The Christian festival of Easter celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The spring festival has its roots in the Jewish Passover, which commemorates Israel's deliverance from the bondage of Egypt, and in the Christian reinterpretation of its meaning after the crucifixion of Jesus during the Passover of AD c.30 and the proclamation of his resurrection three days later. Early Christians observed Easter on the same day as Passover (14-15 Nisan, a date governed by a lunar calendar). In the 2nd century, the Christian celebration was transferred to the Sunday following the 14-15 Nisan, if that day fell on a weekday. Originally, the Christian Easter was a unitive celebration, but in the 4th century Good Friday became a separate commemoration of the death of Christ, and Easter was thereafter devoted exclusively to the resurrection.
According to the Venerable Bede, the name Easter is derived from the pagan spring festival of the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre, and many folk customs associated with Easter (for example, Easter eggs) are of pagan origin. Easter Day is currently determined as the first Sunday after the full moon on or after March 21. The Eastern Orthodox churches, however, follow the Julian rather than the Gregorian calendar, so their celebration usually falls several weeks later than the Western Easter. Easter is preceded by the period of preparation called Lent.
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Bibliography: Dix, Gregory, The Shape of the Liturgy, 2nd ed. (1945); McArthur, A. A., The Evolution of the Christian Year (1953); Perry, C.A., The Resurrection Promise (1986).
Easter is the annual day and season commemorating the resurrection of Christ. As the oldest and most important movable feast, its date determines the arrangement of the Christian liturgical year.
In Germanic languages the words used (English easter; German ostern) are thought to derive either from the name of an obscure Germanic goddess of spring, Eastre (a view popularized by the English monk Bede), or, more likely, from an Old German root for dawn or east (the time and place of the rising sun). At an early date and for obscure reasons these Germanic words came to translate the Greek pascha (from the Hebrew pesah), the biblical word for the paschal (passover) feast used by most of the Romance languages (French paques; Italian pasqua).
The early development of the celebration of Easter and the attendant calendar disputes were largely a result of Christianity's attempt to emancipate itself from Judaism. Sunday had already replaced the Jewish sabbath early in the second century, and despite efforts in Asia Minor to maintain the Jewish passover date of 14 Nisan for Easter (hence the name Quartodecimans), the Council of Nicaea adopted the annual Sunday following the full moon after the vernal equinox (March 21). Unfortunately, different methods of Easter reckoning devised to reconcile the Jewish lunar and Roman solar calendars led to several disputes, such as the one in seventh century Britain between Celtic and Roman Christianity. Even the notable calendar reform sponsored by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 was primarily an attempt to keep Easter in the spring by correcting the drift (eleven days at the point) of the less accurate Julian calendar. Since Eastern Orthodox still follows the old calendar, it can be as much as five weeks at variance with the other churches in celebrating Easter. In recent years concern for Christian unity has led to proposals for a universal fixed date such as the second Sunday in April. This in turn would make possible the creation of uniform world liturgy.
Originally Easter was a unitary night celebration (like passover), recalling both the death and resurrection of Christ. The ceremony included the lighting of the paschal candle, prayer, readings from Scripture, and the joyful celebration of Eucharist. This also became the ideal occasion for baptisms (with resurrection life symbolized by white robes) and led in turn to the lengthening of the brief preparatory period into the forty days of Lent (paralleling Christ's forty-day fast before his passion). Accordingly, after the fourth century the unitary feast was broken up into several parts and the resurrection came to be celebrated separately on Easter Sunday morning, with Eastertide extending another forty or fifty days. Over the centuries many popular customs have been added reflecting pagan spring folklore (Easter egg and rabbit) as well as Jewish and Christian sources.
R K Bishop
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)
L. Cowie and J. Gummer, The Christian Year; G. Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy; D. Jones, G. Wainwright, and E. Yarnold, The Study of the Liturgy; F. Weiser, The Easter Book; E. Zerubavel, "Easter and Passover: On Calendars and Group Identity," ASR, Apr., 1982.
Easter was originally a Saxon word (Eostre), denoting a goddess of the Saxons, in honour of whom sacrifices were offered about the time of the Passover. Hence the name came to be given to the festival of the Resurrection of Christ, which occured at the time of the Passover. In the early English versions this word was frequently used as the translation of the Greek pascha (the Passover). When the Authorized Version (1611) was formed, the word "passover" was used in all passages in which this word pascha occurred, except in Act 12:4. In the Revised Version the proper word, "passover," is always used.
(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)
Pascha normally falls either one or five weeks later than the feast as observed by Christians who follow the Gregorian calendar. However, occasionally the two observances coincide, and on occasion they can be four weeks apart. The reason for the difference is that, though the two calendars use the same underlying formula to determine the festival, they compute from different starting points. The older Julian calendar's solar calendar is 13 days behind the Gregorian's and its lunar calendar is four to five days behind the Gregorian's.
The doors are opened and the faithful re-enter. The church is brightly lit and adorned with flowers. It is the heavenly bride and the symbol of the empty tomb. The celebrants change to white vestments, the bright robes of the resurrection. The Easter icon stands in the center of the church, where the grave just was. It shows Christ destroying the gates of hell and freeing Adam and Eve from the captivity of death. There constant proclamation of the celebrant: Christ is risen! The faithful continually respond: Indeed he is risen! and censing of the icons and the people.
Following the entrance into the church, the Paschal canon ascribed to St. John of Damascus is chanted with the Paschal troparion as the constantly recurring refrain. Matins ends with the Paschal stichera:
The readings take the faithful back again to the beginning, and announces God's creation and re-creation of the world through the living Word of God, his Son Jesus Christ.
The epistle reading is the first nine verses of the Book of Acts. The gospel reading is the first seventeen verses of the Gospel of John. It is customary on this day to read the Gospel in several languages.
The Liturgy of St John Chrysostom continues as usual. Holy communion has, again and again, the troparion of the Resurrection. It is sung while the faithful partake. To Orthodox Christians, receiving communion on Easter Sunday is very important. Many parishes take the Paschal Sermon of St. John Chrysostom literally and commune all Orthodox Christians who are in attendance.
This new day is conveyed to the faithful in the length of the paschal services, in the repetition of the paschal order for all the services of Bright Week, and in the special paschal features retained in the services for the forty days until Ascension. Forty days are, as it were, treated as one day.
In Greek practice there is a lamb soup that is shared after the Liturgy. In Slavic practice, foods which were blessed earlier are shared.
Another tradition at the feast of the Pascha, is the consecration of a bread stamped with the image of the Cross, or of the Resurrection, named Artos. This special Artos is consecrated at the close of the Paschal Liturgy in memory of the Risen Christ, Who is "the Bread of Life Eternal descended from Heaven and nourishing us with the food of His divine mercies." On the next Saturday, after the Liturgy, it is broken and distributed in the place of Antidoron.
The faithful also sometimes exchange Red-dyed egg. The egg symbolizes the renovated life, received through the Blood of Christ.
The origin of the term Easter comes from the Germanic name for the month in which the Christian feast usually fell, and so, just as the American civic holiday of the Fourth of July has nothing to do with Julius Caesar for whom July was named, neither does Easter have anything to do with the pagan goddess Eostre, the namesake of the month in which Pascha fell. This potential difficulty only exists for speakers of Germanic languages, however. Most languages in the world use a cognate form of the Greek term Pascha and so are free of any pagan connotations for the name of the feast.
According to Bede, writing in De Tempore Rationum ("On the Reckoning of Time"), Ch. xv, "The English months," the word is derived from Eostre, a festival. Bede connects it with an Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, to whom the month answering to our April, and called Eostur-monath, was dedicated. The connection is often assumed, without quoting Bede himself, who says,
Kontakion (Tone 8)
Paschal hymn to the Theotokos:
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