The Great & Holy Feast of Pascha
|On the Great and Holy Feast of Pascha, Orthodox Christians celebrate the life-giving Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This feast of feasts is the most significant day in the life of the Church. It is a celebration of the defeat of death, as neither death itself nor the power of the grave could hold our Savior captive. In this victory that came through the Cross, Christ broke the bondage of sin, and through faith offers us restoration, transformation, and eternal life.
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Commemoration of the Great & Holy Feast of Pascha
|Holy Week comes to an end at sunset of Great and Holy Saturday, as the Church prepares to celebrate her most ancient and preeminent festival, Pascha, the feast of feasts. The time of preparation will give way to a time of fulfillment. The glorious and respendent light emanating from the empty Tomb will dispel the darkness. Christ, risen from the dead, cracks the fortress of death and takes “captivity captive” (Psalm 67:19). All the limitations of our createdness are torn asunder. Death is swallowed up in victory and life is liberated. “For as by a man came death, by a man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (I Corinthians 15:21-22). Pascha is the dawn of the new and unending day. The Resurrection constitutes the most radical and decisive deliverance of humankind.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the fundamental
truth and absolute fact of the Christian faith. It is the central experience
and essential kerygma of the Church. It confirms the authenticity of Christ’s
remarkable earthly life and vindicates the truth of His teaching. It seals
all His redemptive work: His life, the model of a holy life; His compelling
and unique teaching; His extraordinary works; and His awesome, life-creating
death. Christ’s Resurrection is the guarantee of our salvation.
Together with His Ascension it brings to perfection God’s union
with us for all eternity.
The Resurrection made possible the miracle of the Church,
which in every age and generation proclaims and affirms “God’s
plan for the universe, the ultimate divinization of man and the created
order.” The profound experience of and the unshakable belief in
the risen Lord enabled the Apostles to evangelize the world and empowered
the Church to overcome paganism. The Resurrection discloses the indestructible
power and inscrutable wisdom of God. It disposes of the illusory myths
and belief systems by which people, bereft of divine knowledge, strain
to affirm the meaning and purpose of their existence. Christ, risen and
glorified, releases humanity from the delusions of idolatry. In Him grave-bound
humanity discovers and is filled with incomparable hope. The Resurrection
bestows illumination, energizes souls, brings forgiveness, transfigures
lifes, creates saints, and gives joy.
The Resurrection has not yet abolished the reality
of death. But it has revealed its powerlessness (Hebrews 2:14-15). We
continue to die as a result of the Fall. Our bodies decay and fall away.
“God allows death to exist but turns it against corruption and its
cause, sin, and sets a boundary both to corruption and sin.” Thus,
physical death does not destroy our life of communion with God. Rather,
we move from death to life—from this fallen world to God’s
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Icons of the Resurrection of our Lord
|One of the most symbolic of the Festal Icons of the
Orthodox Church is that of the Holy Resurrection. In the center of this
radiant event is Christ pulling Adam and Eve up from their tombs. The
gates of the Realm of Death are broken and thrown down. Death, personified
in human form is defeated, and bound hand and foot at the bottom of the
scene. We recall the joyous words of St. Paul: "O
death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"
(1 Corinthians 15:55)
|Christ pulls Adam and Eve from
||Christ is depicted trampling
upon the gates of Hades.
In the background stands the host of the departed, so
numerous they can not be depicted. Among them in the front of the multitude
are some of the righteous dead, though now invigorated by the Resurrection.
King David and his son Solomon are seen on the left wearing crowns. Near
the center is Saint John the Baptist. On the other side is Abel, the son
of Adam and the first man to ever die. He wears a shepherds robe and has
a cane. Many Icons of this subject depict large crowds with a few other
|Standing amongst the departed
are Saint John the Baptist (right) and King David (left).
||Abel, the son of Adam (left)
and the first man to die, is present and depicted wearing a shepherd's
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Orthodox Celebration of Pascha
|Before midnight on Saturday evening, the Odes of Lamentation of the previous day are repeated. The Orthros of the Resurrection begins in complete darkness. The priest takes light from the vigil light and gives it to the faithful, who are holding candles. The priest sings: "Come ye and receive light from the unwaning life, and. glorify Christ, who arose from the dead", and all the people join him in singing this hymn again and again. From this moment, every Christian holds the Easter candle as a symbol of his vivid, deep faith in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as Savior. In many churches the priest leads the people outside the church, where he reads the Gospel which refers to the Angels statement: "He is Risen; He is not here,” (Mark 16:1-8).|
Then comes the breathless moment as the people wait for the priest to start the hymn of Resurrection, which they join him in singing, repeatedly: "Christ has Risen from the dead, by death trampling upon Death, and has bestowed life upon those in the tombs". From this moment the entire service takes on a joyous Easter atmosphere. The hymns of the Odes and Praises of Resurrection which follow are of superb meaning and expression. The people confess, "It is the Day of Resurrection, let us be glorious, let us embrace one another and speak to those that hate us; let us forgive all things and so let us cry, Christ has arisen from the dead". By this hymn they admit that love of one's fellowman is the solid foundation of the faith in the Resurrection of Christ.
The Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom is then
officiated. At the end of the Liturgy, a part of the marvelous festival
sermon of Saint Chrysostom is read, which calls upon the people to “Take
part in this fair and radiant festival. Let no one be fearful of death,
for the death of the Savior has set us free . . . O Death, where is thy
sting? O Hades, where is Thy victory? Christ is Risen and Thou art overthrown.
To Him be glory and power from all ages to all ages.”
The Scripture readings for the Divine Liturgy are: Acts
1:1-8 and John 1:1-17.
On Easter Sunday afternoon the faithful gather once more for prayer with
lighted candles. All sing the hymn, "Christ is Risen from the Dead".
The people greet one another joyously, saying: "Christ is Risen",
the Easter salutation which is answered, "Truly He is Risen".
They sing, "the dark shadows of the Law has passed away by the coming
of grace", and standing in exaltation they exclaim, "Who is
so great a God as our God?"
The Gospel according to John (20:19-25) is read
in various languages, proclaiming the Good News of Resurrection all over
the universe without discrimination. The fruit of faith in the Resurrection
of the Lord is love in His Name; therefore, this day is called "Sunday
of Agape" (love feast), a day dedicated to Christian principles,
especially to forgiveness and charity. At this time, Christians seek to
end misunderstanding and arguments among those whom they may be at odds.
Apostle Paul firmly interprets the Resurrection of Christ, saying: “If
Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith
is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). The Church also states in its
Creed, “The Third day He rose again.”
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Hymns of Pacha
|Apolytikion (Plagal of the First Tone)|
Christ is risen from the dead, by death He has trampled down death, and on those in the tombs He has bestowed life.
First Ode of the Canon of Pascha (First Tone)
It is the day of Resurrection, let us be radiant, O ye peoples: Pascha, the Lord’s Pascha; for Christ God hath brought us from death to life, and from earth unto Heaven as we sing the triumphal hymn.
Doxastikon of the Praises (Plagal of the First Tone)
It is the day of Resurrection; let us be radiant for the festival, and let us embrace one another. Let us say, O brethren, even to those that hate us: Let us forgive all things on the Resurrection; and thus let us cry: Christ is risen from the dead, by death He has trampled down death, and on those in the tombs He has bestowed life.
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Dating Pascha in the Orthodox Church
| by Dr. Lewis J. Patsavos, Ph. D.
The long-awaited common celebration of Pascha in 2004 has come and gone. In
anticipation of this common observance by all Christians, much was said
and written. What was stressed was the need to keep alive the momentum
of the occasion. Unless we all understand the significance of this event,
it will remain nothing more than a peculiarity of the calculations related
to the date of Pascha. In one sense, that is what it is. But in another
sense, it is the convergence of all that we as Christians in the East
and West profess regarding the centrality of the Resurrection of Jesus
Christ as the cornerstone of our faith.
Nothing challenges the credibility of this fact to non-believers
more than the scandal of our division on this point of celebration. In
the ardent desire to address this problematic and troubling reality, the
following contribution is offered.....
Almost from the very beginning of the existence of the
Christian Church, the issue regarding the date of our Lord's death and
resurrection presented variations. Although the New Testament relates
these events to the Jewish Passover, the details of this relationship
are not clear. On the one hand, the tradition of the synoptic gospels
identifies the Lord's last supper with His disciples as a passover meal.
This would place the death of our Lord on the day after Passover. On the
other hand, the tradition of the gospel of St. John situates the death
of our Lord at the very hour the paschal lambs were sacrificed on the
day of Passover itself. This variation in the interpretation of the scriptures
led to two different practices. The one observed Pascha on the day of
Passover, regardless of the day of the week. The other observed it on
the Sunday following Passover. By the 4th century, the latter practice
prevailed throughout the Church universally; nevertheless, differences
continued to exist.
In response to this ongoing problem, the First Ecumenical
Council convened at Nicaea in 325 took up the issue. It determined that
Pascha should be celebrated on the Sunday which follows the first full
moon after the vernal equinox-the actual beginning of spring. If the full
moon happens to fall on a Sunday, Pascha is observed the following Sunday.
The day taken to be the invariable date of the vernal equinox is March
21. Hence, the determination of the date of Pascha is governed by a process
dependent on the vernal equinox and the phase of the moon.
Another factor which figures prominently in determining
the date of Pascha is the date of Passover. Originally, Passover was celebrated
on the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Christians, therefore,
celebrated Pascha according to the same calculation-that is, on the first
Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox. The correlation
between the date of Pascha and the date of Passover is clear. Our Lord's
death and resurrection coincided with Passover, thereby assuring a secure
point of reference in time. This assurance lasted, however, only for a
Events in Jewish history contributing to the dispersion
of the Jews had as a consequence a departure from the way Passover was
reckoned at the time of our Lord's death and resurrection. This caused
the Passover to precede the vernal equinox in some years. It was, in fact,
this anomaly which led to the condemnation reflected in Canon 1 of Antioch
(ca. 330) and Canon 7 of the Holy Apostles (late 4th century) of those
who celebrate Pascha "with the Jews." The purpose of this condemnation
was to prevent Christians from taking into account the calculation of
Passover in determining the date of Pascha.
Most Christians eventually ceased to regulate the observance
of Pascha by the Jewish Passover. Their purpose, of course, was to preserve
the original practice of celebrating Pascha following the vernal equinox.
Thus, the Council of Nicaea sought to link the principles for determining
the date of Pascha to the norms for calculating Passover during our Lord's
Despite the intervention of Nicaea, certain differences
in the technicalities of regulating the date of Pascha remained even thereafter.
This resulted occasionally in local variations until, by the 6th century,
a more secure mode of calculation based on astronomical data was universally
accepted. This was an alternative to calculating Pascha by the Passover
and consisted in the creation of so-called "paschal cycles."
Each paschal cycle corresponded to a certain number of years. Depending
upon the number of years in the cycle, the full moon occurred on the same
day of the year as at the beginning of the cycle with some exceptions.
The more accurate the cycle, the less frequent were the exceptions. In
the East, a 19-year cycle was eventually adopted, whereas in the West
an 84-year cycle. The use of two different paschal cycles inevitably gave
way to differences between the Eastern and Western Churches regarding
the observance of Pascha.
A further cause for these differences was the adoption
by the Western Church of the Gregorian Calendar in the 16th century. This
took place in order to adjust the discrepancy by then observed between
the paschal cycle approach to calculating Pascha and the available astronomical
data. The Orthodox Church continues to base its calculations for the date
of Pascha on the Julian Calendar, which was in use at the time of the
First Ecumenical Council. As such, it does not take into account the number
of days, which have since then accrued due to the progressive loss of
time in this calendar.
Practically speaking, this means that Pascha may not
be celebrated before April 3, which was March 21, the date of the vernal
equinox, at the time of the First Ecumenical Council. In other words,
a difference of 13 days exists between the accepted date for the vernal
equinox then and now. Consequently, it is the combination of these variables
which accounts for the different dates of Pascha observed by the Orthodox
Church and other Christian Churches.
If anything, this review of the complexities surrounding
the issue of the date of Pascha underscores the compelling need to revisit
it with patience and openness. This was the spirit which predominated
at the most recent consultation on the matter held in Aleppo, Syria in
1997. One of its conclusions was that the present differences in the calendars
and lunar tables (paschal cycles) employed rather than to differences
in fundamental theological outlook. In view of the fact that both the
Julian and Gregorian modes of calculation diverge from the astronomical
data, it behooves us to return to the norms determined by the Council
of Nicaea. Although the council did not itself undertake a detailed regulation
of the paschal calculation, it did in fact respect available contemporary
science regarding the vernal equinox and the phase of the moon. We can
do no less today.
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Dr. Lewis J. Patsavos,
Professor of Canon Law Holy Cross School of Theology
Calendar of Paschal Dates
|The celebration of Great and Holy Pascha will be held by the Orthodox Church on the following dates:|
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