Down with Easter

Speaking of unification of the date of Easter, my husband and I have been trying to figure out how we will celebrate Easter this year. For the first time in our two-year relationship, the dates of Catholic and Orthodox Easter will not coincide.

It struck me during that conversation that our use of different handles for the Orthodox and Catholic feasts – “Pascha” and “Easter,” respectively – illustrated an important point. “Pascha” is Hellenized “Pesach”, of which “Passover” is a translation. The fact that in English we call the most important Christian holy day by the name of a pagan goddess, rather than by the name of the Jewish feast that is its direct historic and spiritual parent,  is rather disturbing.

Before I knew much about Christianity, when reading 19th-century Russian novels I was always confused whether the word “pascha” in them referred to the Jewish feast of Passover or to some mysterious Christian feast. Now I understand just how good it was for me to be confused. One should be confused about this. The two feasts are profoundly the same, and the disjointing of their names in modern English usage only serves to separate the Church from its Jewish origin, and perpetuate the image of Easter as a celebration of spring and bunnies.


About The Groom's Family

I was born in Soviet Russia and grew up in Israel. I was baptized Orthodox Christian in 2006. Today my husband and I live in Northern Virginia. I would love to hear from you, so please leave a comment!
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5 Responses to Down with Easter

  1. melxiopp says:

    The English term for the Lord’s Resurrection – Easter – is, in fact, not borrowed from the name of a pagan goddess. “The historical evidence contradicts this popular notion.” See this article by Anthony McRoy in Christianity Today:

    My wife and I celebrate Pascha/Easter on different dates and it’s never been a problem for the 11 years I’ve been Orthodox. In fact, it’s primarily a problem only when they coincide. I think the key is not to expect each other to practice two religions and faiths. I practice my faith, she doesn’t practice my faith. If I’m fasting, it doesn’t mean she must fast, too.

    • Interesting article – thanks for the reference!

      I should have been less sloppy in my post – I was aware that “Eostre” was not the name of an actual pagan festival, but only of the month. Since the month – according to some scholars, though not Anthony McRoy – is named after the goddess, I brought in the goddess. I’m not sure I fully buy McRoy’s argument that Eostre definitely was not a goddess – the crux of his argument seems to be that no other months in the Anglo-Saxon calendar were named after gods and therefore neither should April be; except then he admits that in fact one other month is also named after a little-known goddess… not the most convincing argument I’ve heard. Besides, just because Eostre may derive from a word that means “opening” doesn’t mean that it could not also be the name of a goddess… if I’m not mistaken, there’s no particular reason why the names of pagan gods, like the names of people, should not have meanings.

      This seems like the sort of thing that would remain unresolved, but I think it doesn’t really matter. Even if no pagan gods were involved, it would still be disturbing that in English – unlike other European languages – the way we speak (and, inevitably, think) of Easter is disconnected from Passover because it’s a completely different name.

      Thanks for sharing your story on this. My husband and I, at least at this stage, feel committed to fasting and feasting together, so we’re still trying to figure out how to make that happen. I’d be curious about your thoughts on how to teach children about Pascha when the parents celebrate it differently – that’s a big part of why we’re thinking about it (though of course in the two weeks of marriage so far we haven’t managed to produce any children :)).

      Thanks for writing!

  2. JWB says:

    I strongly suspect the OMG-Easter-is-a-pagan-goddess-festival talking point originated with a certain stratum of anti-Popery fundamentalist tract-distributor and was then uncritically picked up by a certain stratum of Orthodox internet polemicist. One might as well claim that the Gospel lesson read at Mattins shouldn’t be called the Eothinon because of the obvious etymological connection to Eos, the pagan Greek goddess of the dawn.

  3. Different dates of Easter=more celebration! At least if/until the schism is healed, that’s how I would see it…

  4. Romanós says:

    Without militating against ‘Easter’, a holiday name that has almost universal acceptance, even among the Orthodox, I have to weigh in with ‘Pascha’ being the preferred name for the feast of Christ’s resurrection, for all the points you and I know, which are themselves from the ancient Fathers of the Church. Pascha is Pesach raised to fulfillment, yet Pesach is not thereby to be discarded. You do not cut off and throw away the root of a tree once it has flowered and born fruit.

    As for the date of Pascha in East (Orthodox) and West (Catholic/Protestant), yes, different dates = more celebration, but… it would be good if all celebrated together. But then, what is Pascha without the great fast of Sarakostí (the 40 days), and Holy and Great Week with its Bridegroom services and the Passion? Roman Catholics and ‘high church’ Protestants have some of these observances, but what of the others?

    What Easter has become for the undisciplined and anti-Tradition ‘separated’ brethren really deserves to have a different name than Orthodox Pascha, because though they say ‘Christ is risen!’ very few of them understand what that really means. What it means cannot be learned from books and creeds and even dramatic presentations. The resurrection must be a fact of our lives, or else it is just a story. In Orthodoxy, at least we have the possibility to know (experience), and not just know about, Christ’s passion, resurrection and ascension. The pity is that even the Orthodox often regard it only as a festival.

    But Christ is risen, He is truly risen, and not just in word, but in deed, and in effect, for those who are willing to die on the Cross with Him, and be resurrected with Him, daily.

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