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Celebrating Pascha or Easter

Easter is called Pascha or Pasch in most parts of the Christian world and it is based on the Jewish feast of the Passover. This is why it happens when it does. The Last Supper the week of the crucifixion, happened on Passover so the date really has nothing to do with paganism. It has to do with the fact Jesus was Jewish. Jesus rose from the dead on the first Sunday following the feast of Passover. (Technically, he may have risen Saturday night, but that still counts as Sunday on the Jewish reckoning, which begins each day at sunset instead of at midnight.) Many historians and linguistic experts believe the word Easter comes from Eostre and was simply the Anglo-Saxon word for spring festivals. Linguists trace this word to roots thousands of years old meaning "shine" and "dawn." Spring is a season of lengthening days and increased light. It would make sense for early peoples to give their spring festivals a name that celebrated the rising sun. The date from its inception was kept closely with the Jewish Passover as mentioned. The date of Passover is a complicated thing. Theoretically, the date should be the 14th of the Jewish month of Nisan, and it should correspond to a full moon (the Jewish calendar being partly lunar). In practice, it didn’t always work out that way. The month-moon cycles got out of synch, and sometimes feasts would be held on a "liturgical" full moon even when it was not an astronomical full moon. As a result, rabbis periodically had to announce when Passover would be celebrated. Christians didn’t like being dependent on the pronouncements of rabbis for how to celebrate Christian feasts, so they came up with another way of determining the date. They decided that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday after (never on) the Paschal full moon.


The festival that early Christians celebrated was called in Greek Πάσχα (Pascha), a transliteration of the Aramaic word פסחא, cognate to Hebrew פֶּסַח (Pesach). The word originally designated the Passover feast of Exodus 12. Paul writes from Ephesus that "Christ our Pascha (Passover) has been sacrificed for us", doubtless not the first interpretation of Exodus 12 as referring to the crucifixion of Jesus. In the Roman province of Asia, second-century Christians known as Quartodecimans continued to celebrate this feast in coincidence with the Jewish feast, but by then Christians elsewhere celebrated it on the following Sunday, the day on which in every week the resurrection of Christ was celebrated. Latin adopted the Greek term for the feast, and in most European languages, notable exceptions being English, German and the Slavic languages, the feast is today called Pascha or words derived from it. In Old English the form Pascan was used by Byrhtferth (c. 970 – c. 1020) and the form Pasches in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry for 1122. Although now limited to specialized uses, the terms the Pasch or Pascha are sometimes used in Modern English. Pace, a dialect form of Pasch, is found in Scottish English and in the English of northeastern England, and used especially in combination with the word "egg", as in "Pace Egg play.


In nearly all Romance languages, the name of the Easter festival is derived from the Latin Pascha. In Spanish, Easter is Pascua, in Italian and Catalan Pasqua, in Portuguese Páscoa and in Romanian Paşti. In French, the name of Easter Pâques also derives from the Latin word but the s following the a has been lost and the two letters have been transformed into an â with a circumflex accent by elision. In Romanian, the only Romance language of an Eastern church, the word Înviere (resurrection, cf. Greek Ἀνάστασις, [anástasis]) is also used. Albanian, although not a Romance language, borrows the Latin Pascha as Pashka. The holiday is frequently referred to in the plural, Pashkët. In all modern Celtic languages the term for Easter is derived from Latin. In the Brittonic languages this has yielded Welsh Pasg, Cornish and Breton Pask. In Goidelic languages the word was borrowed before these languages had re-developed the /p/ sound and as a result the initial /p/ was replaced with /k/. This yielded Irish Cáisc, Gaelic Càisg and Manx Caisht. These terms are normally used with the definite article in Goidelic languages, causing lenition in all cases: An Cháisc, A' Chàisg and Yn Chaisht. In Dutch, Easter is known as Pasen and in the North Germanic languages Easter is known as påske (Danish and Norwegian), påsk (Swedish), páskar (Icelandic) and páskir (Faeroese). The name is derived directly from Hebrew Pesach. The letter å is pronounced /oː/, derived from an older AA, and an alternate spelling is paaske or paask. In Russia, Pascha (Paskha/Пасха), is a borrowing of the Greek form via Old Church Slavonic.


In England at the Synod of Whitby (664 A.D.) which was a Northumbrian synod where King Oswiu of Northumbria ruled that his kingdom would calculate Easter and observe the monastic tonsure according to the customs of Rome, rather than the customs practised by Irish monks at Iona and its satellite institutions. The synod was summoned at Hilda's double monastery of Streonshalh (Streanæshalch), later called Whitby Abbey.The famous meeting was held in the Yorkshire town, then under the rule of King Oswiu of Northumbria, to decide whether clerics in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom should follow the Roman tradition of Easter, or that used by the Celtic church. The synod also ruled on other controversial issues such as which hairstyles monks would follow. The Northumbrians, although they had been heavily influenced by Irish missionaries, chiefly St Aidan, chose to conform to Rome; Kent, the first Anglo-Saxon kingdom to turn Christian, had been converted by Roman missionaries.




Photo and essay by Beth Maxwell Boyle TCCT

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