PROPER OF THE SEASON
By Father Dr
HELLENIC VOICE, May 1, 2002 & ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN WITNESS, August, 2002
The Venerable Bede (673?-735) gives us information related to the Christian Feast of feasts “Pascha” that is, how the greatest of all the Christians feasts came to be named Easter in the English language. He claims that the term comes from the word Eastre, a pagan Germanic goddess of spring, named Ostarun in old high German language.
As to Eastre, it was not only the name of the pagan Germanic goddess of spring, it was also the name of her festival. It is quite strange, in fact, unexplainable to me, how her name came to be given to the greatest of all Christian feasts, the Festival of festivals, the very foundation of the Christian Church. It is twice as mystifying if one remembers that “Easter” is the Christian Passover, that the core belief related to it is that through Christ’s resurrection, we passed from death to life, from bondage to sin to eternal life. The Hebrew term Pesah or Pesach means Passover, and on this feast the people celebrated their deliverance from slavery. Our Christian Passover is in direct continuity with the Jewish feasts involving the lamb that was to be without blemish, as a reminder that their firstborn had been saved from death.
The Greek language, the original language of all but one books of the New
Testament assimilated the term almost unchanged, Pascha, with the same
meaning, Passover. Moreover, the Greek word Pascha was assimilated
by all modern Latin laguages. In my mother language , Romanian, (which is based
on the percentage of Latin words in our vocabulary and which is number one among
the modern Romance tongues) the word is PaÂYte;
in French Paques;
in Italian Pasqua; in Spanish Pascua; and in Portuguese Pascoa.
Not only that, but the deep significance of the Feast of feasts remains the same
for all peoples who communicate through a modern Romance language, despite the
fact that some are Orthodox and some are Roman Catholics. What is unique to our
Orthodoxy is that Pascha is celebrated by our Church not only once a year but on
every Sunday. “The Orthodox Church is correctly referred to - with an eye
toward both theology and liturgy as the Church of the Resurrection” (Michael
Prokurat, Historical Dictionary of the Orthodox Church, p 256).
This theological and
liturgical truth, deeply rooted in our Orthodox tradition, is emphasized by the
fact that in the Russian language, for example, which is spoken by the largest
Orthodox nation in the world, Sunday is called Voskreseniye, which means
Resurrection. With a similar significance the first day of the week, Sunday, is
named in my mother language, Duminica, from the Latin Dies Domini,
the Lord’s Day. One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to identified the
Lord’s Day with the Day o Resurrection, on which the early Church Christians
“continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching, in fellowship, in the
breaking of bread, and prayers” (Acts 2:42). “Now on the first day of the
week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the
next day, spoke to them ad continued his message unto midnight” (Acts
20:7; see also I Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10; Acts 2:46; 20:11). There is no doubt that
they came together to break bread, viz., to celebrate the Eucharist, on
the first day of the week, Sunday, exactly because this was the day on which
Christ rose from the dead. Why do I strongly plead for the name Pascha,
and not Easter to be given to the Day that must be seen as the most
sacred, not only be our Faith, but by the human race as a whole? I do so because
it is my contention that in employing the heathen term Easter, the
deepest, holiest significance of this Holy Day is lost. When we say Pascha
“Passover” we are reminded of the greatest event in human history, the
Resurrection of Christ. Yes, Christ’s Resurrection must be seen as the climax
of mankind’s redemption, the very “moment” when every human being regained
the potentiality to pass from death to life. On one imperative condition: to
start one’s passing over from death to life by dying and rising with
Christ, by living one’s own Passover.
If we start our life’s
journey by dying and rising with Christ, and continue throughout our life to “work
out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12), our eternal
destiny is resurrection with Christ, the other side of the “coin” being
eternal death. In his work, Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, St. John of
Damascus makes the point that resurrection is the second state of that which has
fallen. If the souls are immortal, he goes on, how can they rise again? Death is
the separation of soul and body, while resurrection is the reunion of soul and
body, the second state of the living creature that that has suffered dissolution
“It is, then, this very
body, which is corruptible and liable to dissolution, that will rise again
incorruptible… If there is no resurrection, wherein do we differ from the
irrational brutes? If there is no resurrection, nether is there any God or
Providence… For observe how we see most righteous men suffering hunger and
injustice and receiving no help in the present life, while sinners and
unrighteous men abound in riches and every delight… There must be, therefore,
there must be a resurrection!”(op. cit.) Notice that our holy Father
connects our resurrection to the very existence of God, a high logical
connection that is very hard for a godless world such as ours to make.
Speaking about the
resurrection of Lazarus, St. John of Damascus emphasizes that Christ raised
Lazarus’ body along with his soul, and not another body but the very one that
was corrupt. By raising Lazarus, Christ wanted in fact to make the divinity of
His nature manifest and to confirm the belief in His own and our resurrection.
Unlike Lazarus who was destined to die once more, the Lord became Himself the
first-fruits of the perfect resurrection that is no longer subject to death.
“But if there is no
resurrection from the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not
risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty… For if the
dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your
faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (I
Cor. 15:13-14; 16-17).
Our Christian Faith makes
no sense without Christ’s resurrection, the foundation of our own
resurrection! St. John Damascene has very harsh words for those who still doubt
that the dead will be raised up:
“Oh what disbelief!
Oh what a folly! Will He, Who by His solitary determination changed earth into
body, Who commanded the little drop of seed to grow in the mother’s womb and
become in the end these varied and manifold organs of the body, not the rather
raise up by His solitary will that which was and is dissolved! … Believe,
likewise also. In this wise, that the resurrection of the dead will come to pass
by divine will”
“Behold the Lamb of
God Who takes away the sin of the world!”
(John 1:29), exclaimed John the Baptist when he saw Christ. He identified Him
with the Suffering Servant foreseen by Isaiah, the sacrificed Lamb, “wounded
for our transgressions” (Isaiah 53:5). He is our Paschal Lamb, without
As the Lamb’s blood, with which the Hebrews marked their doors, reminded them that their firstborn had been saved from death, and that the people were freed from bondage and allowed to set out toward the Promised Land, in the same “indeed, in a more perfect” way the blood of God’s spotless Lamb reminds every human being that we all have been saved from death and are allowed to set out towards the Heavenly Jerusalem, to live forever with the Crucified and Risen Christ. “For Christ our Paschal Lamb, was sacrificed for us” (I Cor. 5:7). It is Pascha with its perfect, otherworldly joy “not Easter” which is the door towards our eternity with Christ.
© Fr. Dr. Dumitru Macaila was the assistant parish priest of the Greek Archdiocese Annunciation Church, Lancaster, PA.
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