Different Names

The majority of the Apostolic Sees (Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem, their daughter churches, and also those outside the Roman Empire) remember that the Council said that not only could Pascha not fall on Passover, it could not fall before Passover. If the normal calculations would place Pascha before the Jewish Passover, then Pascha must be pushed forward. The only Apostolic See in the West, Rome, remembered the Council differently, holding that all that was mandated was that Pascha must not fall on 14 Nisan directly. Thus Western Pascha may (and often does) fall before Passover.

There are some other minor calculational problems (such as, when does the Spring Equinox really occur), but the Conciliar interpretation is the main issue. Resolution of these controversies may be possible: the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council indicated their great willingness to enter into negotiation on the date of Pascha, so hope is alive for this healing! (Orientalium Ecclesiarum 20.) Negotiations are currently underway to attempt a solution acceptable to all.

NB: The customs described here apply only to the Byzantine Catholic (and Eastern Orthodox) Churches. Other Eastern Churches (Armenian, Chaldean, Coptic, Ge’ez, Maronite, Malabar, Malankar, Syriac, etc.) have their own distinctive customs for Lent. The Byzantine and the Roman are the most international and multi-ethnic of the Catholic Churches.

What’s in a Name: Pascha or Easter

The theological name for the Feast of the Resurrection is Pascha. From its form, we can see that the Greek word comes from the Hebrew Pesach (Passover). Christ’s saving passion, death and resurrection are the fulfillment of the Passover of Israel into freedom. Pascha is the new creation, the eighth day on which all things are made new. We read the Prologue to St. John’s Gospel (John 1: 1-17) on this day, emphasizing the new beginning.

Easter is an Old English and Germanic word which is derived from the name of the Nordic goddess ( Eastre ) who was celebrated in the springtime in northern countries. While Christians have adopted many elements from earlier times, Easter lacks the spiritual and theological import of Pascha.

Many European languages use the original term: Pascua, Pâques, etc.,since in Latin, the season is called Tempus Paschale. While Easter will probably remain the common designation for the season in the English-speaking secular world, it seems appropriate for Christians to use the more theological term Pascha, especially when referring to the celebration of the mysteries of our salvation.

The Journey to Resurrection

In Orthodox Christian worship, the period of time immediately preceding the celebration of the resurrection is called Great and Holy Week. The journey through death to life is taken step by step in our tradition, allowing the worshipers to not only learn about the mysteries of our salvation, but to be present to them through the action of the Holy Spirit.

Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday

As a prelude to Great and Holy Week, we begin on Lazarus Saturday at Bethany with Martha and Mary, as they weep for their dead brother Lazarus [John 11]. As Christ raises him from the dead, we have a foretaste of what is to happen to Christ Himself, and to all of us: “By raising Lazarus from the dead before Thy Passion, Thou didst confirm the universal resurrection, O Christ God. Like the children, with the palms of victory, we cry out to Thee, O Vanquisher of Death: Hosannah in the Highest! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.” (Tropar of Lazarus Saturday & Palm Sunday)

The primary Services usually held in parish churches for Lazarus Saturday are the Liturgy of the Presanctified (on Friday evening) and Divine Liturgy on Saturday morning. We begin our cry of ” Hosannah in the Highest! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord,” with Lazarus Saturday, a cry which is repeated over and over during the celebrations of Palm Sunday which follow. The twin events of Lazarus ‘raising and the Entrance into Jerusalem frame the situation to develop during the week: the authority of Christ, and the suffering He will endure for us.

The Services of Palm Sunday (some-times called “Willow Sunday ” among the Slavs because of the branches used in those lands where Palms do not grow) begin with Vespers (or Great Vigil) on Saturday night, at which Palms and branches are blessed. These are then used in Procession Saturday and Sunday, recalling the events of Christ’s entrance. On Sunday morning, we continue this with the reading of John 12:1-18 at Divine Liturgy, and then conclude the day with Lenten Vespers.