On The Resurrection Of Christ

The Feast Of Faith
THE Orthodox Church and the Oriental Churches (Coptic, Armenian, Syriac and others) all over the world celebrate, today, May 5, the great feast of ‘Holy Pascha’ also referred to as ‘Holy Easter,’ which is the celebration of the glorious resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ from the dead.

The word ‘Pascha’ is derived from the Hebrew word pasach, which means ‘Passover.’ The Jews celebrated Pascha to commemorate their liberation from the Egyptians and their passage (Exodus) of the Red Sea. This day, it is also called Lambri (Brightness) because the day of the Resurrection of Christ is a day of joy.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the centrepiece of the Christian faith because if He has not been resurrected, our faith would be worthless and futile (1Cor.15: 14 -17). Therefore, without Easter, the feast of faith, there would be no Christianity. Christians believe according to the Scripture that Jesus came back to life days after His death on the cross and subsequent burial. The Biblical accounts can be found in the following passages; Mathew 27: 27-28: 8; Mark 15: 16,19; Luke 23: 26-35; and John 19: 16 – 20: 30.

This great feast is preceded by the season of lent, a 40-day period of fasting and repentance. Historically, there is evidence that Christians originally celebrated the resurrection of Christ every Sunday. At some point in the first two centuries, it became customary to celebrate the feast, especially, on one particular day each year.

However, the very specific day on which the resurrection should be celebrated became a major point of contention within the entire Church. First, should it be on the Jewish Passover, no matter the day it falls on? Or should it always fall on a Sunday? With these issues resolved, the next problem was to determine which Sunday to celebrate it.

The variance that characterise the date of Easter has been a dilemma that a sizable number of Christians find disturbing, this owes to the reality that there are times when the whole of Christendom celebrates the feast of the Resurrection together on a specific day, and at times, some Christians had celebrated the feast on a different date contrary to the rest of Christendom, though the determination of the date of Easter has been definitively regulated by the decision of the First Ecumenical Synod, held in Nicaea (325).

The resolve of the date of Easter is governed by a computation based on the vernal equinox and the phase of the moon. According to the ruling of the First Ecumenical Synod in 325, Easter Sunday should fall on the Sunday, which follows the first full moon after the vernal equinox. If the full moon happens to fall on a Sunday, Easter is observed the following Sunday. The day taken to be the invariable date of the vernal equinox is March 21.

Within the Orthodox Church and most Eastern Churches, feast days and fast days are reckoned according to two distinct calendars, the Julian calendar and the Gregorian calendar. The first is attributed to the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar, whose name it bears. The latter was introduced in the sixteenth century around 1582 AD, by Pope Gregory XIII whose intention was to review and harmonize the calculation of the Easter date due to the ever-increasing discrepancy between calendar time and calculated astronomical time. Thus the Gregorian calendar came into being.

Here lies the first difference in the determination of Easter between the Orthodox Church and the other Christian Churches. The Orthodox Church continues to base its calculations for the date of Easter on the Julian calendar, which was in use at the time of the First Ecumenical Synod. As such, it does not take into consideration the number of days, which have since then accrued due to the progressive inaccuracy of the calendar. Practically speaking, this means that Easter may not be celebrated before April 3 (Gregorian), which had been March21 — the date of the vernal equinox — at the time of the Synod. In other words, a difference of 13 days exists between the accepted date for the vernal equinox then and now. In the West, this discrepancy was addressed in the 16th century through the adoption of the Gregorian calendar as earlier noted, which adjusted the Julian calendar still in use by all Christians at that time. Western Christians, therefore, observe the date of the vernal equinox on March 21 according to the Gregorian calendar.

The other difference in the determination of Easter between the Orthodox and other Christian Churches concerns the date of Passover. Jews originally celebrated Passover on the first full moon following the vernal equinox. Christians, therefore, celebrated Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox. After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and the other tragic events, which gave rise to the dispersal of the Jews, Passover sometimes preceded the vernal equinox. This was occasioned by the dependence of the dispersed Jews upon local pagan calendars for the calculation of Passover. As a consequence, most Christians eventually ceased to regulate the observance of Easter by the Jewish Passover. Their purpose, of course, was to preserve the original practice of celebrating Easter following the vernal equinox and to adhere to the tradition that Easter must always fall after the Jewish Passover, since the Resurrection of Christ happened after the celebration of the Passover.

Since the Julian calendar had been in continuous use in the Christian East and West throughout the centuries, the subsequent introduction of the Gregorian calendar in the West created yet another anomaly in the deteriorating relations between the two Churches. The need for correction of the Julian calendar was well understood in the East, and had even led some to devise a new calendar themselves. Nevertheless, the Julian calendar remained in use throughout the Byzantine period and beyond. Despite the efforts of the emissaries of Pope Gregory to convince the Orthodox to accept the new (Gregorian) calendar, the Orthodox Church rejected it. The main reason for its rejection was that the celebration of Easter would be altered: contrary to the injunctions of canon 7 of the Holy Apostles, the decree of the First Ecumenical Synod, and canon 1 of Ancyra, Easter would sometimes coincide with the Jewish Passover in the Gregorian calendar.

It would be recalled that until the 1054AD, both the Eastern and Western Churches were in communion. The widening schism was caused by a mix of cultural, political, religious and theological differences. In 1054, a formal split occurred when Pope Leo IV, head of the Romans, excommunicated the then Patriarch of Constantinople — Michael Cerularius (head of the Eastern Church). And who in turn condemned the Pope in mutual excommunication. The Churches remain divided and separated to the present date. The political domination by the West ensured that the secular world followed the religious world and consequently they are mostly tied to its new calendar method of calculation. While the Eastern Churches sincerely have no time for such Romish inventions.

Essentially speaking, Christians through this Feast of Faith in the working of God are spiritually resurrected with Jesus, so, that they may walk in a new way of life; subduing passions like hatred, jealousy, corruption, greed which results to false petitions and witnesses, lust and others.

Because Easter must fall on a Sunday, there can be a discrepancy of up to five weeks gap just as it happens this year between the two historical Churches. It also coincides some other times depending on the Easter dating computation of the churches for that year. Indeed, the actual dates of Easter, March 31 and May 5 as observed this year are practically irrelevant. What matters is what we do with that revelation of God to us. What is important is how we proclaim that Gospel of the Feast of Faith and what we do with that the truth in our own lives and others. This is absolutely what matters, rather than the adherence to one calculation of date or another. It is the Resurrection that has transformed our lives, our corrupt society and we must not allow the secular world to lose sight of that. We cannot keep away from telling what we have seen and heard” (Acts.4:20). For “Christ is risen and demons have fallen! Christ is Risen and life rules! Christ is risen and no one dead remains in the tomb!”

• Rev. Fr. Onyekakeyah is of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Nigeria