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April 26, 2008

Pascha or Easter

This entry was posted in the following categories: Language , Spiritual

On twitter, I'm tracking both "Easter" and "Pascha", and this morning I tweeted that I'm seeing more people refer to "Easter" than "Pascha". Someone pointed out that in her parish, the cradle Orthodox said Easter, and adult converts said Pascha, and that got me thinking...

First, maybe a little theology lesson. What the Orthodox call the Dormition of the Theotokos, Roman Catholics (and others?) call Assumption. The difference is that they believe that she was lifted up to Heaven (Assumed to Heaven) while still alive, but Orthodox believe that she died (Dormition). It is an important distinction, theologically. They believe the heresy of original sin, which required the immaculate conception (of Mary), which kept her from dying. So, in their theology, sh e couldn't die, and must have been brought to Heaven while still alive. Orthodox don't believe in original sin. We know that Christ inherited the entirety of our fallen nature. After all, if Mary couldn't have died, and He got His human nature from her, what does that say about the Passion and Resurrection?

The upshot is that there is a big difference between "Assumption" and "Dormition".

Anyway, many years ago, back in California, I saw an Orthodox church named for the "Assumption of the Theotokos", which struck me as odd. Someone explained that when the Russians came to America, they looked at the Roman Catholic names for feasts, and assumed they were the English translation of the names for the feasts (in other words, they thought that if you looked up the Russian word for "Dormition" in a Russian to English dictionary, you would find "Assumption" -- a false assumption if you ask me :).

Now, as for Pascha and Easter. Most languages on earth have, as their word for the feast celebrating our Saviour's Resurrection, some variation of the word "Passover". I could be wrong, but I think only English and German (and possibly some other German-derived languages) have "Easter" as the name of the feast. The word "Easter" comes from a Germanic pagan celebration (that, not coincidentally, includes a pagan deity that takes the form of an egg-laying rabbit).

The fact is, what we celebrate as Orthodox is the Passover. Not the same as the Jewish Passover, but there are parallels. The Jewish Passover was a prefiguring of our Passover. My priest even makes a point to call it Passover (using that as an English translation of Pascha). I'm trying to remember the parallels between ours and the Jewish Passover. I think some are that, when we have the Blood of the Lamb (Christ) on our lips (the door to our soul), that death will pass over us. There are also parallels of the week. The Passover seder was Friday night, so Christ died at the same time as (and mystically was) the sacrificial lamb.

The other reason why I like "Pascha" over "Easter" is it provides a separation of the feasts. Whereas the secular will celebrate Easter with anthropomorphic rabbits and the like, we celebrate Pascha with the Resurrection of our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life!

Posted by mlv at April 26, 2008 01:21 PM

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