Palestinian girls in Jerusalem hold torches during a celebration to mark the breaking of the fast during the holy month of Ramadan.
(photo: CNS/Ammar Awad, Reuters)

Last month, as Muslims began to mark Ramadan, we posted some interesting facts on the season from Fr. Mallon, our education and interreligious affairs officer. This weekend, as the season draws to a close, he shares some further thoughts.

Every year Muslims observe the holy month of Ramadan. During this month Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, engage in works of charity and attempt to spend more time in prayer and in reading the Qur’an. At the end of each day, Muslims observe what is called the iftar or breaking of the fast for that day. The daily iftar is generally a joyful event. At the end of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate ‘eid ul-fitr (Eidul [or sometimes Id] Fitr), the joyful time of the close of the month of fasting.

There are only two major holy days in Islam. The most important is ‘eid ul-’adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, at the closing of the annual pilgrimage and ‘eid ul-fitr, the Feast of the Breaking of the Fast at the end of Ramadan.

Of the two feasts, ‘eid ul-’adha is theologically the more important and is referred to sometimes as the “greater feast” and ‘eid ul-fitr is referred to as the “lesser feast.” However, the situation is much like that of Christians with Easter and Christmas. Easter is the primary feast of the Christian faith. Nonetheless, for the vast majority of Christians it is Christmas that bears most of the traditions and which has an emotional hold on their religious imagination. So too with Muslims: this feast marking Ramadan’s end creates a bigger stir. For Muslims ‘eid ul-fitr is a time for new clothes, family gatherings, exchange of gifts, decorating with lights, etc. While ‘eid ul-fitr may be the “lesser feast,” it is the one which Muslims celebrate with the greatest amount of joy. In many places, the opening of ‘eid ul-fitr is announced with the firing of a canon. Muslims go to the mosque to greet the beginning of the feast with special prayers and then return home to feasting and celebrating which can last for up to three days.

Tags: Jerusalem Interreligious Islam Palestinians Ramadan

27 July 2012
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

Satellite dishes cover the rooftops of homes in Aleppo, Syria. (photo: Spencer Osberg)

Syria has been in the news for almost a year now and the news has not been good. The Red Cross has declared that the conflict between the government of Bashar al-Assad and the opposition now amounts to a civil war. Although caught up in a violent struggle for its future, Syria is nonetheless one of the oldest and most interesting cultures in the Middle East, if not the world.

Here are five interesting facts about this country that has very deep religious roots:

  1. Aleppo, Arabic Halab, is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities and the largest city in Syria. Excavations show that there was a village on the site already 6,000 years before Christ. For over 5,000 years, the city has been at the crossroads for trade between Europe, the Middle East and Asia. For many centuries it was the beginning of the Silk Road to China.

  2. The Hebrew Bible never mentions the word Syria, which is a Greek word, but always refers to the area as Aram. Aramaic, which is perhaps the language spoken by Jesus and which has developed into several dialects, received its name from this part of the world. There are Christian villages in Syria where the people still speak a modern form of Aramaic.

  3. In the Acts of the Apostles 9:10-11 Ananias is instructed in a vision to go to meet Paul at the house of a disciple named Judas who lived on Straight Street. Although most of the streets in the old city of Damascus are not marked, the author was able to find Straight Street, which is a rather long and, yes, unusually straight street that still exists in the old city of Damascus.

  4. The Umayyad Mosque. The Romans constructed a huge temple to Jupiter over a much older Semitic temple. In 391, the Roman Temple of Jupiter was converted into a Christian cathedral, which was ultimately dedicated to St. John the Baptist. According to pious legend, which is continued by Muslims, the head of John was preserved in the cathedral and is still in the present mosque. In 635, the Muslim armies conquered Damascus and from 635 until 706 both Christians and Muslims shared the building for worship. Beginning in 706 the cathedral was demolished and the present mosque was built. One of the minarets is called sayyiduna ‘isa, “Our Lord Jesus.” Some Muslims believe that at the end of the world Jesus will return to the mosque in Damascus.

  5. Christians comprise about 10 percent of the population of Syria. Some of the oldest Christian communities in the world—some dating back to the time of the Apostles—can be found in Syria. The city of Damascus is the home to three Christian Patriarchs! The Patriarch of the Syriac (before 2000: Syrian) Orthodox Church, the Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch and the Patriarch of the Melkite Catholic Church all live in Damascus.

Tags: Syria Middle East

6 July 2012
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

Mosques and churches dot the Soulimanya neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria.
(photo: Spencer Osberg)

At CNEWA, we throw around a lot of exotic words. Most can be looked up in a dictionary or style book. But a few require a little more digging. Here are five from the Middle East that required CNEWA’s resident biblical languages scholar, Atonement Friar Elias Mallon, to decipher.

al-quds — This word means, “The Holy,” in Arabic and is the Muslim name for Jerusalem, the city sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims. Jews and Christians refer to the city by its (very) ancient name, yɘrušalayim, from which the English word, Jerusalem, derives. Muslims give Jerusalem an honorific title, “the Holy,” much like Christians refer to Rome as “the eternal city.”

qurbana — This is the Syriac and Aramaic word for the Eucharist. The root meaning of the word is “to bring near (God); to offer.” Interestingly, the Aramaic word appears in Mark 7:11, where Jesus condemns it when an adult child does not support his parents because he declares his wealth as Corban, i.e. “offered to God.” In Matthew 15:6, in the same context, the evangelist uses “offered to God” in Greek rather than the Aramaic word.

‘īsā — The name of Jesus in the Muslim holy book, the Qur’an, and the name used by Muslims, who revere Jesus as a great prophet and Mary as his virgin mother. Muslims do not believe Jesus is divine nor do they believe that Jesus was crucified (Qur’an 4:158); rather, they believe Jesus is in heaven waiting to return at the end of time.

yasu‘ — The name for Jesus used by Arabic-speaking Christians; the different names of Jesus used by Muslims and Christians are reminders that the two communities understand the person and role of Jesus very differently.

allah — The word used for God by Arabic-speaking Muslims, Christians and Jews. The Syriac and Aramaic word for God is alah. Although Arabic-speaking Jews, Christians and Muslims use the same Arabic word for God, they use slightly different words in Syriac and Hebrew. Nevertheless, all three words come from the same root and are closely related.

Tags: Middle East Muslim Islam Christian

16 May 2012
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

“Why don’t Muslims speak out against violence and intolerance and for pluralism and democracy?” This a question one often hears from non-Muslims. Less frequently, one hears Muslims reply: “We have and we do; why aren’t non-Muslims listening?”

Rarely in the media does one read of Muslim scholars and leaders condemning violence. So the question of the non-Muslims is understandable. When Muslims do take stands for tolerance and pluralism, media coverage is minimal or non-existent. In fact, Muslims are justified in their response.

This was the problem the Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University and the Islamic Society of North America sought to address on Monday 14 May at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. It was entitled “Symposium on Religious Freedom and the Rights of Minorities in Islam” and it consisted of two panels. The first panel featured three scholars who spoke on the concept and history of Shari’a (Muslim law) and how minorities had variously fared in Muslim societies over the centuries. The second panel addressed the topic of “Contemporary Islamic Perspectives on the Status of Religious Minorities, Particularly Post-Arab Spring.” While the first part of the program was well done and interesting to the specialist, it was the second part that merits wider attention by the general public.

Professor Tamara Sonn of the College of William and Mary spoke of contemporary Arab Muslim thinkers who reflect on the nature of government and the status of citizens in a modern democracy where the majority of citizens are Muslim. Many, if not most, hold the equality of all citizens to be of the utmost importance. Differentiating between the executive and legislative functions of government, these scholars provide an intellectual framework for the full integration of the non-Muslim into the political life of a democracy where the majority of citizens are Muslims.

Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool of South Africa to the United States reflected on the struggle of South African Muslims against apartheid. Less than three percent of the population, Muslims in South Africa learned firsthand what it means to be a minority living with discrimination. Ambassador Rasool said that his experience as a member of a minority brought him to the conviction that, “what you demand as a minority you must give when you are a majority.” Thus, for Muslims to demand freedom of speech, religion, etc., when they are a minority is thoroughly justified. However, that brings with it the obligation to grant and protect those same rights for other minorities in situations where Muslims hold the majority. In a sense, Ambassador Rasool was calling for a human rights-focused, political version of the Golden Rule.

Qamar-ul Huda of the U.S. Institute of Peace recounted the discussions about the benefits and limits of assimilation for Muslims in non-Muslim societies. He noted that in the West, many Muslims have resisted calls to remain isolated and have become active politically in working for the public good. The rights of all citizens are central and crucial to the health of a society. Mr. Huda felt the self-isolation of minority communities was ultimately self-defeating. The dichotomies of "us and them" and of secular and religious are not helpful, he commented. It is important for Muslims in non-Muslim countries to realize the term “secular” is not opposed to “religious.” Indeed, religions often prosper better in societies that are “secular,” although some secular societies admittedly can be aggressively so and hostile to religion.

The symposium clearly showed that Muslims are struggling with how to live in new situations in an increasingly pluralistic world. In a sense, it is similar to the struggles that Catholics experienced in the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was the experiences of these Catholics that helped bring about Dignitatis Humanae, the declaration on religious freedom promulgated at Vatican II.

Muslim scholars and the average Muslim living in non-Muslim societies are developing new ways of looking at pluralism, democracy and the equality of all citizens in a society. The symposium at Georgetown provided a privileged opportunity to see this process at work.

Tags: Unity Muslim Christian-Muslim relations Multiculturalism

3 February 2012
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

People cheer as a Christian Egyptian raises a cross and declares solidarity with the anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo 9 Feb 2011.
(photo: CNS/Yannis Behrakis, Reuters)

An observant colleague mentioned to me the other day that al-Jazeera, the widely popular Arab news service, was using the expression “Arab Awakening” instead of “Arab Spring.” He wondered if there might be some significance to the difference. It is not easy finding out what the Arabic expression was that al-Jazeera is using and if it represents a conscious change. It does seem, however, that there is an increasing preference for “Arab Awakening” in the media of the Middle East. There are several reasons for this.

“Arab Spring” is an expression that was coined in the West and echoes movements like the “Prague Spring” (1968). For one thing, I am not sure spring holds the same connotation in Arabic as it does in European languages, especially those with traditions of Romantic poetry. In addition, the upheavals in Arab countries havecarried on for a year now and there was even some talk of an “Arab Winter.”

If the word that is being used in the Arabic media for “awakening,” is nahḍa, however, it is extremely interesting. By using the word nahḍa, several things would be accomplished. First, it would represent an attempt by the Arabic-speaking world to give its own name to the phenomenon. Second, and much more importantly, it would represent an attempt to link the events of the past year with an early modernist movement in the Middle East.

The nahḍa, or Awakening, was a political, cultural, linguistic and literary movement that began in Egypt at the end of the 19th century and spread to most of the Arabic-speaking world. Arab intellectuals — Muslim and Christian — began to look at their own societies. By studying — and criticizing — contemporary European achievements, Arabs were able to adapt them to a new situation. The 19th century was a time of change in the Arab world. The Ottoman Empire that had dominated the Arabic-speaking world for centuries was beginning to show serious signs of decay. After World War I, colonialism would also begin to lose its grip on the region. The nahḍa recovered the Arab past and attempted to bring it into the present. New literary forms were developed. The first novel in modern Arabic was published in Syria in 1865. Writers and poets known in the West such as Khalil Gibran and the Nobel Laureate Taha Hussein were products of the Awakening. Politically, the nahḍa engendered a great interest in constitutionalism, democracy, human rights, etc. among intellectuals.

There were several forces that brought the nahḍa to an end. With typical Arabic love for word play, some Arabs see the nakba, or “the Disaster,” which refers specifically to the founding of the State of Israel, as the end of the nahḍa. The reality is probably much more complex. Certainly, the rise of authoritarian governments and dictators in the Arab world with their censorship, secret police and attacks on freedom did equally as much to bring the nahḍa to a close. If the use of the expression “Arab Awakening” is an attempt to see contemporary events in the Middle East as a continuation or revival of the nahḍa — which is still is not clear to me — it would not only be very significant, it would be something that should be welcomed.

2 February 2012
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

Men pray during an open house at the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury, N.Y., in 2010. A decade after the terrorist attacks on the United States on 11 Sept 2001 led to a backlash against Muslims, many Americans are still uncomfortable with followers of Islam and think its teachings are at odds with American values. (photo: CNS / Gregory A. Shemitz)

I was fascinated to see a new study published within the last week: “Shari’a Law: Coming to a Courthouse Near You?” Written by Dr. Julie Macfarlane for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, the study addresses a fear that seems to be rising in some quarters. Recently there have been proposals on ballots to ban Shari’a from the American legal system, treating Shari’a as a threat. Dr. Macfarlane deals with the question of what the Shari’a means for North American Muslims.

Shari’a is often used as a slogan in politics in the Muslim world. Calls to “re-instate the Shari’a” echo back and forth on the news. Often it is the most reactionary Muslims, such as the Taliban, who call for the restoration of the Shari’a, filling the media with images of beheadings, stonings and incredible intolerance. Given that image, the fear of some people is understandable, though not justified.

Even the expression “the Shari’a” is misleading. It is easy to get the impression that “the Shari’a” is a thing like the Declaration of Independence, the UN Charter or any given piece of legislation. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It is not a body of laws. There are many different ways that Shari’a is applied and interpreted in different countries and even within countries. The expression “the Shari’a” is often used a slogan for a very particular type of agenda, which most Muslims would reject.

Still the question remains: what do Muslims understand by the Shari’a? Since Islam is a worldwide religion, Muslims in different countries, cultures and circumstances have different understandings of it.

Dr. Macfarlane’s study shows that Shari’a does play an important role in the cultural and religious identity of the vast majority of American and Canadian Muslims. Most interestingly, the study shows that “the practice of shari’a [sic] for the vast majority of American Muslims is focused almost exclusively on private, family matters, primarily marriage and divorce.” However, even in this fairly limited area, 95 percent of the (Muslim) respondents said that it was important to have an Islamic marriage contract and a civil marriage license. In divorce cases Muslims frequently have recourse to U.S. courts to settle disputes such a custody.

To read the full study, visit this link.

Tags: Muslim Interreligious Islam

25 January 2012
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

Pope Benedict XVI, seated next to Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, applauds during a concert at the Vatican 20 May 2010. The concert was a gift from Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. Also pictured is Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, at right. (photo: CNS /Paul Haring)

Today ends the 104th observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, a week that has a rich history and a special connection to my own life.

It was begun in 1908 as the Chair of Unity Octave by Rev. Paul Wattson, an Anglican priest who would later become a Roman Catholic. Paul Wattson and Sister Laurana White — founders of my religious order, the Society of the Atonement — were disturbed by the divisions among Christians and were inspired by a vision of Christian unity. So they launched this eight-day period of prayer from 18-25 January, and it’s now grown into a worldwide observance. Pope Benedict XV in 1917 extended the observance to the entire Roman Catholic Church.

A sense of the importance of Christian unity grew among Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox during the first half of the 20th century. For the average Roman Catholic, the Second Vatican Council (1963-65) committed Catholics to work and pray for the unity of Christ’s followers.

What began as a small observance among Roman Catholics has been transformed into a truly ecumenical undertaking. Every year, a commission comprised of members of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Christian Unity and the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches (Geneva) meets to set the theme for the next year’s observance. The theme for this year has been We Will All Be Changed by the Victory of Our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:51-58).

Pope Benedict XVI referred to this special week during his General Audience at the Vatican on Wednesday. Describing Jesus’s priestly prayer at the Last Supper, the pope said, “He asks the Father to consecrate his disciples, setting them apart and sending them forth to continue his mission in the world. Christ also implores the gift of unity for all those who will believe in him through the preaching of the Apostles. His priestly prayer can thus be seen as instituting the Church, the community of the disciples who, through faith in him, are made one and share in his saving mission.”

For the past eight days, Christians have been praying for unity and working together to overcome centuries of mistrust. In a world of increasing division, xenophobia and tribalism, the observance of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity gives witness to the prayer of Christ “that all may be one” (John 17:21).

20 January 2012
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of New York, addresses the conference, accompanied by Catholics and Muslims who work together in social service projects in the archdiocese. (photo: Bob Gore)

In a time when great media attention is given to conflicts between Muslims and others, I attended a conference yesterday that was a real eye opener.

The conference was entitled “Catholic-Muslim Social Service Partnerships: Lessons from Manhattan, Bronx and Staten Island” and was sponsored by the Interfaith Center of New York. I represented CNEWA and gave a presentation of the history of Catholic-Muslim dialogue in the Archdiocese of New York. Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, the executive director of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of New York was there, along with several of his colleagues. The Muslim community was represented by Ms. Sarah Sayeed and her colleagues from the Interfaith Center and staff from several other groups, including the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood in New York and the Islamic Society of North America.

It was amazing to see how many joint projects there are in New York City in which Catholics and Muslims work hand-in-hand. Catholics and Muslims attending the conference spoke of a wide variety of programs on interfaith dialogue, hunger relief, and youth development that they have successfully maintained for several years.

Personally, I found the conference to be immensely encouraging. After all the media coverage last year about the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” and the demonstrations against it, one could easily believe that Muslims and Catholics in New York City have little or nothing positive to do with one another. Such a belief was conclusively proven wrong yesterday. While there are still problems, of course, and areas of misunderstanding that need to be discussed — and, hopefully, solved — Catholics and Muslims in New York City have a vibrant, deep and successful history of working together to address the needs and problems of the poorest people in our society.

Tags: CNEWA Muslim Interreligious Catholic

23 December 2011
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

Family members look down on the streets of Hamdaniya from their balcony.
(photo: Safin Hamed)

It is said that “history is written by the victors.” What is surprising is how much “editing” the victors often have to do. People who are interested in Eastern Christianity in general and the plight of Iraqi Christians in particular are familiar with the town of Qaraqosh on the Plains of Nineveh in northern Iraq. Qaraqosh is a town of less than 50,000 which has been Christian for a good fifteen hundred years. It is also known as Baghdeda, a name which goes back into truly ancient history. Some scholars believe that Baghdeda existed during the time of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Indeed Baghdeda may have been the scene of one of the last battles before Neo-Assyrian Empire fell to the Chaldeans from Babylon in 610 BC.

Since the beginning of the most recent Gulf War (2003-2011), Christians from all over Iraq have fled north to Qaraqosh or left Iraq entirely. I heard one person recently question if “all the Christians in Iraq live in Qaraqosh.” Problems arise, however, when the curious wish to find Qaraqosh or Baghdeda. Neither can be found on most modern maps.

The mystery is easily solved, however. One of the common characteristics of authoritarian regimes is to seek legitimacy by rewriting history. These regimes tend to seek legitimacy by connecting themselves with a real or imagined “glorious past.” Saddam Hussein, for example, portrayed himself in one parade as the new Sargon of Akkad, the great Mesopotamian conqueror three thousand years before Christ! When history does not fit the prevailing ideology of a regime, that history is simply rewritten.

Baghdeda or Qaraqosh was an extremely ancient town with roots stretching back 4,000 years. The inhabitants consider themselves Assyrians, the descendants of the great Neo-Assyrian Empire. Whether that is literally true or not, they do not consider themselves ethnically the same as the dominant Arab culture. People in the area speak Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, which was once the main language of the region. In addition, the town’s population has been overwhelmingly Christian since before the arrival of Islam in the 7th century. Qaraqosh and its inhabitants did not fit the Ba’athist (the political party of Saddam Hussein) portrait of Iraq—a homogeneous, Arab, Muslim country. In an attempt to “Arabize” Iraq in the 1970’s the Ba’athist government changed the name of Baghdeda/Qaraqosh to Hamdaniya. The name refers to the Banu Hamdan, an Arab, Shi’ite Muslim tribe that was politically dominant in the present day northern Iraq and Syria in the 10th century.

While Baghdeda/Qaraqosh may no longer be easily found on contemporary maps, it nonetheless remains there as an increasingly important stronghold of indigenous and ancient Christianity in Iraq, where the Christian presence has been drastically reduced since the American invasion in 2003.

To read more about Christians in Iraq today, see A New Genesis for Nineveh in the November 2011 issue of ONE.

Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians

23 November 2011
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

Metropolitan Timotei dons the ceremonial robes and crown in preparation for the celebration of Easter in Macedonia. (photo: Sean Sprague)

On 17 November 2011, at a meeting of the Catholic Patriarchs of the Orient in Lebanon, the bishops once again called on all Christians to agree on a single date for Easter. At present the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches calculate the date of Easter differently than the Orthodox churches. This results in both sets of Christian churches often having different dates for Easter. The bishops believed that all Christians celebrating Easter on the same day would be a sign of Christian unity.

When I was asked to write on this, I thought that there were some deep theological differences involved. Research into the topic made me realize that I was in the exciting area of “things I thought I knew but didn’t.” To understand more, you have to start at the beginning — the very beginning.

I know that the Gospels are not in total agreement about the date of the Last Supper. The Synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke) see the Last Supper taking place on the first day of Passover, which began at sundown on Thursday. John, on the other hand, sees the Last Supper taking place on the evening before Passover, which according to John would have begun Friday at sunset. I was aware of a group of Christians in the early church called the “Quattuordecimans” (”Fourteeners”) who celebrated Easter on the 14th of Nisan, the same day Jews celebrated Passover. For the Quattuordecimans, Easter could fall on any day of the week. Most Christians, however, celebrated Easter on the Sunday after Passover. There were some controversies between the two groups. The Council of Nicea (325), however, settled the matter and decreed that Easter would be on the first Sunday after the first full moon of the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere. The date of the equinox, with some slight astronomical inaccuracy, was determined as 21 March.

It would seem, then, that the question was solved in 325. What was the problem? The problem was not based on a deep, theological or mystical difference. The problem was based on an astronomical calculation: the length of the calendar year. The Julian calendar in use during the first 15 centuries of Christianity assumed that the solar year was 365 days and 6 hours. The problem is that the solar year is about 10 minutes and 48 seconds shorter than that. So what? Well, it really doesn’t make that much a difference — over a short period of time. However, over a longer period of time, it can make a big difference. By the time of Pope Gregory XIII (1582), after whom the Gregorian calendar is named, the difference meant that the spring equinox was falling on 11 March — some 10 days earlier!

Pope Gregory proposed — actually decreed — a new calculation to the calendar, which went into effect on 24 February 1582. In addition to using a more accurate measure for the length of the solar year, the Gregorian calendar “dropped” 10 days when it was inaugurated. It took several centuries before all countries accepted the new Gregorian calendar. Both political and denominational reasons made many hesitant to accept a “popish” change in the calendar. However, the Gregorian calendar slowly won out. When the British Empire and its colonies accepted it in 1752, 11 days had to be “dropped” to bring the calendar in line with the new calculations. The last of the Orthodox Christian countries to accept the Gregorian calendar was Greece in 1923. By that time, 13 days needed to be “dropped.” Thus by the mid 20th century, the Gregorian calendar was the dominant calendar in the world, although other — mostly religious — calendars, e.g. Muslim, Jewish, Persian, etc., still continue to exist.

The “problem” with the date of Easter has to do with when the spring equinox occurs. In the Gregorian calendar, it always occurs on 20 or 21 March. The present difference between the Gregorian and Julian calendars is 13 days (thus the spring equinox in the Julian calendar is on about 8 March). In 2100 the difference will be 14 days. To help bridge the gap, in 1923 some Orthodox churches proposed a revised Julian calendar, which was corrected against the solar year by dropping 13 days. However, not all of the Orthodox churches chose to adopt the revised Julian calendar and those that did chose it to calculate the dates of fixed feasts and not the date of Easter. In 1997 at a meeting in Aleppo, Syria, the World Council of Churches proposed that the date for Easter be calculated using astronomical observations for the spring equinox and full moon based at the meridian of Jerusalem. This would have disregarded the question of Gregorian vs. Julian calendar and would have eliminated the disparity in dates. None of the member bodies of the World Council, however, adopted this solution.

For many Christians, especially in the west, the date for Easter is not all that important. For other Christians it is a point of identity. Ultimately the most import issue is whether the common observance of Easter by all Christians would give significant witness to the world. If it would not, then the date or dates of Easter are immaterial. If it would give greater witness, however, the question becomes what theological justification would there be for lessening the impact of Christian witness for what is basically an 11-minute-and-48-second difference in the length of our year?

Tags: Catholic Orthodox Church Easter Christian

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