Lessons from the East
This Sunday is April 20 on our calendar, but on the Jewish calendar it is also the 14th day of the month of Nisan — in other words, the Feast of Passover.
A c t u a l l y, since the Jewish calendar counts time from sunset to sunset, the Passover will officially begin at sunset Saturday night.
The feast of Passover goes back to the time of Moses, making this event the oldest continuously celebrated religious festival in the world. Jesus, of course, kept the feast of Passover with his disciples in Jerusalem on the night he was arrested, (Matthew 26:17-30).
Sunday is also celebrated as Palm Sunday by the approximately 250 million Eastern Orthodox Christians around the world.
The Orthodox churches include the Christian communities that grew up in the Middle East, Asia Minor, Northeastern Africa, the Balkans and Eastern Europe. They are the oldest Christian communities in the world.
The reason the Orthodox will be keeping this Sunday as Palm Sunday is that they believe that Easter should never come before Passover. They recognize that in the life of Jesus the last supper came before the resurrection.
So if Passover is this Sunday, why did most of us celebrate Easter on March 23?
The reason is that most of us are in churches with roots back to Western Europe, where the Roman Catholic Church set the calendar. The Roman Catholics had split with the Eastern Orthodox in 1054 A.D. in event called “the Great Schism.”
It was the Roman branch of Christianity which spread through Europe, and they had their own formula for calculating the date of Easter — the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox, I think. Western Christianity has followed the lead the Roman Catholic Church, consequently, most of us celebrated Easter a month early this year.
“Who cares when we celebrate Easter, as long as all Christians do, in fact, celebrate Easter?”
True, but here is the point. We Protestants and Catholics could learn a few things from the senior branch of Christianity.
First, we could learn a better way for calculating the date of Easter.
Second, we could learn something of the importance of marriage for ministers.
The Easter Orthodox Church encourages men to get married prior to entering the ministry. Their practice is very close to the words of the Apostle Paul, who wrote, “An elder should be the husband of but one wife,” (Titus 1:6).
Sexual scandals are rare in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the reason may well be their strong support for marriage.
On the plane to America Tuesday, Pope Benedict XVI said that he was “deeply ashamed” of the sexual abuse scandals that have shaken the Roman Catholic Church in America.
He pledged greater efforts by the church to bar pedophiles from the priesthood, and he said, “It is more important to have good priests than to have many priests.”
The Pope was flying west on Tuesday, but I think he needs to look east.
Good priests are not just born, they are made. The Roman Catholics would do well to adopt the practice of the oldest Christian community and to encourage their young men to get married prior to going into the priesthood, because the best way to prevent perverted sexual practices is to encourage healthy sexual practices among married adults.