Happy Pascha and Cinco de Mayo!
Today, Sunday May 5, 2013 is both Pascha (Eastern Christian Easter) and Cinco de Mayo. Last year we talked at length about Cinco de Mayo. Let’s talk about Pascha.
Many in the Western world are unaware that Christianity has two dates for Easter, one Western and one Eastern. How did this come about?
In 325, the Emperor Constantine summoned the Bishops of the Roman Empire to a Council in the Constantinople suburb of Nicaea. There they discussed many things. One striking incident is when St. Nicholas of Myra (the prototype for Santa Claus) decked the Alexandrian Priest Arius because his Christological theories would have made Christ less than The Father, in the Holy Trinity (they took religion very seriously). Arianism was the first of several fundamentalist attempts to change the tradition of Orthodox Christianity, I don’t condone violence, but seeing Santa clocking somebody is amusing to think about.
Among the controversies they tackled was the date of Easter. There were several competing traditions for this date. Most celebrated the Resurrection on the first Sunday after the 14th day of the Jewish month of Nisan. However, some churches in Anatolia (modern Turkey), and the Celts, celebrated it on 14 Nisan itself, in accord with John’s Gospel’s chronology.
The Council settled the controversy by declaring that Pascha would be celebrated on the First Sunday after the First Full Moon after the Spring Equinox, unless that placed it on or before Passover (14 Nisan), in which case it would be moved forward another moon cycle.
Sadly, the actual minutes of the Council of Nicaea have not survived the centuries. The Roman Church has forgotten the codicil about Passover, while all of the Eastern Churches remember it (we’re pretty good on memory). Therefore Western Easter can be on or before Passover.
This year, the discrepancy was large. Some years, the Easters are on the same date, some years they are a week or two apart. When Western Easter is particularly early, as it was in 2013, Eastern Easter is very late (it can occur as late as May 8).
It is fairly clear that this is not a historical argument. It is about metaphysically aligning the Feast correctly in the Circle of the Year. This reflects the theological stance of the Canonical Gospels. The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) place the Last Supper directly on 14 Nisan, to symbolize that the Eucharist (the living presence of the Risen Jesus) substitutes for the Paschal Lamb. Jesus is seen to give this Bread and Wine to the Apostles proleptically.
The Quartodecimans (“Fourteeners”) counted among their number no less than John the Beloved Disciple, Polycarp, and Melito of Sardis. In John’s Gospel, which has no explicit narration of the Bread and Wine at the Last Supper (but does have an extended discourse about the intercommunion of the Father, the Son and the Believers, and also is clearly Eucharistic in John 6:22-59 in the “Bread of Life” discourse), places the Crucifixion (= the slaying of the Paschal Lamb) on 14 Nisan.
I believe there is another, deeper, motivation at work here, and I side with the Eastern remembrance of Nicaea. The Initiates of the Mysteries needed to line up the new calendar with the ancient calendar. The Spring Equinox, a celebration of perfect balance, is complemented in the Christian calendar by the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25, the commemoration of the miraculous incarnation of the Christ in the Theotokos’ womb, a perfect 9 months before December 25. 2000 years ago, the 25th of March and the 25th of December used to be the actual Equinox and Solstice.
The Annunciation aligns thematically with the Equinox, a feast of the perfect balance between Human and Divine. The Divine could not have manifested itself definitively as human without the consent of a humble Palestinian Jewish young woman.
Pascha, on the other hand, is not about balance at all. It is about the absolute victory of Life over Death. It is the Feast of unquenchable Life, as is Bealteinne on May 1. That is why Pascha needs to be as late as possible, to participate in Bealteinne. 50 Days later, Pentecost then corresponds to the Summer Solstice and St. John’s Day, the fullness of the outpouring of Green Life and the Fiery Energy of the Sun/Holy Spirit.
The Initiates knew what they were doing, and set things up properly to preserve the message and inheritance of the Master Jesus, the Messiah. Christians today should do the same.
To close, I would like to share my favorite passage from our Byzantine Pascha Liturgy, the Homily of St. John Chrysostom. It is perhaps the most succinct statement of what Christianity (as opposed to the false picture of hate and exclusion propagated so often today) is really all about.
The Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom:
If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let them enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival.
If anyone is a grateful servant, let them, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord.
If anyone has wearied themselves in fasting, let them now receive recompense.
If anyone has labored from the first hour, let them today receive the just reward.
If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let them feast.
If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let them have no misgivings; for they shall suffer no loss.
If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let them draw near without hesitation.
If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let them not fear on account of tardiness.
For the Master is gracious and receives the last even as the first; He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first.
He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one He gives, and to the other He is gracious.
He both honors the work and praises the intention.
Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward.
O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy!
O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day!
You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today!
The table is rich-laden: feast royally, all of you!
The calf is fatted: let no one go forth hungry!
Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.
He that was taken by death has annihilated it!
He descended into Hades and took Hades captive!
He embittered it when it tasted His flesh! And anticipating this, Isaiah exclaimed: “Hades was embittered when it encountered Thee in the lower regions.”
It was embittered, for it was abolished!
It was embittered, for it was mocked!
It was embittered, for it was purged!
It was embittered, for it was despoiled!
It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body and came upon God!
It took earth and encountered Ηeaven!
It took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not seen!
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!
For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that have slept.
To Him be glory and might unto the ages of ages.
- * *
With all metaphysical understanding:
Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!
Χριστός ἀνέστη! Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη! (Christos Anesti! Alithos Anesti!) (Greek)
Хрїстóсъ воскрéсе! Воистину воскресе! (Christos voskrese! Voistinu voskrese!) (Church Slavonic)
Al Masihu’ Qam! Haqqan Qam! (Arabic)
• Arabic (standard) – ! اﺍل مس یﻳح قامﻡ! ح قا قامﻡ (al-Masīḥ qām! Ḥaqqan qām!)
Christus resurrexit! Resurrexit vere! (Latin)
Crist aras! Crist soþlice aras! (Old English)
Crist is arisen! Arisen he sothe! (Middle English)
Hristos a înviat! Adevărat a înviat! (Romanian)
¡Cristo ha resucitado! ¡En verdad ha resucitado! (Spanish)
Christ est ressuscité! Il est vraiment ressuscité! (French)
Cristo è risorto! È veramente risorto! (Italian)
Хрістос воскрес! Воістину воскрес! (Hristos voskres! Voistynu voskres!) (Rusyn)
Tá Críost éirithe! Go deimhin, tá sé éirithe! (Irish)
Քրիստոս յարեաւ ի մեռելոց՜ Օրհնեալ է Յարութիւնն Քրիստոսի՜ (Christos haryav i merelotz! Orhnial e Haroutiunn Christosi! (Armenian)
Lo Crist es ressuscitat! En veritat es ressuscitat! (Provençal )
Kristus aq ungwektaq! Pichinuq ungwektaq! (Aleut)
Xris-tusaq Ung-uixtuq! Iluumun Ung-uixtuq! (Yupic)
And in the Secondary Worlds, since as Tolkien’s “On Fairy Tales” teaches, the Resurrection transcends all worlds:
Quenya – (Hristo Ortane! Anwave Ortanes!)
Klingon – Hu’ta’ QISt! Hu’bejta’!
Dothraki – Khal Asvezhvenanaz yathoay. Me Yathoay Me nem nesa. (Game of Thrones… George RR Martin/David J. Peterson)
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