THIS IS THE DAY THE LORD HAS MADE...
When we mention the words, "day of Resurrection," with what does your mind respond? Probably you were prompted to think in such terms as Incarnation, Redemption, Saviour, or even a mental picture of the icon of Christ harrowing the Old Testament place of the dead, and blessed Paschal food. All could go for some time explaining what the terms mean to them personally. But when we mention Easter Sunday, what mental and spiritual picture do you conjure up? Probably you think of yellow daffodils, colored eggs, a chocolate Easter bunny, jelly beans, new clothing. The second term does conjure up different images than the first one and although we have almost always considered them synonymous, we see that they suggest two different orientations towards this great feast. It takes a spiritual and mental effort to join the meaning of the two but then the fundamental true meaning of the radiant holy day eludes us when make this attempt.
If we permit our mind to wander somewhat, we discover that even as children we responded to "Easter" in two unique ways that seem to be different worlds. We can all remember that Passion Week was solemn in church; everyone was profoundly serious and the faithful were singing soberly, praying privately more ardently and shedding tears over the passion of the Lord and their own sinful contribution to it. You could feel the anticipation of Resurrection morning on Sunday slowly, but inevitably building up. At home during Passion Week, another sort of atmosphere prevailed. It was also serious, but unlike church, it was very much alive and busy in a worldly way with all the domestic preparations. At home it meant something else; it was a very "earthly" and practical world of anticipation and preparation.
Then came Resurrection morning. The special foods taken to church to be solemnly blessed and then brought home to be feasted upon after the long and trying fast ... the long anticipation and preparation in church sometimes collided with the preparation of the traditional foods and the timely celebration of the feast. Preparation of the soul seemed at odds with preparation for the needy body which is where our beautiful custom of blessing food draws it meaning.
For that which is brought from home is sanctified and made holy in church, and then brought back into the home as a sign of the merciful and tender presence of the risen Christ among, us. The very name of the specially prepared bread which we eagerly nourish ourselves with has the very name of Christ's Passover victory written upon it and included in its every ingredient: Pascha. Although we did not fully understand as a child, we must realize that it is the world of the Resurrection reality that makes our "heavenly" world of church united with our "earthly" world of daily living in the home. It therefore transforms our earthly home into a heavenly one if we have properly prepared for the feast day. It is through Christ that the heavenly nature of God is united with the earthly nature of man and that by the Resurrection of our Lord, salvation and sanctification is brought to all of creation. Just as intimately and inextricably the divine and human natures were united in the glorified and triumphant Christ, so must there be the same unique blend in our present celebration of Christ's Resurrection. All must be tested by and subjected to the eternal truth; the transcendent victory of Christ over death.
A Proper Celebration
Orthodox believers, without a doubt stake all on the Resurrection of Christ. Without it, they would be, as the Apostle teaches us, "...of all men most contemptible" 1 Corinthians 15: 19.
And yet, there are so many around us, some inside the Church unfortunately, but primarily most who are not Orthodox, but of western cultural infusion and confusion, who do not recognize what is happening in the celebration of Christ's Resurrection over the past few generations.
Our forebears in Europe were not greatly influenced by pagan western problems. They were grounded rather solidly in their approach to the Church and its celebrations because outside influences were not too successful in overcoming what was learned in the Church and lived and practiced in the home. Our people correctly described the feast as Pascha, or Passover, Velikden or Great day, and Voskresenije or Resurrection. There is no pagan or folk lore appellation like Easter in the various vernacular languages spoken by Orthodox people.
It is in coming to this country that we have been barraged by a vociferous pagan secularism that is slowly succeeding in reducing the outward celebration of Christ's Resurrection to nothing more than a pagan spring wiccan festival. The next step will be to influence man interiorly so conformity is achieved with the outward festivities already accepted.
If you are astounded, you very well should be. Our ancestors who came here assumed the English equivalent of Pascha, Velikden, Voskresenije was Easter because it was utilized by everyone around them. Unknowingly, they bought into the American myth since it is also popularly used by Roman Catholics and Protestants who both together immensely enjoy watering down Christian reality and thus essentially changing it until it cannot be recognized as belonging to Christ.
If a non-Christian sees the word Easter, it is obvious it does not communicate anything about which it purports to be associated in the Christian believing dimension. The correct name, conversely, for this feast day liturgically in the Orthodox Church is "The Radiant' Resurrection of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ." It explains itself and needs no further elaboration or elucidation.
Easter, on the other hand, from the Anglo-Saxon Eostra, goddess of spring, leads us in another direction. According to the Venerable Bede, an eighth century English monk, the word is derived from Ishtar, an ancient mythical pagan goddess who was especially honored and worshipped in the spring. The symbol for this goddess was the fertile rabbit, hence the Easter bunny today.
The mythology associated with this goddess is that she visited and rose from the underworld. The Ishtar (pronounced Easter) festivals were symbolic of lust and fertility. As the daughter of Sin, the moon god, she was the mother goddess who presided over child-birth and women in her honor sacrificed their virginity on the feast. in her temples or became permanent temple prostitutes, their earnings becoming a source of revenue for pagan priests and temple servants.
Projecting their own understanding of their own sexual appetites, the worshippers of these gods hoped to increase their herds and the growing ability of their fields.
Ishtar has always been the personification of fertility. Associated with her was young male god who died and came to life again, like the vegetation that each year in the spring blooms and revives after withering during the winter months. In ancient Mesopotamia, they appeared as Ishtar and Tammuz, in Egypt as Isis and Osiris.
The Old Testament furnishes abundant evidence as to the character of the religion of the land into which the Israelites came. Fertility rites were practiced at numerous shrines which dotted the land, as well as at major pagan sanctuaries. Israelites in time observed the pagan practices and learned to identify and confuse the true God with Baal and Ishtar. Child sacrifice was one feature of the pagan ritual. True believers were constantly being warned about the influence of paganism. In Ninevah, Ishtar was worshipped under the name of Astarte and it is the reason Jonah was sent there; by God to convert the people by his preaching. Ishtar was called the "Lady from heaven" and "Mistress of the gods." The cult of the Greek Aphrodite in Cyprus was borrowed from that of Ishtar. In Babylonia, she was considered the mother and creatress of mankind.
Her polluting cult presented a danger to the early chosen people. "Because they had thus abandoned the Lord, serving the Baals and Ishtars..." Judges 10: 6. "Since they abandoned the Lord and would not serve him, the Lord became angry with Israel and allowed them to fall into the power of the Philistines and the Ammonites" Judges 10: 6, 7. Even the renowned wise Solomon succumbed to her voluptuous worship. "By adoring Ishtar, the goddess of the Sidionites...Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord" 1 Kings 11: 5. "The king defiled high places east of Jerusalem ... which Solomon had built in honor of Ishtar" 2 Kings 23:13.
But true believers, those faithful to God, found her utterly detestable, "He also deposed his grandmother, Maacah from her position as queen mother because she had made an outrageous object for Ishtar" 1 Kings 15: 13. "Asa pleased the Lord ... banishing the temple prostitutes ... and removing all the idols his father had made" 1 Kings 15: 11.
Among the Babylonians, she was worshipped as having a son whose was supernaturally conceived with no human father and that he was the promised seed, the "saviour" promised by God in Hebrew Scripture, "I will put enmity between your offspring and hers" Genesis 3: 15.
In all ancient civilizations which did not receive God's grace and blessing, she was honored and worshipped. Her devotees believed an old fable about an egg which was supposed to have fallen from the skies into the Euphrates River from which the goddess Ishtar was hatched. This Ishtar is still worshipped and honored by modern witches and pagans. Under one of her other middle-Eastern names, "Semiramis," Catherine' the Great of Russia was recognized because of her flagrant sensuality and immorality, being called the "Semiramis of the north"
Easter or Resurrection???
Orthodox believers should make a serious effort to avoid using the Anglo-Saxon reference to Christ's Resurrection unless it is being accurately employed in describing the paganism and secularism that is attendant to Christ's Resurrection. Let us teach our children we do not celebrate Easter but a far more meaningful feast. We do not have an "Easter holiday" but a glorious holy day of the Resurrection of our Lord on which we receive the gift of eternal life.
We can permit our children to enjoy some of the folk lore of Easter as long as we teach them to emphasize the bunny rabbit has nothing to do with Christ's victory and that it was used before Christ's time to celebrate the spring season. Jelly beans are reminiscent of seeds being planted in spring. We use eggs to demonstrate the truth of the Resurrection as did saints in the early Church.
Born again protesters who are opposed to the secularization of the Resurrection offer the excuse that "Easter" should not be celebrated at all because it is not mentioned in the Bible but once in the Acts of the Apostles 12: 4. This only evidences the abysmal ignorance of the King James translation in using an incorrect word, a very flimsy translposition, simply in response to the pagan current cultural fadism in describing the holy day which correctly should have been rendered "Passover."
Many will advise it is impossible to alter the mentality of people with such ingrained prejudicial practical experience, but the more a believer learns about "Easter" the more he is compelled to protest the marriage of fallen generic western Christianity with the traditions and customs of the world, as well as its threat to the integrity of Orthodox witness. When we consider how mocking of Christ and Resurrection truth the pagan term Easter is, it is hoped reconsideration will occur and alignment with the values of Christ will result. We are called to be different and here is an opportunity to begin separation from accepted perversion of values and perceptions.
We who truly believe must guard against mixing paganism with the glorious Resurrection of our Lord. We should be opposed to the term "Easter" not only on cultural grounds, but theologically describing the indescribable glory and victory of the Resurrection, the Victory of Victories.
We Rise With Christ
By His glorious Resurrection Christ gave us new life in raising our earthly nature to the heavenly, and we participate in this new life spiritually, by being partakers and sharers of His eternal life, and physically by partaking of the heavenly nourishment of His Body and Blood. The Paschal foods help us celebrate in anticipation of the eternal banquet in the never ending Kingdom of God. The Pascha, the meats, dairy products become special signs of Christ's presence in our midst. The Pascha which is significant of Christ Who is truly the "Bread of Life", and the varied meats recall the animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant that led to the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb, Christ Himself, and also our union with the Eternal Father as His prodigal children who celebrate our blessings upon eating the fattened calf; and the dairy products that point to our new life in the land of "milk and honey," in union with the risen Christ. We must always be sensitively aware there is a dichotomy in the meaning of the Resurrection in our present culture and so called civilization. We as followers of Christ emphasize the values .of His rising from the dead because they are enduring and soul-encompassing. Those who celebrate it only as a holiday, only as "Easter" think only of the values of a transitory, lost and unredeemed world.
For us, faithful souls, we must unite both worlds because it is only in the Resurrection of our Lord that we have deep and real meaning in the feverish activity in the home, to the customs and traditions which find expression. in all the things we do to prepare for the august feast. They mean nothing without. the prevalence of the spiritual over the temporal, without the acknowledgment on our part of the transcendence of the enduring eternal over the disappearing temporal.
Christ and His glorious Resurrection must be the center, the theme of this magnificent spring feast day. It must be the heart throb and animated soul of our jubilation. We must learn to celebrate on this day the triumph of our Lord so that He saturate our spirituality and reorient our feeble lives. We subordinate and do away with the pagan implications and celebration of Easter and take from it a few innocent, positive social customs which we redirect, reorient and "baptize" so that the Resurrection will be all in all things for us who believe. Then we will finally understand the significance of Christ's victory in our lives. Then we will come to understand why in reality we can "be glad and rejoice in