History of Easter

history of easter feature

The History of Easter is an interesting subject to consider. Where did we come from? Where have we gone? Where are we going…

History of Easter - HE IS RISEN!

Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons. She went and reported to those who had been with Him, while they were mourning and weeping. And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they refused to believe it.

Now after that, He appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking along on their way to the country. And they went away and reported it to the rest, but they did not believe them, either.

Later He appeared to the eleven disciples themselves as they were reclining at the table; and He reprimanded them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen from the dead. (Mark 16:9-14)

The risen Savior loved His “mourning and weeping” disciples. But the first thing He did when He appeared to them was to rebuke them for their lack of faith and stubbornness.

May we truly believe this life-changing good news! Believing that He is risen will radically change the way you live, unless it is just a mental belief of the mind. History of Easter tells the tale of how the celebration of the risen Saviour shifted from a radical change of heart, to a mere acknowledgement of a story believed in the mind.

History of Easter - empty tomb

History of Easter: Calculating the Dates

The Early Christians fell very early into disunity about the simple matter of when to celebrate their Savior’s resurrection. Even though it has always been an accepted fact that the Christ was crucified as the people of Israel gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, the date of the resurrection somehow became disconnected from this feast of the Jews. Confusion has followed the dating of this holiday ever since, even up to now, as the Roman and Orthodox churches celebrate this holiday at two completely separate times. One of the main commands of the Risen Christ was that His disciples must be in unity. “Let my people be ONE,” He prayed earnestly in the garden of Gethsemane to His Father just before His crucifixion. But remaining united has been very difficult for Christians, especially on the subject of Easter.

Let’s look at the history of easter…

HISTORY OF EASTER: THE BEGINNING

The Encyclopedia Britannica states: “There is no indication of the observance of the Easter festival in the New Testament or in the writings of the apostolic Fathers. The sanctity of special times was an idea absent from the minds of the first Christians.”

The first century disciples celebrated the Passover, just as their Master had taught them, remembering not only their deliverance from Egypt, but their deliverance from death by their Passover Lamb, Yahshua1 the Messiah. (Also see the article “Passover Lamb”.)

HISTORY OF EASTER: SECOND CENTURY

According to BibleWorld.com, “Some church historians assert that Easter observance began in the first century (C.E.), but they must admit that their first evidence for the observance comes from the second century.” But there was no consensus within the second century church about when to celebrate Easter. “…the early Christians had followed the Jewish calendar and celebrated the resurrection on the Passover which was the fourteenth of Nisan, the first month of the Jewish year….” “By the end of the 2nd century some churches celebrated Easter/Pesach on the day of the Jewish Passover, regardless of the day of the week, while others celebrated it on the following Sunday.”

HISTORY OF EASTER: FOURTH CENTURY

Government takes Control of the Resurrection Festival

Originally, the timing of Easter depended on the Jewish lunar calendar based on the 29-day cycle from new moon to new moon. Once the Roman Emperor Constantine had taken the helm of the church by making it the official religion of his empire, things took a great change. Planning a full year’s sequence of church holidays, the established Roman church of the early 300s found it difficult to fit the lunar timetable into the 365 -day rotation of the seasons, based on the annual cycle of the sun the way the Romans calculated it. Whichever way you try to squeeze it, 29 days of the Hebrew calendar does not go into the 365 -day Gregorian calendar (www.religioustolerance.org). So, the emperor convened the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., where he set the date of Easter as the first Sunday after Passover. That is, if Passover was on a Sunday, then Easter was delayed by seven days. The date of Easter was clarified as the first Sunday after the first full moon (the paschal moon) on or after the nominal date of the vernal (spring) equinox: March 21. The church then celebrated Easter between the 15th and 21st day of Nisan.

HISTORY OF EASTER: SIXTH CENTURY

However, this did not achieve harmony within Christianity: “Differences in the mechanics of determining the date of Easter/Pascha remained even after Nicea…” by the 6th century, the mode of calculation based on the studies of Alexandrian astronomers and scholars had gained universal acceptance.” (Well, “universal” minus the Irish and the Orthodox believers.) Here the history of Easter takes another interesting turn…

DEAR OL’ ST. PATRICK COMES ON THE SCENE

DEAR OL’ ST. PATRICK COMES ON THE SCENE

A central figure in this Easter debate is the famous Saint Patrick. He had gone to Ireland early in the fifth century without all the religious trappings of the established Roman church. He was an earthy man with a simple faith in the Savior. He founded the “Celtic Church” which had little to no communication with the Christians of the mainland of Europe. This Irish church celebrated a simple Easter after the full moon of the Jewish Passover, but, in the event that Passover occurred on a Sunday, they did not move it a week later as the council of Nicea advised. Thus, in about one year in seven, their observance would be one week before the Roman church. Patrick considered this the proper way and taught his people that this was the biblical way to celebrate.

This practice continued for the remnants of the Celtic church at Iona in what is now present-day Scotland until 716. The Welsh church did not adopt the Roman dating until 768. But when the Romans began sending their missionaries to Britain, they ran into a huge conflict with the churches of Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.

When Roman monks, sent by Pope Gregory the Great to Britain, encountered the Celtic missionaries from Ireland celebrating Easter at a different time from that appointed by the Roman church, they considered them to be “heretics.” After years of controversy there, it was agreed that a synod should be held where the difficulty might be settled.

Such was the confusion in those days,” related the Venerable Bede, one of our earliest and most accurate historians, describing the calendar arguments in mid-7th century England, “– that Easter was sometimes kept twice in one year, so that when the King (under the Celtic influence) had ended Lent and was keeping Easter, the Queen (under the Roman teaching) was still fasting and keeping Palm Sunday.”2

History of Easter – Interesting Quotes

King Oswy of the early Anglo- Saxon Britain, followed the calendar of the Irish-influenced monks, while his bride, Eanfled of Kent, stayed true to the Roman calculations with which she had been brought up in Canterbury. A learned synod was convened at Whitby on the Yorkshire coast to resolve this, and it provoked deep ill-humor.3

WORDS OF ACTUAL HISTORIC RECORD OF SYNOD OF WHITBY in 662AD

Bishop Colman spoke for the Scots (i.e. Irish) and said: “The Easter which I keep I received from my elders, who sent me hither as bishop; all our forefathers, men beloved of God, are known to have kept it after the same manner; and that this may not seem to any contemptible or worthy to be rejected, it is the same which St. John the Evangelist, the disciple beloved of our Lord, with all the churches he presided, is recorded to have observed.”

Then Wilfrid was ordered by the king to speak for the Roman practice: “The Easter which we observe we saw, celebrated by all at Rome, where the blessed apostles, Peter, and Paul, lived, taught, suffered, and were buried – we saw the same done in Italy and in France, when we traveled through those countries for pilgrimage and prayer. Found that Easter was celebrated at one and the same time in Africa, Asia, Egypt, Greece, and all the world, wherever the Church of Christ is spread abroad, through the various nations and tongues; except only among these and their accomplices in obstinacy, I mean the Picts and the Britons, who foolishly, in these two remote islands of the world, and only in part even of them, oppose all the rest of the universe… You certainly sin if, having heard the decree of the apostolic see, and of the universal Church, and that the same is confirmed by Holy Writ, you refuse to follow them; for, though your fathers were holy, do you think that their small number, in a corner of the remotest island, is to be preferred before the universal Church of Christ throughout the world? And though that Columbus (student of Saint Patrick and leaders of the Celtic Church) of yours was a holy man and powerful in miracles, yet should he be preferred before the most blessed prince of the apostles, to whom our Lord said, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give up to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven?”

When Wilfrid had spoken thus, the king said, “Is it true, Colman, that these words were spoken to Peter by our Lord?”

He answered, “It is true, O king!”

Then said he, “Can you show any such power given to your Columba?”

Colman answered, “None.”

Then added the king, “Do both of you agree that these words were principally directed to Peter, and that the keys of heaven were given to him by our Lord?”

They both answered, “We do.”

Then the king concluded “And I also say unto you, that he is the doorkeeper, who I will not contradict, but will, as far as I know and am able in all things obey his decrees, lest when I come to the gate of the kingdom of heaven there should be none to open them he being my adversary who is proved to have the keys.”

The king having said this, all present, both great and small gave their assent and, renouncing the more imperfect institution, resolved to conform to that which they found to be better. From the accounts translated in J. H. Robinson, Readings in European History, (Boston: Ginn, 1905), pp. 97-105

At the gathering the Irish were looked upon as very foolish… “It is strange that you call us stupid,” retorted the Irish delegation, citing the Apostle John as their authority, for Patrick had taught all of his people from the “gospel according to John” and they knew nothing of Constantine or the Council of Nicea. It was hard for the Irish, Scottish, and Welsh to give up their tradition which had been taught to them by Saint Patrick, for the Irish had a very well thought-out system of calculating the moon and sun cycles. Since the Irish had been Christians long before the Anglo- Saxons in Britain, they felt a certain superiority. St. Patrick had established his church in Ireland a century and a half before Pope Gregory’s envoys, who arrived in Canterbury to found the English church. It had been missionaries from Ireland who had Christianized Scotland and the north of England. But when the seaside convention at Whitby concluded its arguments, it was the Roman church that won the day — a victory, in terms of church politics, for the centralizing authority of the Pope in Rome, and a decision, in terms of the calendar, that cleared the way to mathematically work out a new system of dating. However, that system has yet to solve the problem…

HISTORY OF EASTER: The Greek Orthodox

Unlike the Celtic church, the Orthodox church in the East has never succumbed to the dating injunctions of the Roman church. The history of Easter shows that after the East – West split, the Eastern Orthodox Church had their own idea, and held to that decision ever since. As we see this year in 2021, their date for Easter is much different from the one celebrated in the West.

JEWISH & CHRISTIAN

HOLY DAYS

Passover

Eve of March 27 - March 28 2021

Passover, or Pesach in Hebrew, the holiday commemorating the Hebrews’ exodus from slavery in Egypt, lasts seven days in Israel and among Reform Jews, and eight days elsewhere around the world. It begins on the 15th day of Nisan, which is the seventh month in the Jewish calendar. It ends on the 21st of Nisan in Israel (and for Reform Jews) and on the 22nd of Nisan elsewhere. Since Hebrew days begin and end at sundown, Passover begins at sundown on the preceding day.

Easter - (Western Churches)

April 4, 2021

Easter is calculated as the first Sunday after the paschal full moon that occurs on or after the vernal equinox. If the full moon falls on a Sunday, then Easter is the following Sunday. The holiday can occur anywhere between March 22 and April 25. The Western church does not use the actual, or astronomically correct date for the vernal equinox, but a fixed date (March 21). And by full moon it does not mean the astronomical full moon but the “ecclesiastical moon,” which is based on tables created by the church.

These constructs allow the date of Easter to be calculated in advance rather than determined by actual astronomical observances, which are naturally less predictable.

The Council of Nicaea in 325 established that Easter would be celebrated on Sundays; before that Easter was celebrated on different days in different places in the same year.

Easter - (Orthodox Church)

May 2, 2021

The Orthodox church uses the same formula to calculate Easter, but bases the date on a slightly different calendar. They use the Julian calendar instead of the more contemporary Gregorian one (the calendar that is most widely used today). Consequently, both churches only occasionally celebrate Easter on the same day.

Unlike the Western Church, the Eastern Church sets the date of Easter according to the actual, astronomical full moon and the actual equinox as observed along the meridian of Jerusalem, site of the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

Citation: Easter and Passover4

History of Easter Candy

history of easter holiday
History of Easter - The Cross and Eggs
What do Easter eggs have to do with The Cross of Messiah?

IT'S ALL ABOUT CANDY!

In the 1800’s, Easter candy came on the scene. Capitalizing on the new edible chocolate developed by Swiss innovators, chocolate rabbits were soon born.

Easter is the second most important candy-eating occasion of the year for Americans, who consume upwards of 7 billion pounds of candy each holiday season, according to the National Confectioners’ Association.

Americans consumed $2.26 billion worth of Easter candy (2014).5 Halloween sales were around $2 billion; on Christmas, an estimated $1.4 billion; and Valentine’s Day, just over $1 billion.

So how far have we fallen?

What does the history of Easter teach us?

What is the real message of the cross and the resurrection?

Read more in the articles below…

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