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A Message from Deonna- April 11, 2023

A Message from Deonna- April 11, 2023

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life! (Paschal Troparion)

The icon pictured above is the icon of the resurrection (anastasis). It is also known as “Christ’s descent into Hades.”  It is interesting that the icon of the resurrection reflects the Orthodox Christian emphasis on what Christ did on Holy Saturday, and not Easter Sunday.  This icon of the “resurrection” shows Christ descending into Hades and lifting up Adam and Eve out of their tombs.  This symbolizes Christ’s victory over death that stretches all the way back to the beginning of humanity.  The two golden bars under his feet symbolize the brass gates of Hades that have been broken open and reformed into the shape of a cross.  On the left of the icon we see kings David and Solomon, as well as John the Baptist, representing those who died before Jesus’ crucifixion, waiting patiently in Hades for their Messiah. On the right side of the icon, we see Abel as a shepherd, who was the first person to die as a result of the Fall.  Elijah and Moses are also pictured as the Old Testament prophets. In the darkness below, keys, locks & chains symbolize that Christ has entered and conquered both death and Hades.

Unfortunately, we cannot yet extend Easter greetings to our Orthodox brothers and sisters, since they will not celebrate Easter (“Pascha”) until this Sunday, April 16th.  Why do the Eastern and Western Christian churches celebrate Easter on different days?

The vast majority of the Orthodox Church uses what is called the “Old Calendar” to determine the date for Easter.  The “Old Calendar” was the calendar established by Julius Caesar in 45 B.C.E. and was based on the solar cycle.  The Julian calendar was in use until 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII instituted what is known as the “Gregorian calendar.”  The Gregorian calendar served as a correction to some inaccuracies in the Julian calendar.  It added leap years to correct for an 11-minue miscalculation that caused seasons to become out of sync with the calendar, which pushed Easter away from the Spring Equinox.  Under the “New Calendar” the western Christian churches established Easter to be held on the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs on or after the spring Equinox.

In contrast, Orthodox Easter (“Pacha”), always falls on the first day of the full moon after the Jewish Passover according to the Julian calendar.  The word “Pascha” is transliteration of the Greek word, pascha, which is the transliteration of the Aramaic pascha, from the Hebrew pesach, which means passover.  For the Orthodox, Pascha is the Great Passover, where Christ himself not only passed over from death into life, but brings life to those who have died.  Hence, the emphasis of the resurrection icon of Christ descending into hades, lifting to life those in the tomb.

I have become good friends with the Orthodox priest who serves the Greek Orthodox parish of the Annunciation here in Montogmery, Father Paul Lundberg.  As some of you may recall, I wrote an article last year on the connection St. John’s has with our local Greek Orthodox parish, as that congregation worshipped here in the late 19th and early 20th century, before they moved into their own building.  A few months ago, Father Paul gave St. John’s an icon of the resurrection, as a symbol of our connection in Christ that our two parishes share.  The icon is in my office.   As I look at it while I write this, it feels strange not to be able to wish my friend Father Paul a “Happy Easter” yet.  The Orthodox are currently in Holy Week.  Happily, on April 16th, Father Paul and I will be able to extend the most ancient Christian greeting to one another, “Alleluia!  Christ is Risen.  Truly he is risen! Alleluia!”  And, on April 20th, 2025, both Eastern and Western Christians will celebrate “Pascha” on the same day!