Roman Catholic Pope Francis took a big step towards unity with Orthodox Christians by proposing that the churches work together to come up with a single day of celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ— the most important holiday for all Christians.
Meeting a group of priests in Rome June 12, Pope Francis said the Catholic Church “is willing to establish a fixed date for Easter so that it can be celebrated on the same day by all Christians, whether Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox.”
In the current situation, he said, being ironic, “A Catholic and an Orthodox meet. One says, ‘Your Christ has risen? Mine rises next Sunday.’”
The matter came up again on June 19th when Pope Francis met with the Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, Ignatius Aphrem II, at the Vatican on June 19th.
The two church leaders spoke privately, after which each gave a public discourse.
“We express our desire and readiness to look for new ways that will bring our churches even closer to each other, paving the way for Antioch and Rome, the only two apostolic sees where St. Peter preached, to establish full communion,” Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem said.
The patriarch also expressed his church’s readiness to come to an agreement to celebrate Easter on a common date. He said the Holy Synod of Antioch, motivated by the Second Vatican Council, adopted a resolution in 1981, expressing “the eagerness of our church” to celebrate Easter “on a fixed Sunday in April” in common with other Christian churches.
The celebration of Easter “on two different dates is a source of great discomfort and weakens the common witness of the church in the world,” he said, thanking Francis for recently “considering to take the initiative to lead the efforts on this matter.”
No official statement has come from the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, seen as the “First amongst equals” of all of the Orthodox Christian jurisdictions.