by  Habte Giorgis Churnet


The greatest mystery in all Christendom is the Resurrection.  Jesus arrived in Jerusalem riding a donkey and people received him by placing palms on the route (Palm Sunday).  He had the last Supper on Thursday (Passover, which occurred on a full moon preceded by the Vernal equinox).  He was crucified the next day, Friday, and Resurrected on Sunday. Jesus had spent forty days in the desert combating the devil before He began His public ministry of announcing salvation to the repentant and judgment to those who continued to rebel against God.  In remembrance of that event, the festivities associated with the Resurrection (Pascha, Easter, "Tensae") are preceded at least by forty days of lent, depending on the church. The reasons for the differences in the number of Lenten days among churches and hence their practices and the calendar used by each are quite complex and are briefly described below.


The crucifixion is related to the Last Supper (the Passover, which commemorates the exodus of Jews from slavery in Egypt).  The Passover was originally celebrated on the New Moon after the vernal equinox. However, after the dispersal of the Jews in AD 70, the Passover was reckoned by some to precede the vernal equinox in some years.  Accordingly, the churches that associated Pascha (Easter) with the Passover had acquired different dates for the same Resurrection.  Wanting to homogenize the practices of churches within his empire, the Roman Emperor Constantine1, had ordered the church leaders to hold a conference. The church leaders held a conference in AD 325 at Nicaea and had agreed on many issues2 including disregarding Jewish custom as a criterion for fixing Pasha (Easter), enforcing the practice of Rome and Alexandria, namely holding Easter the Sunday after the first Full Moon of the vernal. Yet, the Western churches emphasized agreements on enforcing the practice of Rome, while the Eastern churches emphasized holding Pascha on the Sunday after the first Full Moon of the vernal.  The disagreement was exacerbated in the 16th century when the Gregorian calendar was proposed as a correction to the Julian calendar.


Julius Caesar had ordered in 46 BC that a correction be made to the calendar of 365 days of the Egyptian tradition3 by adding a leap year to it, so that a year would have 365.25 days.  Hence, the Julian calendar is based on a Sidereal year, which is determined with reference to a far off star, and does not exactly replicate the natural rhythms of the Earth as a Tropical year of 365.2422 days, which is determined from the period of the equinoxes4, does. Quite simply, the vernal (spring equinox) would not repeat on the same day (March 21) each year if the Tropical year were not to be used.  The Tropical year is shorter than the Sidereal year by 0.0078 days in 1 year, or by 1 day in about every 130 years. To maintain the vernal repeat on March 21, and pin down the Sunday for the Resurrection as agreed to in the AD 325 Nicaea First World Church Council, the Julian calendar, which is based on the Sidereal year, must be adjusted to the Tropical year.  About 13 centuries later in 1582, Pope Gregory XII ordered that 10 days be dropped from the Julian calendar and that 3 leap years be dropped for every 400 years thereafter.  Though the Gregorian calendar serves as a civil calendar in most Western countries, the Orthodox churches continued to use the Julian calendar for religious events. Currently, about 17 centuries after the Nicaea Council, the vernal on the Julian calendar lies on April 3, thirteen days later than shown on the Gregorian calendar.  Consequently, for the Orthodox, Pascha ("Tensae") cannot occur before April 3 in the 21st and subsequent centuries. Though the Gregorian calendar with March 21 as the date for the vernal better corresponds to the seasonal rhythm of the Earth, the religious calendar has its own dynamic that dates to the AD 325 Nicaea Conference.  Yet another World Church Council, which aimed to bring an agreement between Christians, had resulted in bringing more disagreement.


In the AD 451, the World Church Council that was held at Chalcedon had determined that the divine and human nature of Jesus are inseparable but unmixed. The determination of Chalcedon was rejected by the Oriental Church5, which instead emphasized the supremacy of the Holy Trinity and underscored a merger of the nature of Christ, Who was born in Heaven without a mother and on Earth without a father (the double birthing doctrine, “Tewhedo”).  Those that have the doctrine of the unmixed dual nature belong to the Western Roman Empire (Catholics) and the Eastern Orthodox, while the Oriental Orthodox  (including the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church) believe in the double birthing doctrine. Though the Eastern Orthodox and Catholics have a similar doctrine on the nature of Christ they have other differences including on the length of the lent days that would precede the commemoration of the Crucifixion. On the other hand, the Eastern Orthodox churches and the Oriental Orthodox churches, while they have differences in the interpretation of the nature of Christ they nonetheless commemorate the Resurrection on the same day. However they differ on the number of days of lent before Pascha ("Tensae).  The Oriental church has a week of fasting that predates6 the Great Lent while the Eastern Orthodox Church does not. As provided in Table 1, Oriental churches have 56 days of lent ("Hudade") over a period of eight weeks, the Eastern Orthodox churches have 46 days of lent over a period of seven weeks, and the Western churches have 40 days of lent over a period of seven weeks.




 Table 1.  Lenten days of the Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox and Western churches. The months in the table refer to those of 2006.


Oriental  Orthodox Church (Ethiopian Tewahedo Church)

Eastern Orthodox Church

Western Churches

(Catholic Church and some Protestant Churches)

 Monday- Lent begins. Feb 27


Ash Wednesday - Lent begins, March 1

Ist Sunday in Lent, March 5

Clean Monday-Lent begins, March 6

Ist Sunday in Lent,  March 5

2nd Sunday in Lent, March 12

Ist Sunday in Lent, March 12

2nd Sunday in Lent, March 12

3rd Sunday in Lent, March 19

2nd Sunday in Lent, March 19

3rd Sunday in Lent, March 19

4th Sunday in Lent, March 26

3rd Sunday in Lent, March 26

4th Sunday in Lent, March 26

5th Sunday in Lent, April 2

4th Sunday in Lent, April 2

5th Sunday in Lent, April 2

6th Sunday in Lent, April 9

5th Sunday in Lent, April 9

Palm/ Passion Sunday 6th Sunday, April 9



Maundy/ Holy Thursday


Lazarus Saturday, April 15

Great Friday/Holy Friday

Palm Sunday, 7th Sunday, April 16, followed by H'maamaa't

Palm Sunday, 6th Sunday, April 16, followed by Holy Week

Easter, Resurrection, 7th Sunday, April 16

“Tselota” Hamus, April 13

Holy Thursday, April 13


“Seklat”, April 14

Good Friday, April 14


“Tensae”, Resurrection, 8th Sunday, April 23

Pascha, Resurrection, 7th Sunday,

April 23





* No days are exempted from fasting from March 27 through April 22.  The “Great fast” of forty days is from March 6 through April 15. Total fasting days are fifty six

* No days are exempted in the Great Lent of forty days, from Clean Monday (March 6) up to The Lazarus Saturday (April 15). The Lazarus and Palm Sunday are festivity days, and fasting resumes on Monday through the Holy week to Easter. Total fasting days are fortysix days of fasting.

* Sunday (the Lord's day) is exempt from fasting and the Forty Lenten Days are from Ash Wednesday (March 1) up to Easter (April 16).  Total fasting days are forty.


Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) predates Ash Wednesday.







1.  Christianity in Ethiopia.

The beginning of Christianity in Ethiopia the Ethiopian Emperor Ezana proclaimed Christianity as the religion of his country during the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine. However, Christianity was introduced to Ethiopia much before that, once when the eunuch was baptized in Gaza by the order of Apostle Phillip, and then again when the Apostle Matthew preached and died in Ethiopia.


2. Fixing the Christian era and the Resurrection: from St. Cyrl to Dionysius Exiguus.

St. Cyrl prepared a table of dates for fixing the Resurrection and other holidays as per the Nicaea agreement and beginning with the vernal of that time and ending on a vernal equinox. As was the practice of sequencing events, the Cyrillian table of dates showed dates of regnal years, such as the reign of Diocletian. Diocletian was a great Roman Emperor, who divided the empire into the Eastern to be ruled from what became Constantinople and Western to be ruled from Rome. He was also a pagan that butchered Christians.  St. Cyrl began the Christian era (CE) as Anno Martyrium (AM) in memory of Christian martyrs and assigned the CE to begin with regnal year of Diocletian.


Dionysius Exiguus, a 6th Century Russian monk who lived in Rome, and whose computation for coincidences of cyclic periods were well known, was asked to extend the Cyrillian table of dates.  Dionysius did not want Diocletian to be remembered, and proposed a year that he called Anni Domini Jesus Christi (AD) as the CE.  That proposed year was 532 years before the end of the tables of dates worked out by St. Cyril as per the AD 325 Nicaea agreement of the world council of Churches.  It showed that the reign of Diocletian began in AD 284. When did the Christian era (CE) begin?  Dionysius reckoning would indicate that Christ was born on the vernal equinox 284 years before the reign of Diocletian, and that constitutes the beginning of the CE. For Ethiopians the Christian era began 7 years before the Dionysius reckoning, whereas for the Egyptian it began on AD 284. Thus, AD 285 in Western Christians corresponds to AD 278 in both the Ethiopian civic and Orthodox Church calendar, and to AM 1 in Egyptian Coptic Church calendar.


3. Ancient Egyptian calendar.

The ancient Egyptian calendar of 365 days was determined by sighting at Sirius (the dog star) when it appeared above the horizon during sunrise and by counting the number of days it took for a similar sighting.  It is a sidereal year.  Their new year was set to start at the date of the first flooding of the Nile River after it was swollen with the rains in Ethiopia.  Because their calendar of 365 days rotates faster than a tropical year of 365.2422, which is based of the rhythms of the Earth and the repetition of the seasons, the date of their new year rotates by about 0.24 days in a year, or 24 years in a century.  The priests subtracted an appropriate number of days from the civil calendar in order to know when the flooding of the Nile begins so that farmers can saw seeds on their farmlands.  By using the Gregorian calendar reckoning of dates the ancient Egyptians began their new year on June 21 that corresponds to the flooding of the Nile.  Yet, over many centuries the New Year for the Copts began on Tut 1 (Meskrem 1 in Ethiopian). Because the flooding event had rotated on the civil calendar over the centuries, a major event must have happened in the year when the civil calendar coincided with the beginning of flooding event of the Nile on Tut 1, for this date to remain as the beginning of the year ever since.  Perhaps this event was AD 30, when Emperor Augustus Caesar enforced the application of a leap year that Julius Caesar had ordered in BC 46.


Considering that recorded Egyptian history extends for thousands of years, the westward precession of the equinoxes results in shifting the vernal to later dates.  Hence, Egyptologists will have to consider the precession of the equinoxes when sequencing events, and describing the flooding of the Nile over the thousands of centuries of Egyptian history.


4. Equinoxes. 

Equinoxes are days and nights that have equal 12 hours each.  The earth rotes on a spin axis, that is inclined by 23 ½ °.  Consequently, there are four seasons in a year, which is measured by the Earth completing one revolution around the Sun. For half of the year the Sun lies north of the equator, and the days have longer hours than the nights for countries in the Northern hemisphere.  For the other half of the year the Sun lies South of the equator, and the days have shorter hours than the nights for countries in the Northern hemisphere.  The sun is directly above the equator only twice a year, on March 21 and September 21, which are called the equinoxes because the days and the nights have equal 12 hours each at these two dates.


5. Persecution of non-Chalcedonites. 

Priests that rejected the doctrine of the nature of Christ that was adopted at the Chalcedon council were persecuted and several fled to different lands. Nine of them who immigrated to Ethiopia from Syria and adjacent regions in the AD 5th century established monasteries and helped spread Christianity.  They are known as the nine saints.



6. The week of lent that precede the Great Lent: A historical note.

Based on a translation of the Fetaha Nagast (Glory of Kings) it was found that the Byzantium Emperor Heracles severely punished the Jews of Jerusalem in the early part of the AD 7th century for they sided with the invading Persians against the interest of Christians. Prior to that event the Jews had caused Heracles to take an oath assuring them that he would not harm them. The Oriental Church Christians pleaded with the emperor and caused him to take severe action against the Jews for a promise that they would fast for a week to absolve him from the consequences of his breaking an oath that he earlier made to the Jews. They apparently is the reason for appended a week as a lent to precede the Great Lent.  The above is abridged from quite a short note made by Professor Getatchew Haile in his Happy Easter wish of 2006. See the Amharic note attached.




Getatchew Haile, 2006. "enquan tshome liguamun fetalchehu".

Getatchew Haile, 2000. Bahre Hassab, P.O. Box 113, Avon Minnesotan, 56310 USA.

Lewis J. Patsavos, 2001.



HG, 4/28/2006