Contributed by Alex Kattan on 08.04.2007:
The English and German names, “Easter” and “Ostern,” are not etymologically derived from Pesach and according to the 8th century Christian monk and historian Bede are instead related to ancient name for the Anglo Saxon goddess, Eostre, who was celebrated during Eosturmonath, equivalent to April/Aprilis Bede wrote in Latin: ” Eosturmonath, qui nunc paschalis mensis interpretatur, quondam a dea illorum quae Eostre vocabatur et cui in illo festa celebrabant nomen habuit.” Translated: “Eosturmonath, which is now interpreted as the paschal month, was formerly named after the goddess Eostre, and has given its name to the festival.” In most Slavic languages, the name for Easter either means Great Day or Great Night. For example Wielkanoc and Velikonoce mean Great Night or Great Nights in Polish and Czech, respectively. Великден (Vělikděn’) and Вялікдзень (Vjalikdzěn’) mean ‘The Great Day’ in Ukrainian and Bulgarian respectively. In Western Christianity, Easter always falls on a Sunday from March 22 to April 25 inclusive. The following day, Easter Monday, is a legal holiday in many countries with predominantly Christian traditions. In Eastern Christianity, Easter falls between April 4 and May 8 between 1900 and 1970 based on the Gregorian date. Easter and the holidays that are related to it are moveable feasts, in that they do not fall on a fixed date in the Gregorian or Julian calendars (which follow the motion of the sun and the seasons). Instead, they are based on a lunar calendar similar — but not identical — to the Hebrew Calendar. The precise date of Easter has often been a matter for contention. At the First Council of Nicaea in 325 it was decided that Easter would be celebrated on the same Sunday throughout the Church, but it is probable that no method was specified by the Council. (No contemporary account of the Council’s decisions has survived.) Instead, the matter seems to have been referred to the church of Alexandria, which city had the best reputation for scholarship at the time. The practice of those following Alexandria was to celebrate Easter on the first Sunday after the earliest fourteenth day of a lunar month that occurred on or after March 21. While since the Middle Ages this practice has sometimes been more succinctly phrased as Easter is observed on the Sunday after the first full moon on or after the day of the vernal equinox, this does not reflect the actual ecclesiastical rules precisely. The reason for this is that the full moon involved (called the Paschal full moon) is not an astronomical full moon, but an ecclesiastical moon. Determined from tables, it coincides more or less with the astronomical full moon. Easter falls on the first Sunday following the first ecclesiastical full moon that occurs on or after March 21 (the day of the ecclesiastical vernal equinox). This particular ecclesiastical full moon is the 14th day of a tabular lunation (new moon). The Church of Rome used its own methods to determine Easter until the 6th century, when it may have adopted the Alexandrian method as converted into the Julian calendar by Dionysius Exiguus (certain proof of this does not exist until the ninth century). Most churches in the British Isles used a late third century Roman method to determine Easter until they adopted the Alexandrian method at the Synod of Whitby in 664. Churches in western continental Europe used a late Roman method until the late 8th century during the reign of Charlemagne, when they finally adopted the Alexandrian method. Since western churches now use the Gregorian calendar to calculate the date and Eastern Orthodox churches use the original Julian calendar, their dates are not usually aligned in the present day. In the United Kingdom, the Easter Act of 1928 set out legislation to allow the date of Easter to be fixed as the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April. However, the legislation was never implemented. At a summit in Aleppo, Syria, in 1997, the World Council of Churches proposed a reform in the calculation of Easter which would have replaced an equation-based method of calculating Easter with direct astronomical observation; this would have side-stepped the calendar issue and eliminated the difference in date between the Eastern and Western churches. The reform was proposed for implementation starting in 2001, but it was not ultimately adopted by any member body. Further information: Reform of the date of Easter A few clergymen of various denominations have advanced the notion of disregarding the moon altogether in determining the date of Easter; proposals include always observing the feast on the second Sunday in April, or always having seven Sundays between the Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, producing the same result except that in leap years Easter could fall on April 7 These suggestions have yet to attract significant support, and their adoption in the future is considered unlikely. Western Christianity In Western Christianity, Easter marks the end of the forty days of Lent, a period of fasting and penitence in preparation for Easter which begins on Ash Wednesday. The week before Easter is very special in the Christian tradition: the Sunday before is Palm Sunday, and the last three days before Easter are Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday (sometimes referred to as Silent Saturday). Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday respectively commemorate Jesus’ entry in Jerusalem, the Last Supper and the Crucifixion. Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are sometimes referred to as the Easter Triduum (Latin for “Three Days”). In some countries, Easter lasts two days, with the second called “Easter Monday.” The week beginning with Easter Sunday is called Easter Week or the Octave of Easter, and each day is prefaced with “Easter,” e.g. Easter Monday, Easter Tuesday, etc. Easter Saturday is therefore the Saturday after Easter Sunday. The day before Easter is properly called Holy Saturday. Many churches start celebrating Easter late in the evening of Holy Saturday at a service called the Easter Vigil. Eastertide, the season of Easter, begins on Easter Sunday and lasts until the day of Pentecost, seven weeks later. Eastern Christianity In Eastern Christianity, preparations begin with Great Lent. Following the fifth Sunday of Great Lent is Palm Week, which ends with Lazarus Saturday. Lazarus Saturday officially brings Great Lent to a close, although the fast continues for the following week. After Lazarus Saturday comes Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and finally Easter itself, or Pascha (Πάσχα), and the fast is broken immediately after the Divine Liturgy. Easter is immediately followed by Bright Week, during which there is no fasting, even on Wednesday and Friday. Nicholas Roerich Russian Pascha The Paschal Service consists of Paschal Matins, Hours, and Liturgy, which traditionally begins at midnight of Pascha morning. Placing the Paschal Divine Liturgy at midnight guarantees that no Divine Liturgy will come earlier in the morning, ensuring its place as the pre-eminent “Feast of Feasts” in the liturgical year.