Happy early Easter

Two weeks ago, you might have been surprised that it was time to turn your clocks ahead because of the arrival of daylight-saving time.

And now, you might be caught off guard as you realize Easter is Sunday.

Surely, you think, Easter can't appear this early: It's still March.

We tend to think that way because while Easter for Christians in the Western world can appear any time between March 22 and April 25, ”It tends to fall in the middle range,“ said the Rev. Woody Berry, pastor of Maxwell Street Presbyterian Church in Lexington. Easter for 2009 will be observed on April 12.

”Easter is what's called a "movable feast,' meaning that the date changes,“ Berry said.

He explained that for the first 300 years after the Crucifixion of Jesus, Christians thought Easter should be tied to the Jewish recognition of Passover, and consequently Easter did not always fall on a Sunday.

The Nicene Council, a meeting convened in 325 by the Christian Roman emperor Constantine, did not set a fixed date for Easter, but it agreed that Easter should be celebrated on a Sunday.

Two centuries later, the system for determining which Sunday Easter would fall upon was established by Pope Gregory XIII when he created the Gregorian calendar. At the same time the date for Easter was established, Leap Year also was established.

The Gregorian calendar states that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon to appear after the vernal, or spring, equinox.

The vernal equinox appears each year on March 21, meaning the earliest that Easter could ever be celebrated is March 22.

It's unlikely, however, that you will see Easter occur this early again. The next time Easter will fall on March 23 is in 2160, Berry said. And worshipers who hope to celebrate Easter on March 22 will have their next opportunity in 2285.

Not all Christians celebrate Easter on the same day. For 250 million Orthodox Christians throughout the world, including 6 million in the United States, the day is celebrated this year on April 27.

For Orthodox Christians (including Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox), the date of Easter, or Pascha, also is determined by the first full moon that follows the spring equinox. But Orthodox faiths also hold to the belief that the Nicene Council of 325 decreed that Easter must always be observed after the Hebrew Passover to maintain the Biblical sequence of events of the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.

”We can't celebrate Pascha until the Jews celebrate Passover,“ said the Rev. Father George Wilson of the Greek Orthodox Church Panagia Pantovasilissa in Lexington.

Because Passover is not observed this year until April 19-20, Pascha is celebrated on April 27.

Orthodox faiths in America have modified the dates of other religious holidays, however. For example, Christmas is celebrated Dec. 25. But Orthodox faiths in Jerusalem, Serbia and Russia do not observe Christmas until the first week of January, Wilson said.