by Fr Jonathan Tobias
This month, the Orthodox Church will be celebrating Pascha on Sunday, April 19.
This is the actual term for Easter. And you might notice that the Orthodox celebration is a week later than the Easter celebrated in America on April 12. The reason for that difference in date is a tedious explanation, and has to do with the differences between the Gregorian Calendar (instituted by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582), and the Julian Calendar (instituted by Julius Caesar on January 1, 45 BC).
Actually, the Gregorian Calendar is much more accurate, and it is a pity that the Orthodox Church clings to an old, inaccurate calendar. Our difference in the dates of Easter, contrary to some popular notions, has nothing to do with the Jewish Passover, and everything to do with an outdated calendar, and the sighting of the vernal full moon in Alexandria, Egypt.
Whew. I warned you this was tedious, and this was the short version. In any case, the gold standard is for all Christians to celebrate Pascha all together, all at once, on the same day. Once in a while, the two calendars line up so that we celebrate Pascha together: the next time that happens will be April 20, 2025. Perhaps people will change so that from that time onward, we’ll all celebrate Easter together.
This is important, because Easter Sunday is the center of not only the year, but of life.
The very reason why Christians celebrate worship services on Sunday is just because of the Resurrection, which happened on the first day of the week. In their typically mystical way of figuring, early Christians interpreted this first day, Sunday, as really the “Eighth Day.”
The Eight Day jumps out of the usual sequence, and hovers over the calendar. It is the day that rises above the timeline of life and death. The Eighth Day is the Day of Resurrection, and that is why Christians go, or rather, should, to church on that day.
In the Orthodox Church, there is no question that Pascha is in command of the Church Year. Every Sunday is like a little Easter. We sing at least two hymns about the Resurrection every Sunday. And before our service (which we call “Divine Liturrgy”), we sing Sunday Matins, which is centered around one of eleven Gospel readings about the Resurrection.
Why is Easter so life-or-death important for Christians in general, and for Orthodox Christians in particular? It’s because in the raising of Jesus from the dead, God the Father, through the Holy Spirit, has put the truth of Resurrection at the center of not only human life, but the life of the entire universe.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the turning point around which all reality revolves … even in times when it doesn’t look that way, even in times of pandemic.
Even in an unforgettable year when none of us will be able to be in church on Easter, human life and all the universe centers on the Resurrection. Jesus’ Life has overcome death.
And that is surely something to sing about, to praise about, to live for, all the lifelong year.
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