Easter


EASTER

“Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them” (Jer. 10:2).

“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Col. 2:8).

“Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do” (1 Tim. 1:4).

The following is from the Encyclopedia Americana, Vol. 9, 1966: Easter is a convergence of three traditions.

1) Pagan. According to the Venerable Bede, English historian of the early 8th century, the word is derived from the Norse Ostara or Eostre, meaning the festival of spring at the vernal equinox, March 21, when nature is in resurrection after winter. Hence, the rabbits, notable for their fecundity, and the eggs, colored like rays of the returning sun and the northern lights or aurora borealis.

The Greek myth, Demeter and Persephone, with its Latin counterpart, Ceres and Persephone, conveys the idea of a goddess returning seasonally from the nether regions to the light of day.

2) Hebrew. In Exodus 12 we read of the night in Egypt when the angel of death “passed over” the dwellings of the Israelites, and so sparing their first born. Hence, the Passover, or Jewish Pesach, celebrated during Nisan, the first month of the Hebrew year.

3) Christian. It was at the feast of the Passover in Jerusalem that Jesus, a Jew, was crucified and rose from the dead. A name for Easter, therefore, is Pasch, in various spellings, and churches throughout the east and west celebrate Easter as a major feast ranking with Christmas; witness the “hot cross bun” or boon distributed among the faithful.

“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18-19).

Fixing the date of Easter each year has involved the churches in a complicated mathematical problem accompanied by prolonged and acrimonious controversies involving disputed ecclesiastical authority. In Judaism the calendar is lunar. Each month, Nisan included, includes the phases of the moon, and the Passover falls on the 15th day of the month, that is full moon. The determination of this date was a secret process jealously guarded in the Jewish temple and later, synagogues, and it was according to this calculation that Christ observed at the feast. The early Christians were Jews and the Hebrew tradition was powerful in their minds.

A party of such conservatives known as the Quartodecimans thus pressed for a continuance of the Jewish Passover as Easter, even to the point of schism, but they were overruled by the church as a whole, and for these reasons: The church resented dependence on the Synagogue for its ecclesiastical year. The Hebrew Passover falls on any day of the week and this did not suit the Christians, They wanted a Holy Week beginning with Palm Sunday, commemorating the resurrection. Between the Jewish Passover and the Christian Easter there were thus a doctrinal and calendrical severance.

“And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).

On the Church, therefore, fell the duty of setting Easter in the Christian year, and the reasons for the problems which arose should be completely understood. Two calendars were in conflict. The lunar reckoning was Babylonian and the solar reckoning was Egyptian. Judaism held to Babylon, Rome adopted Egypt, and the western world has followed Rome…”

In the case of Christmas, the Church ignored the lunar year and no difficulty arose. Christmas comes about four days after Dec. 21, the winter solstice.

Emotions were aroused. The western Christians observed Easter on Sunday. The eastern preferred the 14th day of the lunar month. It was a foretaste of the schism that was to split the Eastern Orthodox Church from the Roman Catholic. Anxiety over the date of Easter was thus a reason why Constantine the Great, in 325 A.D., summoned the famous council of Nicaea. It was decided that Easter must be celebrated everywhere on the same day, and this day must be a Sunday.

It must be the first Sunday after the full moon, following the vernal equinox, March 21, with one reservation. In the English prayer book it is stated thus: “…and if the full moon happens upon a Sunday, Easter day is the Sunday after.” The reason for this exception reveals the depth of the division between the church and the synagogue. For whenever the full moon fell on a Sunday, Easter would be celebrated on the same day as the Hebrew passover. Hence, the postponement for a week, to avoid the coincidence.

“Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44).

At Nicaea they had to decide who was to manage the full moon and so announce the date of Easter. This delicate duty was referred to Alexandria, where the bishop was to declare the date each year. Easter was celebrated on different Sundays in different places. In 457 A.D. the pope used the Victorian cycle of calculation.

Whence arose the fundamental question, more important than the date of Easter itself, whether these churches were under the authority of Rome.

In 664, Oswy or Oswin, king of Mercia, summoned the famous Synod of Whitby, where he decided to throw in his lot with the papacy. A simultaneous observance of Easter throughout Christendom was thus made possible and it continued for nine centuries. At this moment the Protestant and Roman Catholic Easters coincide. Not so the Eastern Orthodox Church Easter, for which, again, there is no explanation.

The Julian calendar advanced, year by year, beyond the true solar year. In 1582, therefore, Pope Gregory XIII omitted ten days from that calendar and so brought March 21 back to the correct vernal equinox. He found that Easter was three days ahead of the full moon, and the adjustment for Easter was thus seven days. This resulted in the Gregorian Calendar, or New Style, now generally adopted in the modern world.

The problem of Easter, even in the west, has yet to be completely solved. For the date, though accurately determined, varies from year to year, and Easter is thus a “moveable” feast. Easter falls anywhere between March 22 and April 25, a range of 35 days, “Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain” (Gal. 4:10-11).

The flow of trade, especially in women’s clothing, is tidal with Easter. Brothers and sisters, are you confused? “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints” (1 Cor. 14:33).

by Stephen Mullins

The Light

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