The Easter Dispute of 1007

Emperor Basil II

Now that this year's Easter festivities have passed, I can post this...

We first hear of the Easter dispute of 1007 in Volume 1 of Matthew of Edessa’s Chronicle. The story was later summarized in Smbat Sparapet’s Chronicle as follows:

In the year 455 A.E. [1006] Emperor Basil once again entered the territory of the Bulghars with numerous troops and waged many battles there for an extended period. In these days there was a great disturbance in Constantinople, for they strayed from [celebrating] the feast of Easter [on its] correct [date], and instead moved it to Palm Sunday. They did the same at Jerusalem and, in their arrogance, divided all the peoples in contention. [The miraculous] flame [in Jerusalem’s Church of the Resurrection] did not [spontaneously] light on that Easter. When the infidels who were in Jerusalem saw such confusion, they attacked the [Christian] houses of prayer killing without mercy, to the point that the blessed Church of the Resurrection was filled with blood. Meanwhile Emperor Basil had subdued the Bulghars and returned to Constantinople. There he learned about the erroneous Easter [controversy] and questioned the Byzantine sages about the causes [of the unrest]. They responded with lies and began to mislead the emperor. When the emperor realized this, he wrote to the Armenians, to King Yovhane’s of Armenia, regarding the matter so that he would quickly send to the emperor vardapets and wise men. King Yovhanne’s sent to Yovse’p’, abbot of [the monastery of] Andzawats’eats’, and Yovhanne’s Kozer’n, but they did not want to go. Rather they sent a letter explaining the matter. The [Byzantine] clerics, however, did not accept this, so [Basil] wrote a second time, this time insistently and with great entreaty, to Lord Sargis, the Catholicos, and to King Yovhanne’s, for them to apply themselves to the matter. Thus, they quickly sent to him the vardapet Lord Samue’l. [The emperor] was overjoyed by this, and designated [Samue’l] to speak with the Byzantine sages in an investigation. They brought forth all the writings of the Byzantines, but were unable to refute him. Samue’l began [his review] with the first day of Creation and brought it right down to the present [situation], explaining and confirming all the calendrical reasons [for the celebration of Easter on the proper day]. His words were very pleasing to Emperor Basil. When the Byzantine sages had been bested, they told the king about an extremely learned and brilliant Hebrew man living in Cyprus. The emperor had him quickly brought to Constantinople. The Hebrew man attended the deliberations. He listened to the statements of vardapet Samue’l and agreed with them. The emperor greatly praised his wisdom, causing great embarrassment to the Byzantine sages. Disenchanted with them, the emperor deprived them of [their] honor, while he sent the vardapet, Lord Samue’l, back to his own land with many gifts. Thereafter the Armenians were praised.

Tara Andrews adds

The first cracks in Christian virtue and harmony may be seen in Matthew’s account of the Easter dispute of 1007. This arose from a periodic discrepancy between the Chalcedonian and Monophysite methods of calculation of the date of Easter; the conflict is also recorded in the chronicles of Yahyā ibn Saʿid (here) and Michael the Syrian (here), although neither of those accounts give a significant role to Armenian scholars in the debate.


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