We have lived with an enormous blessing, and most of us have had no idea of its existence, let alone its importance. I am so sorry to say that this tremendous blessing has recently left us, for a time at least. For the past two years, our celebration of Pascha (aka, Easter) has been aligned among all Apostolic Christians, and indeed also with our Protestant brethren. But three Sundays ago, this came to a halt for many of us, after almost three years of living in harmony. For most Byzantine Catholics in the US, our parish life shifted to the start of preparing for Lent with the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. Most Orthodox Churches (excepting those liturgically and linguistically rare folks in Finland, who celebrate Pascha with Western Christians), however, did not begin this preparation until the following week.
We lost the union of praying together to prepare for and celebrate the Feast of Feasts.
Gone was my ability to do something like push a button on my Android phone to read the daily scriptural readings from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. For the past two years, the verses we try to read on a daily basis were in harmony with fellow Byzantine Christians, despite our lack of intercommunion as Churches. Gone also was the perfect timing between Byzantine Catholics and Orthodox, which could be seen by the wonderful sets of reflections and talks about the liturgical year offered by Ancient Faith Radio.
This was what actually started my thinking about the matter some days back. It was the week after the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, where we who are Greek Catholics had already progressed to the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. But my Ancient Faith Podcast feed was just then posting about the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee instead of the Prodigal Son, because they were one week behind in their preparation for Lent, just as they will be one week behind us when we celebrate Pascha this year. Knowing that this was the case caused a deep pain in my heart. It was a pain that I knew about conceptually but had not really experienced, because my life of being immersed in the liturgical calendar did not really begin until just after the last Pascha where we were out of sync, in 2009.
I’m almost thankful that I was still a Protestant in the spring of 2008, for at that juncture the Orthodox and Catholics were a staggering one month and four days apart from each other (April 27th and March 23rd, respectively). One week is painful enough, but to endure over 30 days of dissonance would have been a horrible trial. I do not envy those of you whose hearts were attuned to this then, for the 7 day difference has weighed heavily on me for the past few weeks.
How can we settle this?
We can argue about vernal equinoxes and the like until our faces are red, but at the end of the day, our voices are not joined in unison. We are saying Christos Voskrese, Christ is Risen, Cristos Anesti, Cristo ha Resucitado, Al Maseeh Qam, and the like, but on different days. Some of us are preparing for the most solemn fasting, and others of us are in the throes of the most wondrous feasting. My brethren, this ought not be so.
On the one hand, I am thankful that I am in communion with Western Catholics, and living this out with a unified date for Pascha between Catholics (in the USA, but not in other parts of the world like Ukraine) emphasizes this. But for so much of the year, it’s acceptable and almost a matter of course that our life as Catholics from unique particular Churches and Rites will see the same truth from a different angle. In that sense, living with a difference with my Latin Rite brethren with regard to Pascha is easier to swallow than the current state of affairs. In the current period of preparation for Pascha, we have daughters of the same Byzantine patrimony that have been fed from the same source, and yet we are out of sync. It is thus almost more painful to not be aligned with these Orthodox Christians with whom I am not in full communion than it is to be aligned with Roman Catholics. I almost wonder if our liturgical life would be more harmonious if we American Greek Catholics celebrated Pascha with our Orthodox Brethren. Ultimately, this is a lose-lose situation at present. It underscores the same sad truth that continues to echo in our ears, if we have ears to hear. Our lack of communion with one another must end. And Our Lord’s Prayer in the Upper Room must resonate again in our ears: “May they be one, as Thou and I art one…”
I am thankful for statements like this, put forth by the Orthodox and Catholic Bishops in the US, and hope and pray that this common desire for a unified date of Pascha will be realized in our lifetime.
In closing, I would ask this of you, dearest reader: Does this lack of a unified voice celebrating the Resurrection of Christ cause you to pray for unity? If not, perhaps we have given up hope? As we begin the Great Fast of Lent, may we all hear the same message, even if it does start on different weeks for now.