Great and Holy Pascha: The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Icon of the Resurrection of Christ

On the Great and Holy Feast of Pascha (sometimes called Easter), Orthodox Christians celebrate the life-giving Resurrection of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. On this Feast of Feasts, we celebrate our Lord’s victory over death, as neither death itself nor the power of the grave could hold our Savior captive. In this victory that came through the Cross, Christ broke the bondage of sin, and through faith offers us restoration, transformation, and eternal life.

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What does Pascha mean?

Pascha (Greek: Πάσχα) is a transliteration of the Greek word, which is itself a transliteration of the Aramaic pascha, from the Hebrew pesach, which both mean Passover. This word originally referred to the events recounted in Exodus 12, where a lamb was slain in each household and its blood sprinkled on the lintel and doorposts of the house, so that when all the first born in Egypt were slain the angel of death would pass over these houses. This is the event Jews remember during the Passover. The fulfilment of the Jewish Passover in Christ has made Him, for Christians, the “Paschal Lamb.”

Pascha is the new Passover of the everlasting covenant foretold by the prophets of old. It is the eternal Passover from death to life and from earth to heaven. The Day of the Lord proclaimed by God’s holy prophets, “the day which the Lord has made” for His judgment over all creation, the day of His final and everlasting victory. It is the Day of the Kingdom of God, the day “which has no night” for “its light is the Lamb” (Rev 21:22–25). This is not merely an historical reenactment of the event of Christ’s Resurrection. It is a way to experience the new creation of the world. A taste of the new and unending day of the Kingdom of God.

Using the word Easter

Some Orthodox Christians discourage the use of the word Easter, because they believe the term has pagan roots. Most English speakers are unaware of the etymological origins of Easter and use it without any sense of pagan connotations. Therefore, Easter is also used by many Orthodox English speakers.

The origin of the term Easter comes from the Germanic name for the month in which the Christian feast usually fell. But just as the American civic holiday of the Fourth of July has nothing to do with Julius Caesar, neither does Easter have anything to do with the pagan goddess Eostre, the namesake of the month in which Pascha fell.

This potential difficulty only exists for speakers of Germanic languages, however. Most languages in the world use a cognate form of the Greek term Pascha. Thus those languages are free of any pagan connotations for the name of the feast.

When do we celebrate Pascha?

Eastern Orthodox Christians tend to celebrate Pascha on a different day from the rest of Christendom. That is because, even though the East and West use the same formula to calculate the date of Pascha, they compute it using different calendars. The East uses the Julian calendar, while the West uses the Gregorian calendar. The older Julian calendar’s solar calendar is 13 days behind the Gregorian’s. And its lunar calendar is four to five days behind the Gregorian’s.

Sometimes, Pascha ends up falling on the same day for East and West. But most of the time, it falls one, four or five weeks later in Orthodox churches.

Next year, Pascha will fall on April 20, 2025, and in 2026, it will fall on April 12.

Commemoration of the Great and Holy Feast of Pascha

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ constitutes the most radical and decisive deliverance of humankind. It is the fundamental truth and absolute fact of the Christian faith. The Lord’s Resurrection is the central experience of the Church, confirming the authenticity of His remarkable earthly life and vindicating the truth of His teachings. It seals all His redemptive work: His life, the model of a holy life; His compelling and unique teaching; His extraordinary works; and His awesome, life-creating death. Christ’s Resurrection is the guarantee of our salvation. Together with His Ascension, it brings to perfection God’s union with us for all eternity.

Christ, risen and glorified, releases us from the delusion of idolatry. He fills us with incomparable hope, illuminating and energizing us, bringing forgiveness and joy. While the Resurrection has not yet abolished the reality of death, it has revealed its powerlessness over us (Hebrews 2:14-15). Physical death no longer destroys our life of communion with God!

Moreover, the Resurrection made possible the miracle that is the Church. In every age and generation, the Church proclaims and affirms God’s plan, seeking to bring lost sheep back into the fold. It is the profound experience of and unshakable belief in the risen Lord that enables each of us (as it did the Apostles) to evangelize the world and overcome the forces of the Evil One. In His Resurrection, we see his indestructible power and inscrutable wisdom. We see His depthless mercy and compassion. And in this, we find the meaning and purpose of our existence: to know and love God.

Icons Of The Commemoration Of Great And Holy Pascha

The icon of the Resurrection is perhaps one of the most symbolic in all of iconography. Christ pulls Adam and Eve up from their tombs in the center of the icon. In many versions of this icon, you will see Death below Christ, bound hand and foot.

Another icon of the Resurrection of Christ

In the background stands the host of the departed, so numerous they cannot be depicted. Among them, in the front of the multitude, are some of the righteous dead: King David and his son Solomon on the left, Saint John the Baptist in the center, Abel on the right wearing a shepherd’s robe and sporting a cane. Depending on the iconographer, certain other recognizable prophets may stand among the crowds on either the left or right side of Christ.

Common Paschal traditions

Pascha, as the most joyous feast of the Orthodox liturgical year, brings with it many traditions. Parishioners often bring baskets or platters of foods from which the faithful have abstained during the Lenten fast. At the conclusion of the Resurrection service, the priest will bless these foods, which typically include eggs, cheese, meat, breads, and cakes. The faithful then feast together after the Divine Liturgy.

Another tradition is the consecration of a bread stamped with the image of the Cross, or of the Resurrection, Artos. The priest consecrates this special bread at the close of the Paschal Liturgy in memory of the Risen Christ, “the Bread of Life Eternal descended from Heaven and nourishing us with the food of His divine mercies.” On the next Saturday, after the Liturgy, the priest will break and distribute it in the place of Antidoron.

One last common tradition (also there are many more!) is the blessing and consumption of red-dyed eggs. Red eggs hold an immense amount of symbolism for Orthodox Christians, particularly the blood of the crucified Christ, who has risen from the dead.

Festal Hymns

Troparion:  (Special Melody) Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!

Hypakoe: Before the dawn ,Mary and the women came and found the stone rolled away from the tomb. They heard the angelic voice: “Why do you seek among the dead as a man the One who is everlasting light? Behold the clothes in the grave! Go and proclaim to the world: The Lord is risen! He has slain death, as He is the Son of God, saving the race of men.”

Kontakion: (Tone 8) Thou didst descend into the tomb, O Immortal. Thou didst destroy the power of death! In victory didst Thou arise, O Christ God, proclaiming “Rejoice” to the myrrh bearing women, granting peace to Thy apostles, and bestowing resurrection to the fallen.

Paschal hymn to the Theotokos: The angel cried to the Lady Full of Grace: Rejoice, O Pure Virgin! Again I say: Rejoice! Your Son is risen from His three days in the tomb! With Himself He has raised all the dead! Rejoice, all you people! Shine! Shine! O New Jerusalem! The Glory of the Lord has shone on you! Exalt now and be glad, O Zion! Be radiant, O Pure Theotokos, in the Resurrection of your Son!

Keep Reading: Orthodox Christian Baptism: Walking In Newness Of Life

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