Easter (Latin: Pascha; Greek Πάσχα Paskha, from Hebrew: פֶּסַח Pesaḥ) is a Christian festival and holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after his crucifixion at Calvary as described in the New Testament. Easter is the culmination of the Passion of Christ, preceded by Lent, a forty-day period of fasting, prayer, and penance. The last week of Lent is called Holy Week, and it contains the days of the Easter Triduum, including Maundy Thursday (also known as Holy Thursday), commemorating the Last Supper and its preceding foot washing, as well as Good Friday, commemorating the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Easter is followed by a fifty-day period called Eastertide, or the Easter Season, ending with Pentecost Sunday.
Easter is a moveable feast, meaning it is not fixed in relation to the civil calendar. The First Council of Nicaea (325) established the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the full moon (the Paschal Full Moon) following the March equinox. Ecclesiastically, the equinox is reckoned to be on 21 March (even though the equinox occurs, astronomically speaking, on 20 March in most years), and the "Full Moon" is not necessarily the astronomically correct date. The date of Easter therefore varies between 22 March and 25 April. Eastern Christianity bases its calculations on the Julian calendar, whose 21 March corresponds, during the 21st century, to 3 April in the Gregorian calendar, in which the celebration of Easter therefore varies between 4 April and 8 May.
Easter is linked to the Jewish Passover by much of its symbolism, as well as by its position in the calendar. In many languages, the words for "Easter" and "Passover" are etymologically related or homonymous. Easter customs vary across the Christian world, but attending sunrise services, exclaiming the Paschal greeting, clipping the church and decorating Easter eggs, a symbol of the empty tomb, are common motifs. Additional customs include egg hunting, the Easter Bunny, and Easter parades, which are observed by both Christians and some non-Christians.
The 2nd-century equivalent of Easter and the Paschal Triduum was called by both Greek and Latin writers Pascha, derived from the Hebrew term Pesach (פֶּסַח), known in English as Passover, the Jewish festival commemorating the story of the Exodus. Paul writes from Ephesus that "Christ our Pascha has been sacrificed for us," although the Ephesian Christians were not the first to hear that Exodus 12 spoke about the death of Jesus. In most of the non-English speaking world, the feast today is known by the name Pascha and words derived from it.
The modern English term Easter, cognate with modern German Ostern, developed from the Old English word Ēastre or Ēostre. This is generally held to have originally referred to the name of an Anglo-Saxon goddess, Ēostre, a form of the widely attested Indo-European dawn goddess. The evidence for the Anglo-Saxon goddess, however, has not been universally accepted, and some have proposed that Eostre may have meant "the month of opening" or that the name Easter may have arisen from the designation of Easter Week in Latin as in albis.
The New Testament teaches that the resurrection of Jesus, which Easter celebrates, is a foundation of the Christian faith. The resurrection established Jesus as the powerful Son of God and is cited as proof that God will judge the world in righteousness. God has given Christians "a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead". Christians, through faith in the working of God are spiritually resurrected with Jesus so that they may walk in a new way of life.
Easter is linked to the Passover and Exodus from Egypt recorded in the Old Testament through the Last Supper and crucifixion that preceded the resurrection. According to the New Testament, Jesus gave the Passover meal a new meaning, as he prepared himself and his disciples for his death in the upper room during the Last Supper. He identified the matzah and cup of wine as his body soon to be sacrificed and his blood soon to be shed. Paul states, "Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed"; this refers to the Passover requirement to have no yeast in the house and to the allegory of Jesus as the Paschal lamb.
One interpretation of the Gospel of John is that Jesus, as the Passover lamb, was crucified at roughly the same time as the Passover lambs were being slain in the temple, on the afternoon of Nisan 14. The scriptural instructions specify that the lamb is to be slain "between the two evenings", that is, at twilight. By the Roman period, however, the sacrifices were performed in the mid-afternoon. Josephus, Jewish War 6.10.1/423 ("They sacrifice from the ninth to the eleventh hour"). Philo, Special Laws 2.27/145 ("Many myriads of victims from noon till eventide are offered by the whole people"). This interpretation, however, is inconsistent with the chronology in the Synoptic Gospels. It assumes that text literally translated "the preparation of the passover" in John 19:14 refers to Nisan 14 (Preparation Day for the Passover) and not necessarily to Yom Shishi (Friday, Preparation Day for the Passover week Sabbath) and that the priests' desire to be ritually pure in order to "eat the passover" refers to eating the Passover lamb, not to the public offerings made during the days of Unleavened Bread.
In the Early Church
The first Christians, Jewish and Gentile, were certainly aware of the Hebrew calendar, but there is no direct evidence that they celebrated any specifically Christian annual festivals. Christians of Jewish origin were the first to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Since the date of the resurrection was close the timing of Passover, they likely celebrated the resurrection as a new facet of the Passover festival.
Direct evidence for the Easter festival begins to appear in the mid-2nd century. Perhaps the earliest extant primary source referencing Easter is a mid-2nd-century Paschal homily attributed to Melito of Sardis, which characterizes the celebration as a well-established one. Evidence for another kind of annual Christian festival, the commemoration of martyrs, begins to appear at about the same time as evidence for the celebration of Easter. But while martyrs' days (usually the individual dates of martyrdom) were celebrated on fixed dates in the local solar calendar, the date of Easter was fixed by means of the local Jewish lunisolar calendar. This is consistent with the celebration of Easter having entered Christianity during its earliest, Jewish period, but does not leave the question free of doubt.
The ecclesiastical historian Socrates Scholasticus attributes the observance of Easter by the church to the perpetuation of its custom, "just as many other customs have been established," stating that neither Jesus nor his Apostles enjoined the keeping of this or any other festival. Although he describes the details of the Easter celebration as deriving from local custom, he insists the feast itself is universally observed.
Easter and the holidays that are related to it are moveable feasts, in that they do not fall on a fixed date in the Gregorian or Julian calendars (both of which follow the cycle of the sun and the seasons). Instead, the date for Easter is determined on a lunisolar calendar similar to the Hebrew calendar. The First Council of Nicaea (325) established the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the full moon (the Paschal Full Moon) following the March equinox. Ecclesiastically, the equinox is reckoned to be on 21 March (even though the equinox occurs, astronomically speaking, on 20 March in most years), and the "full moon" is not necessarily the astronomically correct date.
In Western Christianity, using the Gregorian calendar, Easter always falls on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25 inclusive, within about seven days after the astronomical full moon. The following day, Easter Monday, is a legal holiday in many countries with predominantly Christian traditions.
Eastern Christianity bases its calculations on the Julian Calendar. Because of the 13-day difference between the calendars between 1900 and 2099, 21 March corresponds, during the 21st century, to 3 April in the Gregorian Calendar. Easter therefore varies between 4 April and 8 May on the Gregorian calendar (the Julian calendar is no longer used as the civil calendar of the countries where Eastern Christian traditions predominate). Also, because the Julian "full moon" is always several days after the astronomical full moon, the eastern Easter is often later, relative to the visible moon's phases, than western Easter.
Among the Oriental Orthodox some churches have changed from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar and the date for Easter as for other fixed and moveable feasts is the same as in the Western church.
In 725, Bede succinctly wrote, "The Sunday following the full Moon which falls on or after the equinox will give the lawful Easter." However, this does not reflect the actual ecclesiastical rules precisely. One reason for this is that the full moon involved (called the Paschal full moon) is not an astronomical full moon, but the 14th day of a calendar lunar month. Another difference is that the astronomical equinox is a natural astronomical phenomenon, which can fall on 19, 20 March, or 21, while the ecclesiastical date is fixed by convention on 21 March.
In applying the ecclesiastical rules, Christian churches use 21 March as the starting point in determining the date of Easter, from which they find the next full moon, etc. The Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches continue to use the Julian calendar. Their starting point in determining the date of Orthodox Easter is also 21 March, but according to the Julian reckoning, which currently corresponds to 3 April in the Gregorian calendar. In addition, the lunar tables of the Julian calendar are four days (sometimes five days) behind those of the Gregorian calendar. The 14th day of the lunar month according to the Gregorian system is only the 9th or 10th day according to the Julian. The result of this combination of solar and lunar discrepancies is divergence in the date of Easter in most years (see table).
Easter is determined on the basis of lunisolar cycles. The lunar year consists of 30-day and 29-day lunar months, generally alternating, with an embolismic month added periodically to bring the lunar cycle into line with the solar cycle. In each solar year (1 January to 31 December inclusive), the lunar month beginning with an ecclesiastical new moon falling in the 29-day period from 8 March to 5 April inclusive is designated as the paschal lunar month for that year. Easter is the third Sunday in the paschal lunar month, or, in other words, the Sunday after the paschal lunar month's 14th day. The 14th of the paschal lunar month is designated by convention as the Paschal full moon, although the 14th of the lunar month may differ from the date of the astronomical full moon by up to two days. Since the ecclesiastical new moon falls on a date from 8 March to 5 April inclusive, the paschal full moon (the 14th of that lunar month) must fall on a date from 21 March to 18 April inclusive.
The Gregorian calculation of Easter was based on a method devised by the Calabrian doctor Aloysius Lilius (or Lilio) for adjusting the epacts of the moon, and has been adopted by almost all Western Christians and by Western countries who celebrate national holidays at Easter. For the British Empire and colonies, a determination of the date of Easter Sunday using Golden Numbers and Sunday letters was defined by the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750 with its Annexe. This was designed to exactly match the Gregorian calculation.
The precise date of Easter has at times been a matter for contention. By the later 2nd century, it was accepted that the celebration of the holiday was a practice of the disciples and an undisputed tradition. The Quartodeciman controversy, the first of several Easter controversies, then arose concerning the date on which the holiday should be celebrated.
The term "Quartodeciman" refers to the practice of celebrating Easter on Nisan 14 of the Hebrew calendar, "the LORD's passover" ( Leviticus 23:5). According to the church historian Eusebius, the Quartodeciman Polycarp (bishop of Smyrna, by tradition a disciple of John the Evangelist) debated the question with Anicetus (bishop of Rome). The Roman province of Asia was Quartodeciman, while the Roman and Alexandrian churches continued the fast until the Sunday following (the Sunday of Unleavened Bread), wishing to associate Easter with Sunday. Neither Polycarp nor Anicetus persuaded the other, but they did not consider the matter schismatic either, parting in peace and leaving the question unsettled.
Controversy arose when Victor, bishop of Rome a generation after Anicetus, attempted to excommunicate Polycrates of Ephesus and all other bishops of Asia for their Quartodecimanism. According to Eusebius, a number of synods were convened to deal with the controversy, which he regarded as all ruling in support of Easter on Sunday. Polycrates (circa 190), however, wrote to Victor defending the antiquity of Asian Quartodecimanism. Victor's attempted excommunication was apparently rescinded and the two sides reconciled upon the intervention of bishop Irenaeus and others, who reminded Victor of the tolerant precedent of Anicetus.
Quartodecimanism seems to have lingered into the 4th century, when Socrates of Constantinople recorded that some Quartodecimans were deprived of their churches by John Chrysostom and that some were harassed by Nestorius.
It is not known how long the Nisan 14 practice continued. But both those who followed the Nisan 14 custom, and those who set Easter to the following Sunday had in common the custom of consulting their Jewish neighbors to learn when the month of Nisan would fall, and setting their festival accordingly. By the later 3rd century, however, some Christians began to express dissatisfaction with the custom of relying on the Jewish community to determine the date of Easter. The chief complaint was that the Jewish communities sometimes erred in setting Passover to fall before the Northern Hemisphere spring equinox. The Sardica paschal table confirms these complaints, for it indicates that the Jews of some eastern Mediterranean city (possibly Antioch) fixed Nisan 14 on dates well before the spring equinox on multiple occasions.
Because of this dissatisfaction with reliance on the Jewish calendar, some Christians began to experiment with independent computations. Others, however, felt that the customary practice of consulting Jews should continue, even if the Jewish computations were in error.
This controversy between those who advocated independent computations, and those who wished to continue the custom of relying on the Jewish calendar, was formally resolved by the First Council of Nicaea in 325, which endorsed the move to independent computations, effectively requiring the abandonment of the old custom of consulting the Jewish community in those places where it was still used. Epiphanius of Salamis wrote in the mid-4th century:
... the emperor ... convened a council of 318 bishops ... in the city of Nicea ... They passed certain ecclesiastical canons at the council besides, and at the same time decreed in regard to the Passover that there must be one unanimous concord on the celebration of God's holy and supremely excellent day. For it was variously observed by people ...
That the older custom (called "protopaschite" by historians) did not at once die out, but persisted for a time, is indicated by the existence of canons and sermons against it.
Some scholars have concluded that no detailed method of determining the date of Easter was specified by the Council. In any case, in the years following the council, the computational system that was worked out by the church of Alexandria came to be normative. It took a while for the Alexandrian rules to be adopted throughout Christian Europe, however. The Church of Rome continued to use an 84-year lunisolar calendar cycle from the late 3rd century until 457. It then switched to an adaptation by Victorius of Aquitaine of the Alexandrian rules. Because this Victorian cycle differed from the Alexandrian cycle in the dates of some of the Paschal Full Moons, and because it tried to respect the Roman custom of fixing Easter to the Sunday in the week of the 16th to the 22nd of the lunar month (rather than the 15th to the 21st as at Alexandria), by providing alternative "Latin" and "Greek" dates in some years, occasional disagreements from the date of Easter as fixed by Alexandrian rules continued. The Alexandrian rules were adopted in their entirety in the 6th century. From this time, therefore, all disputes between Alexandria and Rome as to the correct date for Easter cease, as both churches were using identical tables.
Early Christians in Britain and Ireland also used an 84-year cycle. From the 5th century onward this cycle set its equinox to 25 March and fixed Easter to the Sunday falling in the 14th to the 20th of the lunar month inclusive. This 84-year cycle was replaced by the Alexandrian method in the course of the 7th and 8th centuries. Churches in western continental Europe used a late Roman method until the late 8th century during the reign of Charlemagne, when they finally adopted the Alexandrian method. Since 1582, when the Catholic Church adopted the Gregorian calendar while the Eastern Orthodox and most Oriental Orthodox Churches retained the Julian calendar, the date on which Easter is celebrated has again differed.
The Greek island of Syros, whose population is divided almost equally between Catholics and Orthodox, is one of the few places where the two Churches share a common date for Easter, with the Catholics accepting the Orthodox date - a practice helping considerably in maintaining good relations between the two communities.
Reform of the date
In the 20th century, some individuals and institutions have propounded a fixed date for Easter, the most prominent proposal being the Sunday after the second Saturday in April. Despite having some support, proposals to reform the date have not been implemented. An Orthodox congress of Eastern Orthodox bishops, which included representatives mostly from the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Patriarch of Serbia, met in Constantinople in 1923, where the bishops agreed to the Revised Julian calendar.
The original form of this calendar would have determined Easter using precise astronomical calculations based on the meridian of Jerusalem. However, all the Eastern Orthodox countries that subsequently adopted the Revised Julian calendar adopted only that part of the revised calendar that applied to festivals falling on fixed dates in the Julian calendar. The revised Easter computation that had been part of the original 1923 agreement was never permanently implemented in any Orthodox diocese.
In the United Kingdom, the Easter Act 1928 set out legislation to allow the date of Easter to be fixed as the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April (or, in other words, the Sunday in the period from 9 to 15 April). However, the legislation has not been implemented, although it remains on the Statute book and could be implemented subject to approval by the various Christian churches.
At a summit in Aleppo, Syria, in 1997, the World Council of Churches (WCC) proposed a reform in the calculation of Easter which would have replaced the present divergent practices of calculating Easter with modern scientific knowledge taking into account actual astronomical instances of the spring equinox and full moon based on the meridian of Jerusalem, while also following the Council of Nicea position of Easter being on the Sunday following the full moon. The recommended World Council of Churches changes would have sidestepped the calendar issues and eliminated the difference in date between the Eastern and Western churches. The reform was proposed for implementation starting in 2001, but it was not ultimately adopted by any member body.
Table of the dates of Easter
The WCC presented comparative data of the relationships:
|2001||8 April||15 April||15 April||15 April||8 April|
|2002||28 March||31 March||31 March||5 May||28 March|
|2003||16 April||20 April||20 April||27 April||17 April|
|2004||5 April||11 April||11 April||11 April||6 April|
|2005||25 March||27 March||27 March||1 May||24 April|
|2006||13 April||16 April||16 April||23 April||13 April|
|2007||2 April||8 April||8 April||8 April||3 April|
|2008||21 March||23 March||23 March||27 April||20 April|
|2009||9 April||12 April||12 April||19 April||9 April|
|2010||30 March||4 April||4 April||4 April||30 March|
|2011||18 April||24 April||24 April||24 April||19 April|
|2012||6 April||8 April||8 April||15 April||7 April|
|2013||27 March||31 March||31 March||5 May||26 March|
|2014||15 April||20 April||20 April||20 April||15 April|
|2015||4 April||5 April||5 April||12 April||4 April|
|2016||23 March||27 March||27 March||1 May||23 April|
|2017||11 April||16 April||16 April||16 April||11 April|
|2018||31 March||1 April||1 April||8 April||31 March|
|2019||21 March||24 March||21 April||28 April||20 April|
|2020||8 April||12 April||12 April||19 April||9 April|
|2021||28 March||4 April||4 April||2 May||28 March|
Notes: 1. Astronomical Easter is the first Sunday after the Astronomical full moon, referred to the meridian of Jerusalem.
2. Passover commences at sunset preceding the date indicated.
Position in the church year
In Western Christianity, Easter is preceded by Lent, a period of fasting and penitence in preparation for Easter, which begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts forty days (not counting Sundays). The week before Easter, known as Holy Week, is very special in the Christian tradition. The Sunday before Easter is Palm Sunday, with the Wednesday before Easter being known as Spy Wednesday. The last three days before Easter are Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday (sometimes referred to as Silent Saturday). Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday respectively commemorate Jesus' entry in Jerusalem, the Last Supper and the Crucifixion. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are sometimes referred to as the Easter Triduum (Latin for "Three Days"). Many churches begin celebrating Easter late in the evening of Holy Saturday at a service called the Easter Vigil. In some countries, Easter lasts two days, with the second called " Easter Monday".
The week beginning with Easter Sunday is called Easter Week or the Octave of Easter, and each day is prefaced with "Easter", e.g. Easter Monday, Easter Tuesday, etc. Easter Saturday is therefore the Saturday after Easter Sunday. The day before Easter is properly called Holy Saturday. Eastertide, or Paschaltide, the season of Easter, begins on Easter Sunday and lasts until the day of Pentecost, seven weeks later.
In Eastern Christianity, the spiritual preparation for Easter begins with Great Lent, which starts on Clean Monday and lasts for 40 continuous days (including Sundays). The last week of Great Lent (following the fifth Sunday of Great Lent) is called Palm Week, and ends with Lazarus Saturday. The Vespers which begins Lazarus Saturday officially brings Great Lent to a close, although the fast continues through the following week. After Lazarus Saturday comes Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and finally Easter itself, and the fast is broken immediately after the Paschal Divine Liturgy.
The Paschal Vigil begins with the Midnight Office, which is the last service of the Lenten Triodion and is timed so that it ends a little before midnight on Holy Saturday night. At the stroke of midnight the Paschal celebration itself begins, consisting of Paschal Matins, Paschal Hours, and Paschal Divine Liturgy. Placing the Paschal Divine Liturgy at midnight guarantees that no Divine Liturgy will come earlier in the morning, ensuring its place as the pre-eminent "Feast of Feasts" in the liturgical year.
The liturgical season from Easter to the Sunday of All Saints (the Sunday after Pentecost) is known as the Pentecostarion (the "fifty days"). The week which begins on Easter Sunday is called Bright Week, during which there is no fasting, even on Wednesday and Friday. The Afterfeast of Easter lasts 39 days, with its Apodosis (leave-taking) on the day before Ascension. Pentecost Sunday is the fiftieth day from Easter (counted inclusively).
The Easter festival is kept in many different ways among Western Christians. The traditional, liturgical observation of Easter, as practised among Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and some Anglicans begins on the night of Holy Saturday with the Easter Vigil. This, the most important liturgy of the year, begins in total darkness with the blessing of the Easter fire, the lighting of the large Paschal candle (symbolic of the Risen Christ) and the chanting of the Exultet or Easter Proclamation attributed to Saint Ambrose of Milan. After this service of light, a number of readings from the Old Testament are read; these tell the stories of creation, the sacrifice of Isaac, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the foretold coming of the Messiah. This part of the service climaxes with the singing of the Gloria and the Alleluia and the proclamation of the Gospel of the resurrection. At this time, the lights are brought up and the church bells are rung, according to local custom. A sermon may be preached after the gospel. Then the focus moves from the lectern to the font. Anciently, Easter was considered the ideal time for converts to receive baptism, and this practice continues within Roman Catholicism and the Anglican Communion. Whether there are baptisms at this point or not, it is traditional for the congregation to renew the vows of their baptismal faith. This act is often sealed by the sprinkling of the congregation with holy water from the font. The Catholic sacrament of Confirmation is also celebrated at the Vigil.
The Easter Vigil concludes with the celebration of the Eucharist (known in some traditions as Holy Communion). Certain variations in the Easter Vigil exist: Some churches read the Old Testament lessons before the procession of the Paschal candle, and then read the gospel immediately after the Exsultet. Some churches prefer to keep this vigil very early on the Sunday morning instead of the Saturday night, particularly churches, to reflect the gospel account of the women coming to the tomb at dawn on the first day of the week. These services are known as the Sunrise service and often occur in outdoor setting such as the church cemetery, yard, or a nearby park.
The first recorded "Sunrise Service" took place in 1732 among the Single Brethren in the Moravian Congregation at Herrnhut, Saxony, in what is now Germany. Following an all-night vigil they went before dawn to the town graveyard, God's Acre, on the hill above the town, to celebrate the Resurrection among the graves of the departed. This service was repeated the following year by the whole congregation and subsequently spread with the Moravian Missionaries around the world, including Old Salem in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Additional celebrations are usually offered on Easter Sunday itself. Typically these services follow the usual order of Sunday services in a congregation, but also typically incorporate more highly festive elements. The music of the service, in particular, often displays a highly festive tone; the incorporation of brass instruments (trumpets, etc.) to supplement a congregation's usual instrumentation is common. Often a congregation's worship space is decorated with special banners and flowers (such as Easter lilies).
In predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines, the morning of Easter (known in the national language as "Pasko ng Muling Pagkabuhay" or the Pasch of the Resurrection) is marked with joyous celebration, the first being the dawn "Salubong", wherein large statues of Jesus and Mary are brought together to meet, imagining the first reunion of Jesus and his mother Mary after Jesus' Resurrection. This is followed by the joyous Easter Mass.
In Polish culture, The Rezurekcja (Resurrection Procession) is the joyous Easter morning Mass at daybreak when church bells ring out and explosions resound to commemorate Christ rising from the dead. Before the Mass begins at dawn, a festive procession with the Blessed Sacrament carried beneath a canopy encircles the church. As church bells ring out, handbells are vigorously shaken by altar boys, the air is filled with incense and the faithful raise their voices heavenward in a triumphant rendering of age-old Easter hymns. After the Blessed Sacrament is carried around the church and Adoration is complete, the Easter Mass begins. Another Polish Easter tradition is Święconka, the blessing of Easter baskets by the parish priest on Holy Saturday. This custom is celebrated not only in Poland, but also in the United States by Polish-Americans.
Easter is the fundamental and most important festival of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches:
- This is the Expected and Holy Day,
- the One among the Sabbaths,
- the Sovereign and Lady of days,
- Feast of feasts, Celebration of celebrations,
- on which we praise Christ for all eternity!
Every other religious festival in their calendar, including Christmas, is secondary in importance to the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is reflected in rich Paschal customs in the cultures of countries that have traditionally had an Orthodox Christian majority. Eastern Catholics have similar emphasis in their calendars, and many of their liturgical customs are very similar.
This is not to say that Christmas and other elements of the Christian liturgical calendar are ignored. Instead, these events are all seen as necessary but preliminary to, and illuminated by, the full climax of the Resurrection, in which all that has come before reaches fulfillment and fruition. They shine only in the light of the Resurrection. Easter is the primary act that fulfills the purpose of Christ's ministry on earth—to defeat death by dying and to purify and exalt humanity by voluntarily assuming and overcoming human frailty. This is succinctly summarized by the Paschal troparion, sung repeatedly during Christian Passover until the Apodosis of Easter, which is the day before Ascension:
- Χριστὸς ἀνέστη ἐκ νεκρῶν,
- θανάτῳ θάνατον πατήσας,
- καὶ τοῖς ἐν τοῖς μνήμασι
- ζωὴν χαρισάμενος.
- Christ is risen from the dead,
- Trampling down death by death,
- And upon those in the tombs
- Bestowing life!
Preparation for Easter begins with the season of Great Lent. In addition to fasting, almsgiving, and prayer, Orthodox Christians cut down on all entertainment and non-essential worldly activities, gradually eliminating them until Great and Holy Friday, the most austere day of the year. Traditionally, on the evening of Great and Holy Saturday, the Midnight Office is celebrated shortly after 11:00 pm (see Paschal Vigil). At its completion all light in the church building is extinguished, and all wait in darkness and silence for the stroke of midnight. Then, a new flame is struck in the altar, or the priest lights his candle from the perpetual lamp kept burning there, and he then lights candles held by deacons or other assistants, who then go to light candles held by the congregation (this practice has its origin in the reception of the Holy Fire at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem). Then the priest and congregation go in a Crucession ( procession with the cross) around the temple (church building), holding lit candles, chanting:
By Thy Resurrection O Christ our savior, the angels in Heaven sing, enable us who are on Earth, to glorify thee in purity of heart.
This procession reenacts the journey of the Myrrhbearers to the Tomb of Jesus "very early in the morning" ( Luke 24:1). After circling around the temple once or three times, the procession halts in front of the closed doors. In the Greek practice the priest reads a selection from the Gospel Book ( Mark 16:1–8). Then, in all traditions, the priest makes the sign of the cross with the censer in front of the closed doors (which represent the sealed tomb). He and the people chant the Paschal Troparion, and all of the bells and semantra are sounded. Then all re-enter the temple and Paschal Matins begins immediately, followed by the Paschal Hours and then the Paschal Divine Liturgy. The high point of the liturgy is the delivery of Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom, for which the congregation stands.
After the dismissal of the Liturgy, the priest may bless Paschal eggs and baskets brought by the faithful containing those foods which have been forbidden during the Great Fast. Immediately after the Liturgy it is customary for the congregation to share a meal, essentially an Agápē dinner (albeit at 2:00 am or later). In Greece the traditional meal is mageiritsa, a hearty stew of chopped lamb liver and wild greens seasoned with egg-and-lemon sauce. Traditionally, Easter eggs, hard-boiled eggs dyed bright red to symbolize the spilt Blood of Christ and the promise of eternal life, are cracked together to celebrate the opening of the Tomb of Christ.
The next morning, Easter Sunday proper, there is no Divine Liturgy, since the Liturgy for that day has already been celebrated. Instead, in the afternoon, it is often traditional to celebrate " Agápē Vespers". In this service, it has become customary during the last few centuries for the priest and members of the congregation to read a portion of the Gospel of John 20:19-25 (in some places the reading is e to include verses 19:26-31) in as many languages as they can manage, to show the universality of the Resurrection.
For the remainder of the week, known as " Bright Week", all fasting is prohibited, and the customary Paschal greeting is: "Christ is risen!", to which the response is: "Truly He is risen!" This may also be done in many different languages. The services during Bright Week are nearly identical to those on Easter itself, except that they do not take place at midnight, but at their normal times during the day. The Crucession during Bright Week takes place either after Paschal Matins or the Paschal Divine Liturgy.
Non-observing Christian groups
Along with Christmas celebrations, many Easter traditions ultimately became altered by various offshoots of the Protestant Reformation, being deemed " pagan" or " Popish" (and therefore tainted) by many Puritan movements – although there were some major Reformation Churches and movements ( Lutheran, Methodist and Anglican for example), that chose to retain a large portion of the observances of the Church Year and many of its associated traditions. In Lutheran Churches, for example, not only were the days of Holy Week observed, but also Christmas, Easter and Pentecost were observed with three-day festivals (the day itself and the two following).
Among many other Reformation and counter Counter-Reformation traditions, however, things were very different, with most Anabaptists, Quakers, Congregational and Presbyterian Puritans, regarding such festivals as an abomination. The Puritan rejection of Easter traditions was (and is) based partly upon their interpretation of 2 Corinthians 6:14-16 and partly upon a more general belief that if a religious practice or celebration is not actually written in the Old and/or New Testaments of the Christian Bible then that practice/celebration must be a later development and cannot be considered an authentic part of Christian practice or belief - so at best simply unnecessary, at worst actually sinful.
Some Christian groups continue to reject the celebration of Easter due to perceived pagan roots and historical connections to the practices and permissions of the "Roman" Catholic Church. Other " Nonconformist" Christian groups that do still celebrate the event prefer to call it "Resurrection Sunday" or "Resurrection Day", for the same reasons as well as a rejection of secular or commercial aspects of the holiday in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Jehovah's Witnesses maintain a similar view, observing a yearly commemorative service of the Last Supper and subsequent execution of Christ on the evening of Nisan 14 (as they calculate the dates derived from the lunar Hebrew Calendar). It is commonly referred to by many Witnesses as simply "The Memorial". Jehovah's Witnesses believe that such verses as Luke 22:19-20 and 1 Cor 11:26 constitute a commandment to remember the death of Christ though not the resurrection (as only the remembrance of His death was observed by early Christians), and they do so on a yearly basis just as Passover is celebrated annually by the Jews.
Members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), as part of their historic testimony against times and seasons, do not celebrate or observe Easter or any other Church holidays, believing instead that "every day is the Lord's day", and that elevation of one day above others suggests that it is acceptable to do un-Christian acts on other days. During the 17th and 18th centuries, Quakers were persecuted for this non-observance of Holy Days.
Some Christian groups feel that Easter is something to be regarded with great joy: not marking the day itself, but remembering and rejoicing in the event it commemorates—the miracle of Christ's resurrection. In this spirit, these Christians teach that each day and all Sabbaths should be kept holy, in Christ's teachings. Hebrew-Christian, Sacred Name, and Armstrong movement churches (such as the Living Church of God) usually reject Easter in favour of Nisan 14 observance and celebration of the Christian Passover. This is especially true of Christian groups that celebrate the New Moons or annual High Sabbaths in addition to seventh-day Sabbath. They support this textually with reference to the letter to the Colossians: "Let no one ... pass judgment on you in matters of food and drink or with regard to a festival or new moon or sabbath. These are shadows of things to come; the reality belongs to Christ." (Col. 2:16–17, NAB)
Easter celebrations around the world
Many Americans follow the tradition of coloring hard-boiled eggs and giving baskets of candy. The Easter Bunny is a popular legendary anthropomorphic Easter gift-giving character analogous to Santa Claus in American culture. On Easter Monday, the President of the United States holds an annual Easter egg roll on the White House lawn for young children. New York City holds an annual Easter parade on Easter Sunday.
In some countries where Christianity is a state religion, or where the country has large Christian population, Easter is a public holiday. Some European and other countries in the world also have Easter Monday as a public holiday. In Canada, both Easter Sunday and Easter Monday are public holidays. In province of Quebec, either Good Friday or Easter Monday (although most companies give both) are statutory holidays. Two days before Easter Sunday, on Good Friday, is a public holiday as well. In Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, both Easter Sunday and Easter Monday are public holidays. It is a holiday for most workers except some shopping malls which keep open for half day. Many businesses give their employees almost a week off called Easter break.
In the United States, Easter Sunday is a flag day but because Easter falls on a Sunday, which is already a non working day for federal and state employees, it has not been designated as a federal or state holiday. Few banks that are normally open on regular Sundays are closed on Easter. Some retail stores, shopping malls, and restaurants are closed on Easter Sunday, although this practice is declining. Good Friday, which occurs two days before Easter Sunday, is a holiday in 12 states. Even in states where Good Friday is not a holiday, many financial institutions, stock markets, and public schools are closed.