Saturday, April 8, 2023

An Historical Perspective on Passover, Easter, and Paska


Last Wednesday night was the first Passover Seder.  Tomorrow is Easter in Western Christianity,  and next Sunday is Orthodox (Greek) Easter. I thought it might be helpful to review how these most serious of holidays, linked together as they are through history, manage to jump around as much as they do from year to year.

Passover or Pesach always takes place around the same time as Easter or Paska because the holiday of Passover, commemorating God’s liberation of the Jewish People from slavery in Egypt, was the occasion for the Last Supper.  In fact, before the year 325 Easter was calculated upon the lunar-based Hebrew calendar and all one had to do to determine the date for Easter was to “ask a Jew in your community” when Passover was celebrated.

All that changed in 325 when the First Ecumenical Synod calculated the exact date of Easter from the more modern cycles of the sun-based Julian calendar.  That became Christianity’s generally accepted method for calculating the date of Easter and continued to be so for more than five hundred years after the Great Schism of 1052 separated the Church of the West to Rome and the Church of the East to Constantinople (Istanbul).

Then, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduced what is known as the Gregorian calendar for the express purpose of correctly calculating Easter, something the Julian calendar was not believed to have achieved.  Today, the Gregorian calendar is the world’s officially accepted civil calendar (except in Greece’s 1500 year-old monastic community of Mount Athos—see Prey on Patmos), but there still is not agreement among the Christian world over whether it correctly fixes the date of Easter. 

Indeed, as recently as 1997 the World Council of Churches proposed a method of using modern scientific knowledge for precisely calculating Easter and replacing divergent practices.  It was not adopted.

As for how Passover fits into all this, Julian calendar Easter always falls on a Sunday after the first day of the eight-day Passover holiday and generally within those eight days (but not in 2023), though at times more than a month later.  Western Easter, relying on the Gregorian calendar, also generally falls within Passover’s eight days, though three times in every nineteen-year period it falls a month before Passover.

Yes, that’s why Easter is considered a moveable feast, as opposed to Christmas that always occurs on the same date.

Having gone back 1700 years or so, to reminisce on the influence of past events upon the present, I thought I'd conclude this post with a redux presentation of photographs of what Eastertime looked like on Mykonos and its companion island of Delos some dozen years ago.  The photographs are from the files of the master collector of all things visual Mykonian, Dimitris Koutsoukas.  Enjoy.


And a Happy Easter, Kalo Paska, and Zissen Pesach to all. 



  1. Greece looks gorgeous, Jeff! Whatever the date, they seem to get the weather right!

  2. I can't wait to be back there in few weeks, Michael!

  3. And a very happy Passover , Easter to you too, Jeff

    1. Thank you, Henrik, and all the very best of the holidays to you and your family.

  4. Our introduction to Greek Easter was on the island of Mykonos. Windswept, sunny Mykonos where we pulled out the long johns and wore them non-stop!! We might say our Easter celebration was a chilling experience! :-)