Orthodox Easter: May 5
Orthodox Easter is a religious observance for Orthodox Christians all over the world.
Orthodox Easter, falls seven days after Catholics due to the difference in calendars followed by both churches. It is a day known as Pascha and is the most important celebration from all the Christian holidays, celebrating Jesus’ resurrection. Some years, both Orthodox and Catholic Churches will celebrate Easter on the same day.
History of Orthodox Easter
The celebration of Pascha is the most important celebration for the Orthodox Churches. It is the center of the Christian faith, the belief that Jesus Christ, after his death on the cross in Jerusalem, was resurrected.
The celebrations of Easter began very early in first century Christian communities, evolving from the sharing of the good news that Jesus won his fight over death and that he was the Son of God, the Savior that was awaited. It is connected with the Jewish traditions of Passover in which the Jews celebrated the passing over the river Jordan of Moses leading to the Promised Land of Canaa.
By the second century the celebration of Easter had spread to most of the Christian Churches, but one thing remained to be settled between Eastern and Western Churches: the day on which Easter should be celebrated. Emperor Constantine called the Council of Nicaea in 325 to come to an agreement about many things concerning the Christian faith and customs.
The day of Easter was declared to be the first day of the full moon following the Spring Equinox that occurs on March 21. The Eastern and Western Churches still ended up with a difference in celebration due to the use of the Gregorian calendar at first and later the Julian calendar.
The first celebrations of Easter included the remembrance of the Passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus in one day. During the fourth century, it was decided to move the remembrance of the Passion to Friday, the death of Christ to Saturday, and the resurrection to Easter Sunday, therefore giving even more importance to each moment and allowing Christians to ponder and reflect deeper on the meaning of the events that Jesus went through.
Orthodox Easter Traditions, Customs and Activities
Easter for Orthodox Christians begins with Great Lent, a fasting period of 40 days that precedes Pascha Sunday. The purpose of the Great Lent is to prepare all Christians for the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. During this time, strict fasting is observed and almsgiving and prayer are practiced. Orthodox Christians typically abstain from entertainment or any worldly activities that may distract them from the path of self-discipline and focus on God.
At 11 p.m. on Great and Holy Saturday, Orthodox Churches go dark as all lights are turned off for one hour as the faithful wait for midnight. At that moment, a candle is lit on the altar by the presiding priest and is passed on to everyone else holding candles. When all candles are lit, the priest takes the cross and leads a procession around the church. This procession stops in front of the closed doors of the church, representing the tomb of Christ. Then after a reading from the gospels and chanting, the doors open, bells sound, and everyone enters the church.
The liturgy will follow with Paschal Matins, Paschal Hours and the Paschal Divine Liturgy. At the end of the Liturgy the priest will bless the congregation’s baskets with Paschal eggs and all the food that they were forbidden to eat during Lent. The day follows with a shared meal among all the faithful, and families gather with friends and neighbors. In the evening there is the traditional Agape Vespers during which a passage from the Gospel of John is read, and each Orthodox Christian Community reads a passage concerning the resurrection of Jesus in as many languages as they can to symbolize the fact that the blessings from the resurrection of Christ are universal and for all humanity. The week after Easter Sunday is called Bright Week, and fasting is prohibited.