The Orthodox Faith
Media available for download
Daily Icons Gallery Jan - Jun
Photo Gallery
A Dictionary of Orthodox Terminology
Frequently Asked Questions
Orthodox Spirituality
Orthodox "Myth Busters"
Tradition in the Orthodox Church
Dogma and authority in the Church
The Bible and the Church
The Ever-Virginity of the Mother of God
Jesus Christ in the Orthodox Church
The Holy Trinity
House of God
Holy Icons
The Divine Liturgy
The True Nature of Fasting
From Evangelical to Orthodox
The Funeral Service
A Love Story
The Feast of Epiphany
Christmas - the Nativity of Christ
The Great & Holy Feast of Pascha
Great Lent
Holy Week
Seeing and Believing: The Thomas Incident
The Da Vinci Code
Articles by His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos
Laws, Regulations and Documentation required for an Orthodox wedding
Personal Relationship with God
Noah and His Flood: History or Fantasy?
Prosphoro - Holy Bread
The New Acropolis Museum - Raising the bar on cultural morality
Feast of Holy Pentecost
Sermons given by Father Steven Scoutas
Why Are Priests Called ‘Father’ In our Church?
Prayer
Communing with God in Prayer
The Lord's Prayer
The Symbol of Faith
Morning Prayers
Evening Prayers
The Jesus Prayer
Prayers at mealtime
A prayer of repentance
In time of trouble
In time of sickness
Prayers before Holy Communion
Trisagion Memorial Prayer
Baptism
Chrismation
Holy Communion
Holy Unction
Confession
Marriage
Ordination
Saints
The Saints of the Orthodox Church
St Spyridon - our Patron Saint
The Virgin Mary
The Mystery of the Virgin Mary
The Twelve Apostles
The Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian
Mary Magdalene
Sts Joachim and Anna, parents of Blessed Mary (Theotokos)
Holy Protomartyr and Equal-to-the-Apostles Thekla
The Prophet Elijah (Elias)
Feast Days in September
   
   
  

The Orthodox Faith
Media available for download
Daily Icons Gallery Jan - Jun
Photo Gallery
A Dictionary of Orthodox Terminology
Frequently Asked Questions
Orthodox Spirituality
Orthodox "Myth Busters"
Tradition in the Orthodox Church
Dogma and authority in the Church
The Bible and the Church
The Ever-Virginity of the Mother of God
Jesus Christ in the Orthodox Church
The Holy Trinity
House of God
Holy Icons
The Divine Liturgy
The True Nature of Fasting
From Evangelical to Orthodox
The Funeral Service
A Love Story
The Feast of Epiphany
Christmas - the Nativity of Christ
The Great & Holy Feast of Pascha
Great Lent
Holy Week
Seeing and Believing: The Thomas Incident
The Da Vinci Code
Articles by His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos
Laws, Regulations and Documentation required for an Orthodox wedding
Personal Relationship with God
Noah and His Flood: History or Fantasy?
Prosphoro - Holy Bread
The New Acropolis Museum - Raising the bar on cultural morality
Feast of Holy Pentecost
Sermons given by Father Steven Scoutas
Why Are Priests Called ‘Father’ In our Church?
 
 


 
 Printer friendly version
The Great & Holy Feast of Pascha

Introduction
Commemoration of the Great & Holy Feast of Pascha
Icons of the Resurrection of our Lord
Orthodox Celebration of Pascha
Hymns of Pacha
Dating Pascha in the Orthodox Church
Calendar of Paschal Dates



Introduction

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.

 [Back to top]


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 reign.

 [Back to top]



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 their tombs. 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 recognizable prophets.

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 robe.

 [Back to top]


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.”

 [Back to top]


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.

 [Back to top]


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 short time.

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 lifetime.

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.


Dr. Lewis J. Patsavos,
Professor of Canon Law Holy Cross School of Theology

 [Back to top]


Calendar of Paschal Dates

The celebration of Great and Holy Pascha will be held by the Orthodox Church on the following dates:

2011
2012
2013
2014
2015
2016
2017
Apr
24
Apr
15
May
5
Apr
20
Apr
12
May
1
Apr
16


 [Back to top]