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Constantine’s Folly

Why doesn’t the Church follow the Biblical calendar? 

We have already discovered that the Old Testament feast of Shavuot (Feast of Weeks) and the New Testament Day of Pentecost are one and the same. Yet we celebrated Pentecost a fortnight ago and Shavuot doesn’t appear on the calendar for another two weeks. What has happened here? Nothing less than a disconnect that we can place at the foot of a 4th century Emperor.

This was Constantine the Great, the first “Christian” Emperor, who officially set the seal on the growing Church trend at that time of rejecting anything too Jewish. This process began at the end of the 1st  Century AD, as soon as the first generation of Jesus’ companions, his Jewish disciples, died out and Church leadership passed to the Gentile world, to philosophers and thinkers who had grown up in the pagan Greek culture. Constantine and his contemporaries may have been three hundred years down the line, but pagan influences had not gone away and had even strengthened their hold on the mainstream Church.

This is truly one of the tragedies of history and is something that the Western Church has still not recovered from. One outcome of the decision to sever the Church from its roots concerned the events of the passion, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, that we now know as Easter. The early Church continued to celebrate these events as Passover, the original setting in the Gospel story. But as anti-Jewish sentiment grew, the Church felt that it had to sever this tie, despite this action being contrary to Scripture:

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. (Ephesians 2:19-20)

Instead the foundations were moved … and redefined. After the first great meeting of the great and the good (and the not so good) of the Christian World, at Nicaea, Constantine declared:

"... it appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast we should follow the practice of the Jews, who have impiously defiled their hands with enormous sin, and are, therefore, deservedly afflicted with blindness of soul ... Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd; for we have received from our Saviour a different way”

This is just a small part of a huge story, a story that covers the mainstream Western Church with shame. We will revisit aspects of this story in future articles.

Instead of celebrating the events of Holy Week at the correct time of Passover, the meeting at Nicaea determined that Easter should be held on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox (a time when day and night are more or less the same duration). Pentecost is calculated as being seven weeks after Easter Sunday. In the same way the Biblical feast of Shavuot is calculated as being seven weeks after Passover.

So, apart from the rare times both calendars tarry, never the ‘twain shall meet. Perhaps it is time that they did and we free ourselves from Constantine’s folly.

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