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04 May 2024

Orthodox Easter Explained Why It Differs From Catholic Celebrations.

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Orthodox Easter, also known as Pascha, is the most significant religious celebration for Orthodox Christians, marking the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a festival rich in history, tradition, and profound spiritual symbolism, distinctly observed from its Western counterpart. This article delves into the nuances of Orthodox Easter, exploring its differences from Catholic Easter, the various customs around the world, and its historical background.

Orthodox Christians follow the Julian calendar for religious holidays, unlike the Gregorian calendar used by Catholics and Protestants. This calendar difference results in Orthodox Easter usually being celebrated later than Catholic Easter, although occasionally they coincide. The determination of Orthodox Easter involves the first full moon following the vernal equinox and must always fall after Jewish Passover, ensuring adherence to the biblical sequence of Christ’s Passion.

The celebration begins with Lent, a 40-day period of fasting and repentance leading up to Holy Week, which is more austere in the Orthodox tradition. Orthodox Christians abstain from meat, dairy, and eggs to purify both body and soul, preparing them for the resurrection’s celebration. Holy Week itself is filled with daily services, each marking a different part of Jesus' journey to the cross. Notable services include the reading of the twelve Gospels on Holy Thursday and the Lamentations on Holy Friday evening, where the faithful lament over the tomb of Christ, which is often decorated with flowers.

Another distinctive aspect of Orthodox Easter is the midnight service on Easter Sunday. The church is initially darkened, then filled with light symbolizing Christ's resurrection as the priest announces, "Christ is risen!" and the congregation responds, "He truly is risen!" This moment is followed by the distribution of lighted candles to the congregants, spreading the light throughout the church and into their homes. The faithful carry their candles home, often trying to keep the flame alive, which symbolizes keeping the light of Christ alive in their lives.

Following the midnight service, a festive meal breaks the Lenten fast. This meal typically includes rich, flavorful dishes such as lamb, a symbol of Christ as the Paschal Lamb, and tsoureki, a sweet, braided bread representing the intertwining of the Holy Trinity. Red eggs, dyed to symbolize the blood of Christ and the promise of eternal life, are cracked against each other to see whose egg will remain whole, symbolizing victory over death.

Globally, Orthodox Easter is celebrated with diverse traditions that reflect local customs and cultural influences. In Greece, fireworks light up the sky at midnight, celebrating the resurrection with exuberance and joy. In Russia, the "Paschal greeting" is exchanged along with gifts of eggs and cakes. In Ethiopia, followers often attend church ceremonies that last throughout the night, dressed in traditional white robes.

The historical roots of Orthodox Easter go back to the early Christian church’s foundation. The First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 AD standardized the date of Easter, establishing the formula that Orthodox Christians continue to follow today. This decision was made to unify the celebration of Easter among all Christians, although differences in calendars and interpretations later led to the divergence of Easter celebrations.

Despite the differences in dates and customs, the essence of Easter remains the same across Christian denominations: a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, a cornerstone of Christian faith, offering hope and renewal to believers. It’s a time of communal gatherings, heartfelt rituals, and spiritual reflection, deeply embedded in the cultural fabric of each Orthodox community.

Orthodox Easter not only commemorates a pivotal event in Christianity but also reinforces the continuity of ancient traditions, enriching the faith of generations across the globe. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, these celebrations offer a valuable opportunity for cultural exchange and mutual understanding among different Christian communities, emphasizing shared values and the universal message of hope and rebirth inherent in the Easter celebration.

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