We first reported on this development last year. Now, it’s closer to becoming a reality.
For the past 15 years, Catholic parishes throughout the Palestinian territories and many in Israel have been celebrating Easter on the Greek Orthodox date. Now, following a directive from the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, within two years all Eastern Catholics and the Latin Patriarchate in the Holy Land will officially adopt the Greek Orthodox Julian calendar date.
The Latin Patriarchate calls the move a “decisive step toward ecumenism.” The official directive will take place after completion of the decree and approval by the Vatican.
“The main reason for the unification of the Easter celebration is for members of the same family, village and parish to be able to have one celebration, and one calendar, and to show the unity and enjoy the unity. We want to give a good example of unity to our non-Christian neighbors,” said the Latin Patriarchate chancellor, Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali.
The Latin-rite diocese of the Holy Land includes Israel, the Palestinian territories and Cyprus. Parishes in Jerusalem and the Bethlehem, West Bank, area will be exempt this year because of the Status Quo, the 1852 agreement that preserved the division of ownership and responsibilities of various Christian holy sites. The parish in Tel Aviv has also received an exemption for this year since there are many foreign workers who are members of the parish.
The Greek Orthodox Church follows the Julian calendar and did not adopt the Gregorian calendar, which was implemented by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 to correct a miscalculation in the rotation of the earth.
Next year, Easter falls on the same day according to both calendars, so the change by decree will only be adopted in 2015.
The spirit of the holiday is lost if it is celebrated on separate dates, said Father Raed Abusahlia of Holy Family Parish in Ramallah, West Bank. Easter in the Eastern church is all of Holy Week, starting with Palm Sunday, and includes special prayers during the week, he said.
“The liturgy is very beautiful if done together as a family. It can’t be spiritual if it is only part of the family,” he said. During the week following Easter there are traditional holiday family visits as well, he added.