Easter (; , Paskha; Pas a; from Pesa ) is the central feast in the Christian liturgical year. According to the Canonical gospels, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion. His resurrection is celebrated on Easter Day or Easter Sunday (also Resurrection Day or Resurrection Sunday). The chronology of his death and resurrection is variously interpreted to have occurred between AD 26 and 36.
Easter marks the end of Lent, a forty-day period of fasting, prayer, and penance. The last week of the Lent is called Holy Week, and it contains Good Friday, commemorating the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Easter is followed by a fifty-day period called Eastertide or the Easter Season, ending with Pentecost Sunday.
Easter is a moveable feast, meaning it is not fixed in relation to the civil calendar. The First Council of Nicaea (325) established the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the full moon (the Paschal Full Moon) following the northern hemisphere's vernal equinox. Ecclesiastically, the equinox is reckoned to be on March 21 (even though the equinox occurs, astronomically speaking, on March 20 in most years), and the "Full Moon" is not necessarily the astronomically correct date. The date of Easter therefore varies between March 22 and April 25. Eastern Christianity bases its calculations on the Julian Calendar whose March 21 corresponds, during the 21st century, to April 3 in the Gregorian Calendar, in which calendar their celebration of Easter therefore varies between April 4 and May 8.
Easter is linked to the Jewish Passover by much of its symbolism, as well as by its position in the calendar. In many languages, the words for "Easter" and "Passover" are etymologically related or homonymous.
Easter customs vary across the Christian world, but decorating Easter eggs is a common motif. In the Western world, customs such as egg hunting and the Easter Bunny extend from the domain of church, and often have a secular character.
English and German
Ostara (1884) by Johannes Gehrts
The modern English term Easter developed from the Old English word astre or ostre (), which itself developed prior to 899. The name refers to Eostur-monath (Old English " ostre month"), a month of the Germanic calendar attested by Bede, who writes that the month is named after the goddess ostre of Anglo-Saxon paganism. Bede notes that ostur-monath was the equivalent to the month of April, yet that feasts held in her honor during ostur-monath had gone out of use by the time of his writing and had been replaced with the Christian custom of the "Paschal season".
Using comparative linguistic evidence from continental Germanic sources, the 19th century scholar Jacob Grimm proposed the existence of a cognate form of ostre among the pre-Christian beliefs of the continental Germanic peoples, whose name he reconstructed as *Ostara.
Since Grimm's time, linguists have identified the goddess as a Germanic form of the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European goddess of the dawn, *Hausos and theories connecting ostre with records of Germanic Easter customs (including hares and eggs) have been proposed.
Modern German features the cognate term Ostern, but otherwise, Germanic languages generally use the non-native term pascha for the event (see below).
Semitic, Romance, Celtic and other Germanic languages
The Greek word and hence the Latin form Pascha is derived from Hebrew Pesach () meaning the festival of Passover. In Greek the word An stasis (upstanding, up-rising, resurrection) is used also as an alternative.
Christians speaking Arabic or other Semitic languages generally use names cognate to Pesa . For instance, the second word of the Arabic name of the festival , has the root F- - , which given the sound laws applicable to Arabic is cognate to Hebrew P-S- , with " " realized as in Modern Hebrew and in Arabic. Arabic also uses the term , , meaning "festival of the resurrection", but this term is less common. In Maltese the word is L-G id, where "G " stands for the common Semitic consonant Ayin, and is directly derived from Arabic d, which in both cases means "festival". In Ge'ez and the modern Ethiosemitic languages of Ethiopia and Eritrea, two forms exist: ("Fasika", f s k ) from Greek Pascha, and ("Tensae", tin ' ), the latter from the Semitic root N- -', meaning "to rise" (cf. Arabic nasha'a merged with "sh" in Arabic and most non-South Semitic languages).
Isenheim Altarpiece: The Resurrection]] by Matthias Gr newald, completed 1515 In all Romance languages, the name of the Easter festival is derived from the Latin Pascha. In Spanish, Easter is Pascua, in Italian and Catalan Pasqua, in Portuguese P scoa and in Romanian Pa ti. In French, the name of Easter P ques also derives from the Latin word but the s following the a has been lost and the two letters have been transformed into a with a circumflex accent by elision. Additionally in Romanian, the only Romance language of an Eastern church, the word nviere (resurrection, cf. Greek , ) is also used.
In all modern Celtic languages the term for Easter is derived from Latin. In Brythonic languages this has yielded Welsh Pasg, Cornish and Breton Pask. In Goidelic languages the word was borrowed before these languages had re-developed the /p/ sound and as a result the initial /p/ was replaced with /k/. This yielded Irish C isc, Gaelic C isg and Manx Caisht. These terms are normally used with the definite article in Goidelic languages, causing lenition in all cases: An Ch isc, A' Ch isg and Y Chaisht.
In Dutch, Easter is known as Pasen and in the Scandinavian languages Easter is known as p ske (Danish and Norwegian), p sk (Swedish), p skar (Icelandic) and p skir (Faeroese). The name is derived directly from Hebrew Pesach. The letter is pronounced , derived from an older aa, and an alternate spelling is paaske or paask.
In most Slavic languages, the name for Easter either means "Great Day" or "Great Night". For example, Wielkanoc, Ve k noc and Velikonoce mean "Great Night" or "Great Nights" in Polish, Slovak and Czech, respectively. (Veligden), (Velykden), (Velikden), and (Vyalikdzyen) mean "The Great Day" in Macedonian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, and Belarusian, respectively. In Croatian, however, the day's name reflects a particular theological connection: it is called Uskrs, meaning "Resurrection". It is also called Vazam (Vzem or Vuzem in Old Croatian), which is a noun that originated from the Old Church Slavonic verb vzeti (now uzeti in Croatian, meaning "to take"). In Serbian Easter is called Vaskrs, a liturgical form inherited from the Serbian recension of Church Slavonic, corresponding to Croatian Uskrs. The archaic term Velja no (velmi: Old Slavic for "great"; no : "night") was used in Croatian while the term Velikden ("Great Day") was used in Serbian. It should be noted that in these languages the prefix Velik (Great) is used in the names of the Holy Week and the three feast days preceding Easter. Another exception is Russian, in which the name of the feast, (Paskha), is a borrowing of the Greek form via Old Church Slavonic.
In Finnish the name for Easter p si inen, traces back to the verb p se- meaning to be released, as does the S mi word Beass at. The Estonian name lihav tted and the Hungarian h sv t, however, literally mean the taking of the meat, relating to the end of the Great Lent fasting period.
Orthodox]] icon of the Resurrection of Jesus.
The New Testament teaches that the resurrection of Jesus, which Easter celebrates, is a foundation of the Christian faith. The resurrection established Jesus as the powerful Son of God and is cited as proof that God will judge the world in righteousness. God has given Christians "a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead". Christians, through faith in the working of God are spiritually resurrected with Jesus so that they may walk in a new way of life.
Easter is linked to the Passover and Exodus from Egypt recorded in the Old Testament through the Last Supper and crucifixion that preceded the resurrection. According to the New Testament, Jesus gave the Passover meal a new meaning, as he prepared himself and his disciples for his death in the upper room during the Last Supper. He identified the loaf of bread and cup of wine as his body soon to be sacrificed and his blood soon to be shed. Paul states, "Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed"; this refers to the Passover requirement to have no yeast in the house and to the allegory of Jesus as the Paschal lamb.
One interpretation of the Gospel of John is that Jesus, as the Passover lamb, was crucified at roughly the same time as the Passover lambs were being slain in the temple, on the afternoon of Nisan 14. The scriptural instructions specify that the lamb is to be slain "between the two evenings", that is, at twilight. By the Roman period, however, the sacrifices were performed in the mid-afternoon. Josephus, Jewish War 6.10.1/423 ("They sacrifice from the ninth to the eleventh hour"). Philo, Special Laws 2.27/145 ("Many myriads of victims from noon till eventide are offered by the whole people"). This interpretation, however, is inconsistent with the chronology in the Synoptic Gospels. It assumes that text literally translated "the preparation of the passover" in refers to Nisan 14 (Preparation Day for the Passover) and not necessarily to Yom Shishi (Friday, Preparation Day for Sabbath) and that the priests' desire to be ritually pure in order to "eat the passover" refers to eating the Passover lamb, not to the public offerings made during the days of Unleavened Bread.
In the early Church
Jerusalem]] on the Via Dolorosa from the Lions' Gate to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The first Christians, Jewish and Gentile, were certainly aware of the Hebrew calendar (; ; ; ; ), but there is no direct evidence that they celebrated any specifically Christian annual festivals. Direct evidence for the Easter festival begins to appear in the mid-2nd century. Perhaps the earliest extant primary source referencing Easter is a mid-2nd century Paschal homily attributed to Melito of Sardis, which characterizes the celebration as a well-established one. Evidence for another kind of annual Christian festival, the commemoration of martyrs, begins to appear at about the same time as evidence for the celebration of Easter. But while martyrs' days (usually the individual dates of martyrdom) were celebrated on fixed dates in the local solar calendar, the date of Easter was fixed by means of the local Jewish lunisolar calendar. This is consistent with the celebration of Easter having entered Christianity during its earliest, Jewish period, but does not leave the question free of doubt.
The ecclesiastical historian Socrates Scholasticus (b. 380) attributes the observance of Easter by the church to the perpetuation of its custom, "just as many other customs have been established," stating that neither Jesus nor his Apostles enjoined the keeping of this or any other festival. Although he describes the details of the Easter celebration as deriving from local custom, he insists the feast itself is universally observed.
By the later 2nd century, it was accepted that the celebration of Pascha (Easter) was a practice of the disciples and an undisputed tradition. The Quartodeciman controversy, the first of several Paschal/Easter controversies, then arose concerning the date on which Pascha should be celebrated.
The term "Quartodeciman" refers to the practice of celebrating Pascha or Easter on Nisan 14 of the Hebrew calendar, "the 's passover" (). According to the church historian Eusebius, the Quartodeciman Polycarp (bishop of Smyrna, by tradition a disciple of John the Evangelist) debated the question with Anicetus (bishop of Rome). The Roman province of Asia was Quartodeciman, while the Roman and Alexandrian churches continued the fast until the Sunday following, wishing to associate Easter with Sunday. Neither Polycarp nor Anicetus persuaded the other, but they did not consider the matter schismatic either, parting in peace and leaving the question unsettled.
Controversy arose when Victor, bishop of Rome a generation after Anicetus, attempted to excommunicate Polycrates of Ephesus and all other bishops of Asia for their Quartodecimanism. According to Eusebius, a number of synods were convened to deal with the controversy, which he regarded as all ruling in support of Easter on Sunday. Polycrates (c. 190), however wrote to Victor defending the antiquity of Asian Quartodecimanism. Victor's attempted excommunication was apparently rescinded and the two sides reconciled upon the intervention of bishop Irenaeus and others, who reminded Victor of the tolerant precedent of Anicetus.
Quartodecimanism seems to have lingered into the 4th century, when Socrates of Constantinople recorded that some Quartodecimans were deprived of their churches by John Chrysostom and that some were harassed by Nestorius.
Third/fourth-century controversy and Council
It is not known how long the Nisan 14 practice continued. But both those who followed the Nisan 14 custom, and those who set Easter to the following Sunday (the Sunday of Unleavened Bread) had in common the custom of consulting their Jewish neighbors to learn when the month of Nisan would fall, and setting their festival accordingly. By the later 3rd century, however, some Christians began to express dissatisfaction with the custom of relying on the Jewish community to determine the date of Easter. The chief complaint was that the Jewish communities sometimes erred in setting Passover to fall before the northern hemisphere spring equinox. Anatolius of Laodicea in the later 3rd century wrote:
Those who place [the first lunar month of the year] in [the twelfth zodiacal sign before the spring equinox] and fix the Paschal fourteenth day accordingly, make a great and indeed an extraordinary mistake
Peter, bishop of Alexandria (died 312), had a similar complaint
On the fourteenth day of [the month], being accurately observed after the equinox, the ancients celebrated the Passover, according to the divine command. Whereas the men of the present day now celebrate it before the equinox, and that altogether through negligence and error.
The Sardica paschal table confirms these complaints, for it indicates that the Jews of some eastern Mediterranean city (possibly Antioch) fixed Nisan 14 on March 11 (Julian) in AD 328, on March 5 in AD 334, on March 2 in AD 337, and on March 10 in AD 339, all well before the spring equinox.
Because of this dissatisfaction with reliance on the Jewish calendar, some Christians began to experiment with independent computations. Others, however, felt that the customary practice of consulting Jews should continue, even if the Jewish computations were in error. A version of the Apostolic Constitutions used by the sect of the Audiani advised:
Do not do your own computations, but instead observe Passover when your brethren from the circumcision do. If they err [in the computation], it is no matter to you....
Two other objections that some Christians may have had to maintaining the custom of consulting the Jewish community in order to determine Easter are implied in Constantine's letter from the Council of Nicea to the absent bishops:
It appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast we should follow the practice of the Jews...For we have it in our power, if we abandon their custom, to prolong the due observance of this ordinance to future ages by a truer order...For their boast is absurd indeed, that it is not in our power without instruction from them to observe these things....Being altogether ignorant of the true adjustment of this question, they sometimes celebrate Passover twice in the same year.
The reference to Passover twice in the same year might refer to the geographical diversity that existed at that time in the Jewish calendar, due in large measure to the breakdown of communications in the Empire. Jews in one city might determine Passover differently from Jews in another city. The reference to the Jewish "boast", and, indeed, the strident anti-Jewish tone of the whole passage, suggests another issue: some Christians thought that it was undignified for Christians to depend on Jews to set the date of a Christian festival.
This controversy between those who advocated independent computations, and those who wished to continue the custom of relying on the Jewish calendar, was formally resolved by the First Council of Nicaea in 325 (see below), which endorsed the move to independent computations, effectively requiring the abandonment of the old custom of consulting the Jewish community in those places where it was still used. That the older custom (called "protopaschite" by historians) did not at once die out, but persisted for a time, is indicated by the existence of canons and sermons against it.
Some historians have argued that mid-4th century Roman authorities, in an attempt to enforce the Nicene decision on Easter, attempted to interfere with the Jewish calendar. This theory was developed by S. Liebermann, and is repeated by S. Safrai in the Ben-Sasson History of the Jewish People. This view receives no support, however, in surviving mid-4th century Roman legislation on Jewish matters. The Historian Procopius, in his Secret History, claims that the emperor Justinian attempted to interfere with the Jewish calendar in the 6th century, and a modern writer has suggested that this measure may have been directed against the protopaschites. However, none of Justinian's surviving edicts dealing with Jewish matters is explicitly directed against the Jewish calendar, making the interpretation of Procopius's statement a complex matter.
Easter and the holidays that are related to it are moveable feasts, in that they do not fall on a fixed date in the Gregorian or Julian calendars (both of which follow the cycle of the sun and the seasons). Instead, the date for Easter is determined on a lunisolar calendar similar to the Hebrew calendar. The First Council of Nicaea (325) established the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the full moon (the Paschal Full Moon) following the northern hemisphere's vernal equinox. Ecclesiastically, the equinox is reckoned to be on March 21 (even though the equinox occurs, astronomically speaking, on March 20 in most years), and the "Full Moon" is not necessarily the astronomically correct date.
In Western Christianity, using the Gregorian calendar, Easter always falls on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25, inclusively. The following day, Easter Monday, is a legal holiday in many countries with predominantly Christian traditions.
Eastern Christianity bases its calculations on the Julian Calendar. Due to the 13 day difference between the calendars between 1900 and 2099, March 21 corresponds, during the 21st century, to the 3rd of April in the Gregorian Calendar. Easter therefore varies between April 4 and May 8 on the Gregorian calendar (The Julian calendar is no longer used as the civil calendar of the countries where Eastern Christian traditions predominate). Among the Oriental Orthodox some churches have changed from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar and the date for Easter as for other fixed and moveable feasts is the same as in the Western church.
The precise date of Easter has at times been a matter for contention. At the First Council of Nicaea in 325 it was decided that all Christian churches would celebrate Easter on the same day, which would be computed independently of any Jewish calculations to determine the date of Passover. It is however probable (though no contemporary account of the Council's decisions has survived) that no method of determining the date was specified by the Council. Epiphanius of Salamis wrote in the mid-4th century: :...the emperor...convened a council of 318 bishops...in the city of Nicea...They passed certain ecclesiastical canons at the council besides, and at the same time decreed in regard to the Passover that there must be one unanimous concord on the celebration of God's holy and supremely excellent day. For it was variously observed by people....
In the years following the council, the computational system that was worked out by the church of Alexandria came to be normative. It took a while for the Alexandrian rules to be adopted throughout Christian Europe, however. The Church of Rome continued to use an 84-year lunisolar calendar cycle from the late 3rd century until 457. It then switched to an adaptation by Victorius of the Alexandrian rules. This table was so inaccurate that the Alexandrian rules were adopted in their entirety in the following century. From this time, therefore, all disputes between Alexandria and Rome as to the correct date for Easter cease, as both churches were using identical tables.
Early Christians in Britain and Ireland also used a late 3rd century Roman 84-year cycle. They were suspected of being Quartodecimans, unjustly because they always kept Easter on a Sunday, although that Sunday could be as early as the fourteenth day of the lunar month. This was replaced by the Alexandrian method in the course of the 7th and 8th centuries. Churches in western continental Europe used a late Roman method until the late 8th century during the reign of Charlemagne, when they finally adopted the Alexandrian method. Since 1582, when the Catholic Church adopted the Gregorian calendar while the Eastern Orthodox and most Oriental Orthodox Churches retained the Julian calendar, the date on which Easter is celebrated has again differed.
In 725, Bede succinctly wrote, "The Sunday following the full Moon which falls on or after the equinox will give the lawful Easter." However, this does not reflect the actual ecclesiastical rules precisely. One reason for this is that the full moon involved (called the Paschal full moon) is not an astronomical full moon, but the 14th day of a calendar lunar month. Another difference is that the astronomical vernal equinox is a natural astronomical phenomenon, which can fall on March 19, 20, or 21, while the ecclesiastical date is fixed by convention on March 21.
In applying the ecclesiastical rules, Christian churches use March 21 as the starting point in determining the date of Easter, from which they find the next full moon, etc. The Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches continue to use the Julian calendar. Their starting point in determining the date of Orthodox Easter is also March 21, but according to the Julian reckoning, which corresponds to April 3 in the Gregorian calendar. In addition, the lunar tables of the Julian calendar are 4 days (sometimes 5 days) behind those of the Gregorian calendar. The 14th day of the lunar month according to the Gregorian system is only the 9th or 10th day according to the Julian. The result of this combination of solar and lunar discrepancies is divergence in the date of Easter in most years. (see table)
Easter is determined on the basis of lunisolar cycles. The lunar year consists of 30-day and 29-day lunar months, generally alternating, with an embolismic month added periodically to bring the lunar cycle into line with the solar cycle. In each solar year (January 1 to December 31 inclusive), the lunar month beginning with an ecclesiastical new moon falling in the 29-day period from March 8 to April 5 inclusive is designated as the paschal lunar month for that year. Easter is the 3rd Sunday in the paschal lunar month, or, in other words, the Sunday after the paschal lunar month's 14th day. The 14th of the paschal lunar month is designated by convention as the Paschal full moon, although the 14th of the lunar month may differ from the date of the astronomical full moon by up to two days. Since the ecclesiastical new moon falls on a date from March 8 to April 5 inclusive, the paschal full moon (the 14th of that lunar month) must fall on a date from March 21 to April 18 inclusive.
Accordingly, Gregorian Easter can fall on 35 possible dates between March 22 and April 25 inclusive. It last fell on March 22 in 1818, and will not do so again until 2285. It fell on March 23 in 2008, but will not do so again until 2160. Easter last fell on the latest possible date, April 25, in 1943 and will next fall on that date in 2038. However, it fell on April 24, just one day before this latest possible date, in 2011 and will not do so again until 2095. The cycle of Easter dates repeats after exactly 5,700,000 years, with April 19 being the most common date, happening 220,400 times or 3.9%, compared to the median for all dates of 189,525 times or 3.3%.
The Gregorian calculation of Easter was based on a method devised by the Calabrian doctor Aloysius Lilius (or Lilio) for adjusting the epacts of the moon, and has been adopted by almost all Western Christians and by Western countries who celebrate national holidays at Easter. For the British Empire and colonies, a determination of the date of Easter Sunday using Golden Numbers and Sunday letters was defined by the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750 with its Annexe. This was designed to exactly match the Gregorian calculation.
Relationship to date of Passover
In determining the date of the Gregorian and Julian Easter a lunisolar cycle is followed. In determining the date of the Jewish Passover a lunisolar calendar is also used, and because Easter always falls on a Sunday it usually falls up to a week after the first day of Passover (Nisan 15 in the Hebrew calendar). However, the differences in the rules between the Hebrew and Gregorian cycles results in Passover falling about a month after Easter in three years of the 19-year cycle. These occur in years 3, 11, and 14 of the Gregorian 19-year cycle (corresponding respectively to years 19, 8, and 11 of the Jewish 19-year cycle).
The reason for the difference is the different scheduling of embolismic months in the two cycles.
In addition, without changes to either calendar, the frequency of monthly divergence between the two festivals will increase over time as a result of the differences in the implicit solar years: the implicit mean solar year of the Hebrew calendar is 365.2468 days while that of the Gregorian calendar is 365.2425 days. In years 2200-2299, for example, the start of Passover will be about a month later than Gregorian Easter in four years out of nineteen.
Since in the modern Hebrew calendar Nisan 15 can never fall on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, the seder of Nisan 15 never falls on the night of Maundy Thursday. The second seder, observed in some Jewish communities on the second night of Passover can, however, occur on Thursday night.
Because the Julian calendar's implicit solar year has drifted further over the centuries than those of the Gregorian or Hebrew calendars, Julian Easter is a lunation later than Gregorian Easter in five years out of nineteen, namely years 3, 8, 11, 14, and 19 of the Christian cycle. This means that it is a lunation later than Jewish Passover in two years out of nineteen, years 8 and 19 of the Christian cycle. Furthermore, because the Julian calendar's lunar age is now about 4 to 5 days behind the mean lunations, Julian Easter always follows the start of Passover. This cumulative effect of the errors in the Julian calendar's solar year and lunar age has led to the often-repeated, but false, belief that the Julian cycle includes an explicit rule requiring Easter always to follow Jewish Passover. The supposed "after Passover" rule is called the Zonaras proviso, after Joannes Zonaras, the Byzantine canon lawyer who may have been the first to formulate it.
Reform of the date
St. George Greek Orthodox Church]], Adelaide)
An Orthodox congress of Eastern Orthodox bishops met in Istanbul in 1923 under the presidency of Patriarch Meletios IV, where the bishops agreed to the Revised Julian calendar. This congress did not have representatives from the remaining Orthodox members of the original Pentarchy (the Patriarchates of Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria) or from the largest Orthodox church, the Russian Orthodox Church, then under persecution from the Bolsheviks, but only effective representation from the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Patriarch of Serbia. The original form of this calendar would have determined Easter using precise astronomical calculations based on the meridian of Jerusalem. However, all the Eastern Orthodox countries that subsequently adopted the Revised Julian calendar adopted only that part of the revised calendar that applied to festivals falling on fixed dates in the Julian calendar. The revised Easter computation that had been part of the original 1923 agreement was never permanently implemented in any Orthodox diocese.
At a summit in Aleppo, Syria, in 1997, the World Council of Churches (WCC) proposed a reform in the calculation of Easter which would have replaced the present divergent practices of calculating Easter with modern scientific knowledge taking into account actual astronomical instances of the spring equinox and full moon based on the meridian of Jerusalem, while also following the Council of Nicea position of Easter being on the Sunday following the full moon. The WCC presented comparative data of the relationships:
Notes: 1. Astronomical Easter is the first Sunday after the Astronomical full moon.
2. Passover commences at sunset preceding the date indicated.
The recommended World Council of Churches changes would have side-stepped the calendar issues and eliminated the difference in date between the Eastern and Western churches. The reform was proposed for implementation starting in 2001, but it was not ultimately adopted by any member body.
A few clergy of various denominations have advanced the notion of disregarding the moon altogether in determining the date of Easter. Their proposals include always observing Easter on the second Sunday in April, or always having seven Sundays between the Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, producing the same result except that in leap years Easter could fall on April 7. These suggestions have not attracted significant support, and their adoption in the future is considered unlikely.
In the United Kingdom, the Easter Act 1928 set out legislation to allow the date of Easter to be fixed as the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April (or, in other words, the Sunday in the period from April 9 to April 15). However, the legislation has not been implemented, although it remains on the Statute book and could be implemented subject to approval by the various Christian churches.
Position in the church year
In Western Christianity, Easter marks the end of Lent, a period of fasting and penitence in preparation for Easter, which begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts forty days (not counting Sundays).
The week before Easter, known as Holy Week, is very special in the Christian tradition. The Sunday before Easter is Palm Sunday and the last three days before Easter are Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday (sometimes referred to as Silent Saturday). Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday respectively commemorate Jesus' entry in Jerusalem, the Last Supper and the Crucifixion. Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are sometimes referred to as the Easter Triduum (Latin for "Three Days"). In some countries, Easter lasts two days, with the second called "Easter Monday". The week beginning with Easter Sunday is called Easter Week or the Octave of Easter, and each day is prefaced with "Easter", e.g. Easter Monday, Easter Tuesday, etc. Easter Saturday is therefore the Saturday after Easter Sunday. The day before Easter is properly called Holy Saturday. Many churches begin celebrating Easter late in the evening of Holy Saturday at a service called the Easter Vigil.
Eastertide, or Paschaltide, the season of Easter, begins on Easter Sunday and lasts until the day of Pentecost, seven weeks later.
Priest blessing Easter baskets in Lviv, Ukraine
In Eastern Christianity, the spiritual preparation for Pascha begins with Great Lent, which starts on Clean Monday and lasts for 40 continuous days (including Sundays). The last week of Great Lent (following the fifth Sunday of Great Lent) is called Palm Week, and ends with Lazarus Saturday. The Vespers which begins Lazarus Saturday officially brings Great Lent to a close, although the fast continues through the following week. After Lazarus Saturday comes Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and finally Pascha itself, and the fast is broken immediately after the Paschal Divine Liturgy.
The Paschal Vigil begins with the Midnight Office, which is the last service of the Lenten Triodion and is timed so that it ends a little before midnight on Holy Saturday night. At the stroke of midnight the Paschal celebration itself begins, consisting of Paschal Matins, Paschal Hours, and Paschal Divine Liturgy. Placing the Paschal Divine Liturgy at midnight guarantees that no Divine Liturgy will come earlier in the morning, ensuring its place as the pre-eminent "Feast of Feasts" in the liturgical year.
The liturgical season from Pascha to the Sunday of All Saints (the Sunday after Pentecost) is known as the Pentecostarion (the "fifty days"). The week which begins on Easter Sunday is called Bright Week, during which there is no fasting, even on Wednesday and Friday. The Afterfeast of Pascha lasts 39 days, with its Apodosis (leave-taking) on the day before Ascension. Pentecost Sunday is the fiftieth day from Pascha (counted inclusively).
Although the Pentecostarion ends on the Sunday of All Saints, Pascha's influence continues throughout the following year, determining the daily Epistle and Gospel readings at the Divine Liturgy, the Tone of the Week, and the Matins Gospels all the way through to the next year's Lazarus Saturday.
The Easter festival is kept in many different ways among Western Christians. The traditional, liturgical observation of Easter, as practised among Roman Catholics and some Lutherans and Anglicans begins on the night of Holy Saturday with the Easter Vigil. This, the most important liturgy of the year, begins in total darkness with the blessing of the Easter fire, the lighting of the large Paschal candle (symbolic of the Risen Christ) and the chanting of the Exultet or Easter Proclamation attributed to Saint Ambrose of Milan. After this service of light, a number of readings from the Old Testament are read; these tell the stories of creation, the sacrifice of Isaac, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the foretold coming of the Messiah. This part of the service climaxes with the singing of the Gloria and the Alleluia and the proclamation of the Gospel of the resurrection. At this time, the lights are brought up and the church bells are rung, according to local custom. A sermon may be preached after the gospel. Then the focus moves from the lectern to the font. Anciently, Easter was considered the ideal time for converts to receive baptism, and this practice continues within Roman Catholicism and the Anglican Communion. Whether there are baptisms at this point or not, it is traditional for the congregation to renew the vows of their baptismal faith. This act is often sealed by the sprinkling of the congregation with holy water from the font. The Catholic sacrament of Confirmation is also celebrated at the Vigil.
Holy Week procession in Santiago de Compostela. The Easter Vigil concludes with the celebration of the Eucharist (known in some traditions as Holy Communion). Certain variations in the Easter Vigil exist: Some churches read the Old Testament lessons before the procession of the Paschal candle, and then read the gospel immediately after the Exsultet. Some churches prefer to keep this vigil very early on the Sunday morning instead of the Saturday night, particularly Protestant churches, to reflect the gospel account of the women coming to the tomb at dawn on the first day of the week. These services are known as the Sunrise service and often occur in outdoor setting such as the church cemetery, yard, or a nearby park.
The first recorded "Sunrise Service" took place in 1732 among the Single Brethren in the Moravian Congregation at Herrnhut, Saxony, in what is now Germany. Following an all-night vigil they went before dawn to the town graveyard, God's Acre, on the hill above the town, to celebrate the Resurrection among the graves of the departed. This service was repeated the following year by the whole congregation and subsequently spread with the Moravian Missionaries around the world, including Old Salem in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Additional celebrations are usually offered on Easter Sunday itself. Typically these services follow the usual order of Sunday services in a congregation, but also typically incorporate more highly festive elements. The music of the service, in particular, often displays a highly festive tone; the incorporation of brass instruments (trumpets, etc.) to supplement a congregation's usual instrumentation is common. Often a congregation's worship space is decorated with special banners and flowers (such as Easter lilies).
In predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines, the morning of Easter (known in the national language as "Pasko ng Muling Pagkabuhay" or the Pasch of the Resurrection) is marked with joyous celebration, the first being the dawn "Salubong", wherein large statues of Jesus and Mary are brought together to meet, imagining the first reunion of Jesus and his mother Mary after Jesus' Resurrection. This is followed by the joyous Easter Mass.
In Polish culture, The Rezurekcja (Resurrection Procession) is the joyous Easter morning Mass at daybreak when church bells ring out and explosions resound to commemorate Christ rising from the dead. Before the Mass begins at dawn, a festive procession with the Blessed Sacrament carried beneath a canopy encircles the church. As church bells ring out, handbells are vigorously shaken by altar boys, the air is filled with incense and the faithful raise their voices heavenward in a triumphant rendering of age-old Easter hymns. After the Blessed Sacrament is carried around the church and Adoration is complete, the Easter Mass begins. Another Polish Easter tradition is wi conka, the blessing of Easter baskets by the parish priest on Holy Saturday. This custom is celebrated not only in Poland, but also in the United States by Polish-Americans.
Pascha is the fundamental and most important festival of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches:
- This is the Expected and Holy Day,
- the One among the Sabbaths,
- the Sovereign and Lady of days,
- Feast of feasts, Celebration of celebrations,
- on which we praise Christ for all eternity!
Every other religious festival in their calendar, including Christmas, is secondary in importance to the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is reflected in rich Paschal customs in the cultures of countries that have traditionally had an Orthodox Christian majority. Eastern Catholics have similar emphasis in their calendars, and many of their liturgical customs are very similar.
This is not to say that Christmas and other elements of the Christian liturgical calendar are ignored. Instead, these events are all seen as necessary but preliminary to, and illuminated by, the full climax of the Resurrection, in which all that has come before reaches fulfillment and fruition. They shine only in the light of the Resurrection. Pascha is the primary act that fulfills the purpose of Christ's ministry on earth to defeat death by dying and to purify and exalt humanity by voluntarily assuming and overcoming human frailty. This is succinctly summarized by the Paschal troparion, sung repeatedly during Pascha until the Apodosis of Pascha, which is the day before Ascension:
paskha]] in the background
- Christ is risen from the dead,
- Trampling down death by death,
- And upon those in the tombs
- Bestowing life!
Preparation for Pascha begins with the season of Great Lent. In addition to fasting, almsgiving, and prayer, Orthodox Christians cut down on all entertainment and non-essential worldly activities, gradually eliminating them until Great and Holy Friday, the most austere day of the year. Traditionally, on the evening of Great and Holy Saturday, the Midnight Office is celebrated shortly after 11:00 p.m. (see Paschal Vigil). At its completion all light in the church building is extinguished, and all wait in darkness and silence for the stroke of midnight. Then, a new flame is struck in the altar, or the priest lights his candle from the perpetual lamp kept burning there, and he then lights candles held by deacons or other assistants, who then go to light candles held by the congregation (this practice has its origin in the reception of the Holy Fire at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem). Then the priest and congregation go in a Crucession (procession with the cross) around the temple (church building), holding lit candles, chanting:
By Thy Resurrection O Christ our savior, the angels in Heaven sing, enable us who are on Earth, to glorify thee in purity of heart.
Easter Procession in the Region of Kursk, Russia, painting by Ilya Repin (1880-83), depicting a Bright Week Crucession This procession reenacts the journey of the Myrrhbearers to the Tomb of Jesus "very early in the morning" (). After circling around the temple once or three times, the procession halts in front of the closed doors. In the Greek practice the priest reads a selection from the Gospel Book (). Then, in all traditions, the priest makes the sign of the cross with the censer in front of the closed doors (which represent the sealed tomb). He and the people chant the Paschal Troparion, and all of the bells and semantra are sounded. Then all re-enter the temple and Paschal Matins begins immediately, followed by the Paschal Hours and then the Paschal Divine Liturgy. The high point of the liturgy is the delivery of Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom, for which the congregation stands. Traditional Paschal Crucession during Bright Week by Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church. After the dismissal of the Liturgy, the priest may bless Paschal eggs and baskets brought by the faithful containing those foods which have been forbidden during the Great Fast. Immediately after the Liturgy it is customary for the congregation to share a meal, essentially an Ag p dinner (albeit at 2:00 a.m. or later). In Greece the traditional meal is mageiritsa, a hearty stew of chopped lamb liver and wild greens seasoned with egg-and-lemon sauce. Traditionally, Easter eggs, hard-boiled eggs dyed bright red to symbolize the spilt Blood of Christ and the promise of eternal life, are cracked together to celebrate the opening of the Tomb of Christ.
The next morning, Easter Sunday proper, there is no Divine Liturgy, since the Liturgy for that day has already been celebrated. Instead, in the afternoon, it is often traditional to celebrate "Ag p Vespers". In this service, it has become customary during the last few centuries for the priest and members of the congregation to read a portion of the Gospel of John (in some places the reading is extended to include verses ) in as many languages as they can manage, to show the universality of the Resurrection.
For the remainder of the week, known as "Bright Week", all fasting is prohibited, and the customary Paschal greeting is: "Christ is risen!", to which the response is: "Truly He is risen!" This may also be done in many different languages. The services during Bright Week are nearly identical to those on Pascha itself, except that they do not take place at midnight, but at their normal times during the day. The Crucession during Bright Week takes place either after Paschal Matins or the Paschal Divine Liturgy.
Non-observing Christian groups
Along with Christmas celebrations, many Easter traditions ultimately became casualties of the various off-shoots of the Protestant Reformation, being deemed "pagan" or "Popish" (and therefore tainted) by many Puritan movements - although there were some major Reformation Churches and movements (Lutheran, Methodist and Anglican for example), that chose to retain a reasonably full observance of the Church Year and many of its associated traditions. In Lutheran Churches, for example, not only were the days of Holy Week observed, but also Christmas, Easter and Pentecost were observed with three day festivals, including the day itself and the two following.
Among many other Reformation and counter Counter-Reformation traditions, however, things were a very different, with most Anabaptists, Quakers, Congregational and Presbyterian Puritans, regarding such festivals as an abomination. The Puritan rejection of Easter traditions was (and is) based partly upon their interpretation of and partly upon a more general belief that if a religious practice or celebration is not actually written in the Old and/or New Testaments of the Christian Bible then that practice/celebration must be a later development and cannot be considered an authentic part of Christian practice or belief - so at best simply unnecessary, at worst actually "sinful".
Some Christian groups continue to reject the celebration of Easter, due to perceived pagan roots and historical connections to the practices and permissions of the "Roman" Catholic Church. Other "Nonconformist" Christian groups that do still celebrate the event prefer to call it "Resurrection Sunday" or "Resurrection Day", for the same reasons as well as a rejection of secular or commercial aspects of the holiday in the 20th and 21st centuries.
The Jehovah's Witnesses maintain a similar view, observing a yearly commemorative service of the Last Supper and subsequent execution of Christ on the evening of Nisan 14, as they calculate it derived from the lunar Hebrew Calendar. It is commonly referred to by many Witnesses as simply "The Memorial". Jehovah's Witnesses believe that such verses as and constitute a commandment to remember the death of Christ (and not the resurrection, as only the remembrance of the death was observed by early Christians), and they do so on a yearly basis just as Passover is celebrated yearly by the Jews.
Members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), as part of their historic testimony against times and seasons, do not celebrate or observe Easter or any other Church holidays, believing instead that "every day is the Lord's day", and that elevation of one day above others suggests that it is acceptable to do un-Christian acts on other days. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Quakers were persecuted for this non-observance of Holy Days.
Some Christian groups feel that Easter is something to be regarded with great joy: not marking the day itself, but remembering and rejoicing in the event it commemorates the miracle of Christ's resurrection. In this spirit, these Christians teach that each day and all Sabbaths should be kept holy, in Christ's teachings. Hebrew-Christian, Sacred Name, and Armstrong movement churches (such as the Living Church of God) usually reject Easter in favor of Nisan 14 observance and celebration of the Christian Passover. This is especially true of Christian groups that celebrate the New Moons or annual High Sabbaths in addition to seventh-day Sabbath. They support this textually with reference to the letter to the Colossians: "Let no one...pass judgment on you in matters of food and drink or with regard to a festival or new moon or sabbath. These are shadows of things to come; the reality belongs to Christ." (Col. 2:16-17, NAB)
Easter celebrations around the world
In some countries where Christianity is a state religion, or where the country has large Christian population, Easter is a public holiday. Some European and other countries in the world have also Easter Monday as a public holiday.
United States & Canada
In the United States, Easter Sunday is a flag day but has not been a federal and state holiday due to falling on a Sunday, which is already a non working day for federal and state employees. However, nearly every retail store, shopping malls and some restaurants are closed on Easter Sunday. Few banks that are normally open on regular Sundays are closed on Easter. Two days before Easter Sunday, on Good Friday, is a holiday in 12 states. Most private businesses and sectors, as well as financial and stock market, and public schools are closed on Good Friday. Historically, schools have given extended spring breaks of one to two weeks around the Easter holiday, but this practice has been declining in favor of fixed one-week recesses around Washington's Birthday and in late April.
Many Americans follow the tradition of coloring hard-boiled eggs and giving children baskets of candy. On the next day, Easter Monday, the President of the United States holds an annual Easter egg roll on the White House lawn for young children. New York City holds an annual Easter parade on Easter Sunday.
In Canada, both Easter Sunday and Easter Monday are public holidays. In province of Quebec, either Good Friday or Easter Monday (although most companies give both) are statutory holidays. Two days before Easter Sunday, on Good Friday, is a public holiday as well.
In Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, both Easter Sunday and Easter Monday are public holidays. It is a holiday for most workers except some shopping malls which keep open for half day. Many businesses give their employees almost a week off called Easter break.
- Easter customs
- Resurrection of Jesus
- Greek words (wiktionary): (Easter) vs (Passover) vs (to suffer).
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