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What is Pascha?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Pascha is the most important feast in the Eastern Orthodox calendar, and is better known to other Christians as Easter or the Feast of the Resurrection of Christ. In Greek and Eastern Orthodox tradition, Pascha supersedes Christmas and other holidays because it is an affirmation of the sacrifice that Christ made, and of Christ's holiness. It is preceded by Lent, a period of fasting and reflection for all Christians, and ends with a week of celebration that starts at midnight on the day of Pascha with liturgical services.

The word for Pascha is derived from the Hebrew pesach, for Passover, because the two holidays are closely linked. The Last Supper of Christ and his disciples, for example, is believed to be a Passover Seder. A few Christians would prefer to see Easter called Pascha as well, because the word for Easter is believed to originate in the name of a pagan goddess, and some Christians dislike this association.

Some people are not aware that although Pascha and Easter celebrate the same event, they are celebrated on different days since the Eastern Orthodox holy calendar is calculated using the Julian calendar, rather than the Gregorian calendar which has been adopted by the rest of the world. To add to the confusion, Gregorian dates are used when referring to Eastern Orthodox holidays, which can make a discussion of pachalion, or how Pascha is calculated, very difficult to follow.

Essentially, according to the council of Nicea, held in 326 AD, Pascha falls on the first full moon after the vernal equinox. In 326, the vernal equinox was on 20 March in the Julian calendar, and this is the date used to calculate Pascha. However, 20 March in the Julian calendar is currently 3 April in the Gregorian calendar, due to drift which has occurred due to the imprecision of the Julian calendar. As a result, Pascha and Easter fall on different days, although sometimes they may coincide. Pascha will never happen earlier than 3 April, and as time goes on, the festival will drift even further, ultimately being celebrated in the winter.

Pascha celebrations begin with a midnight service commemorating the resurrection of Christ, and follow with a large feast on the day of Pascha itself. Many nations have unique culinary traditions for Pascha. Almost every Eastern Orthodox country participates in the exchange of red eggs, which symbolize rebirth and the blood of Christ. During Pascha week, it is traditional for people to exchange the greeting “Christ is Risen!” “Truly, He is risen!” when they meet each other.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a CulturalWorld.org researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

By andee — On Feb 20, 2012

The only reason I am familiar with Pascha is because I actually know somebody who studies historic dates and events. He really gets in to things like the Gregorian and Julian calendars.

When he started talking about the equinox and how it affects the dates on a calendar, I was really confused.

You don't run in to very many people who are educated in this and he is very passionate about it. This man came to our church once and gave a presentation on some of this.

I got the general gist of what he was saying and found the similarities between Easter and Pascha very interesting. I wasn't able to follow how they determine those dates every year, but I was fascinated by the way they go about it.

By Mykol — On Feb 20, 2012

I have celebrated Easter all my life and have never heard of the term Pascha. After reading this article, I can see the association of the passover with the meaning of this word.

I remember an uncle who was a Christian, but didn't like to celebrate Easter simply because he didn't like the association with a pagan goddess.

As a kid you don't really think much about this, but now I can better understand his thinking there. I don't think he ever celebrated Pascha, but he might not of known about it just like I had never heard of it.

By bythewell — On Feb 19, 2012

@browncoat - I believe that it's not so much that they might not think Christmas is also important to celebrate, as that it's simply become too commercial.

While Easter is also quite commercial, it doesn't have that all consuming presence that Christmas does. And most of it has nothing to do with Jesus at all.

Whereas at least Easter has managed to hang on to the idea of eggs as symbolizing death and new life.

I personally, like the idea of celebrating Pascha as well as what I would consider Easter, since they seem to be almost completely separate things now.

And if the dates are different as well, it's easy enough to celebrate both. Of course, I'm not Orthodox and maybe they would consider that to be wrong.

By browncoat — On Feb 18, 2012

I like the word Pascha, although I've never heard it before. I did know that most Orthodox Christian religions put much more emphasis on Easter than on Christmas.

It makes more sense to celebrate the moment that Christ was sacrificed and born again than the first time he was born. That is the greater moment in his history of course.

I imagine that since Easter doesn't involve giving as many presents, though, it doesn't get so hyped in the media.

It also didn't have the same "heathen" holiday to fit into, as a mid-winter celebration is common to most religions as a time to raise spirits in the midst of the most difficult part of the year.

People always celebrate the beginning of spring too, of course, but that's not quite as spirited and isn't as much about presents and food.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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