The Resurrection of Christ after his death on the cross is celebrated on the Easter day. Easter is the most important and fundamental of the Christian liturgical feasts. According to the scripture, Christ resurrected on the first day of the week. Hence Sunday became the worship day for the Christians. Orthodox Churches pay extreme importance to the Resurrection of Jesus. In Syriac tradition, this day is known as Qyomto. Resurrection is of far more importance than the death of Christ on the cross. That is the reason why the Church chose Sunday as the day of worship instead of Friday (the day on which Christ was crucified). Unlike Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox Churches doesn’t use crucifixes, to reaffirm the fact that the Church believes in a Christ who not only died on the cross, but resurrected to life also on the third day. The resurrection of Christ is the fundamental building block of Christian faith. As St Paul puts it “if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (1 Corinth. 15:14). So the Holy Fathers included this as a creed in the liturgy of Easter. On the Easter day, after conducting the Order of Resurrection, the celebrant holds the cross high and says in a loud voice, “My brethren, I bring you new glad news; Christ has risen from the tomb and has struck His enemies behind Him.” The congregation responds saying: “We believe and confess that He was indeed risen.”
Though we celebrate Easter with great enthusiasm, seldom we give a thought to the fact that why Easter date changes every year and how this date is calculated. Easter is a movable feast in the liturgical calendar. In the early days of Christianity there was no written record for the date of resurrection of Christ. Jesus’ followers had failed to record the exact date of their Lord’s resurrection. Many of those first believers expected Jesus to return soon, a hope that rendered such anniversaries unimportant for them. When the religion started to grow, it became a priority to fix the date of religious festivals. This was one of the major issues considered by the first ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325 AD. There was a great difference of opinion regarding Easter date, between the Eastern and Western Churches. Easterners followed the lunar calendar and Westerners the solar Julian calendar. The Council decreed that Easter should fall on the first Sunday following the first full moon following the vernal equinox. (The vernal equinox-March 21- is one of the two times in the year when the sun crosses the celestial equator and the length of day and night are approximately equal. It is the beginning day of spring season in the northern hemisphere) . We can see this as a compromise as this method incorporates both the sun (the equinox) and the moon (full moon). So Easter date is not fixed because it depends on the full moon. Easter can fall on any date from March 22 to April 25.
Even today all churches are not celebrating Easter on the same day. This is because some churches (e.g. Greek Orthodox Churches) follow Julian calendar for fixing liturgical feasts and others the Gregorian calendar. (Gregorian calendar-the usual calendar we follow today- came into existence on 4th October 1582 following a papal decree issued by Pope Gregory XIII. Indian Orthodox Church accepted the use of Gregorian calendar in 1956).
Message of Easter
Easter day specifically brings great joy of resurrection through its unique message. What is the message of Easter?
- Christ has risen from the tomb and has struck His enemies behind Him. Who are these enemies? They are Satan, Sin and Death. Humanity has always been under the threat of these three monsters for ages. Through His death on the cross and resurrection, Christ has proved that these enemies can be conquered and humanity is no longer under their rule. He gave us great hope that there is a way for redemption from sins. He freed us from the fear of death and Satan and showed us that there is indeed a resurrection. According to the Church Fathers, the portrayal of the mighty hero in Isaiah 63:1-6 is a prophesy about the resurrected Christ (Who is this that comes from Edom with crimson garments?…). This is the reason why on Easter day, the cross is decorated with a red scarf. (Bishops in our Church uses red robes as they represent the resurrected Christ in the Church)
- Go to my brethren, and say unto them (John 20:17). During the Last Supper, Jesus told His disciples “You call me teacher and Lord and rightly so, for that is what I am” (John 13:13). In another occasion, He said “I no longer call you servants…, instead I have called you friends”(John 15:15). But after His resurrection, Jesus refers to His disciples as brethren. This indicates the step-by-step evolution in the relation between man and God and ascent of his status. Jesus made us the children of the Heavenly Father through His death and resurrection and thus His brothers. In the Holy Qurbana, the Lord’s Prayer is included after the Order of Intinction (Order of Intinction is the commemoration of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross) and not as a sequel to the Trisagion as it usually is. This is to indicate that we got the right to address the God as ‘Heavenly Father’, after the death and resurrection of Christ.
Easter is the celebration of this joy of becoming the children of God and the brethren of Christ. Procession is an important part of the Easter liturgy (in fact, for all the feasts) of Orthodox Churches. This is to indicate that the joy of resurrection (or any feast) should not be limited to the church members, but for the entire world. In some Orthodox Churches, these processions are not limited to the church premises, but extend out to the city center.
In fact, every Sunday is a continuation of the Easter day and the Church celebrates the Resurrection and participates in it through the Holy Qurbana. For a Christian, Easter is not only the resurrection of Jesus which occurred at a particular point in history, but it should be the resurrection of all the virtues and humane values that are buried in our hearts. It should be the resurrection of suppressed humanity. Only then the celebrations of Easter becomes meaningful.
My own article reproduced from http://niranamchurch.com/Articles.htm