Written by Marissa Moldoch and Edited by Jesse Hake
During Holy Week, Christians humbly reflect on Jesus’ crucifixion and prepare to celebrate the day that God the Father raised Him from the dead, thereby saving us from our sins and sparing us from death. While we agree that Jesus’ resurrection was a remarkable, supernatural event that calls for nothing less than great joy and exultation, Catholics and Protestants diverge from Orthodox Christians in the ways that they commemorate the occasion and in the calendar system that they use for the date. They also typically use two different names for the celebrations: Easter among the former churches and Pascha among the latter.
After the season of Lent, Catholics and Protestants recognize Easter. Although humans in the Northern Hemisphere have always celebrated spring in many ways around this time of the year, Catholics and Protestants have redeemed all such celebrations in connection to a day celebrating Christ’s resurrection. University of Sydney Professor Carole Cusack points out that the English word for Easter has roots in Anglo-Saxon and German and that in “both these names the linguistic element meaning ‘east’ (eost, ost) reinforces the connection with the dawn.”
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, early Christians struggled to decide the exact date that they should commemorate the resurrection. In 325 A. D., “The Council of Nicaea . . . decreed that Easter should be observed on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox (March 21). Easter, therefore, can fall on any Sunday between March 22 and April 25.” Catholics and Protestants follow various traditions to mark the holiest occasion of the liturgical year, such as fasting, lighting candles, getting baptized, attending sunrise services, and eating lamb. The Easter season ends on the day of Pentecost, which occurs on the 50th day after Easter Sunday.
After the season of Great Lent, Orthodox Christians celebrate Pascha, which is the Hebrew word for Passover. As summarized by Lawn Griffiths, the Passover feast commemorates “the Exodus story about how the angel of death passed over the homes of the Israelites in Egypt where the blood of lambs was poured over doorposts and spared their firstborn sons.”
When Jesus took our sins upon Himself and died on the cross, He became our paschal lamb, or our paschal sacrifice. Many scripture verses, such as John 1:29, illustrate this idea. It states, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” 1 Peter 1:19 conveys that Christ’s blood is precious, and that He is “a lamb without blemish or defect.” As the major feast of the liturgical year, Fr. Geoff Harvey writes that Pascha “signifies a passing over from death to life, from earth to heaven, a day of victory, the Day of the Kingdom of God.”
Pascha rarely falls on the same Sunday as Easter and can be anywhere from one week to five weeks apart. “Although calculations for the date of Easter are based on the same formula, different calendars are used,” explains Sherry P. Shephard. “The older Julian calendar used by Eastern Orthodox churches trails the Gregorian calendar by several days; therefore, Western Easter can fall anywhere from March 22 to April 25, while Pascha can fall anywhere from April 4 to May 8.” Like Catholics and Protestants, Orthodox Christians follow certain traditions like attending special church services, singing meaningful hymns, preparing grand feasts, and dyeing eggs red. As with Easter, the joyous season of Pascha culminates with the day of Pentecost.
Want to learn more about Easter and Pascha? Check out “Easter - It’s Meaning, History & Holiday Symbols Explained,” “Some Common Misperceptions about the Date of Pascha/Easter” and “Dating Pascha in the Orthodox Church.”