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Easter for some

22 March 2008

This year Easter and Wester are about as far apart as they possibly can be.

While Western Christians will be celebrating Easter tomorrow, Orthodox Christians will be having the Second Sunday of Lent:

Sunday 23rd March 2008
* Tone 2 – SECOND SUNDAY OF GREAT LENT
* St Gregory Palamas
* Commemoration of the Holy Fathers whose relics lie in the Kiev Caves (Near and Far)

So for tomorrow I wish my Western Christian friends, in Greek style Kali Anastasi (Good Resurrection!) — and well over the fast!

We will have to wait till 27 April for Pascha, but next year we will only be a week apart, and in 2010 we’ll both be celebrating Pascha/Easter on 4th April.

Festivals like Pascha/Easter seem to bring out all kinds of urban legends, not least about the origin of the feast. Some have gone so far as to claim that it was originally a festival of the goddess Eostre (and other spelling variations) whose symbols are hares and eggs.

Not so.

If you want to know the details, you can read more about that on my other blog: Notes from underground: Easter – Christian or pagan?. Interestingly enough, though that was posted more than 6 months ago, this week it has risen to be the most popular post from that blog on Amatomu.

But for now suffice it to say that the old English name for April was Eostremonath, and since the Christian festival of Pascha usually fell in that month the English (but very few other people) began to call Pascha “Easter”. The Venerable Bede, who wrote the first history of the English Church, thought that the month may have been named after a goddess Eostre, whose festival fell around that time, but that is all that is known about her, and her alleged link to hares and eggs is pure legend from the urban mythmakers. If anyone can cite source older than Bede that says something different, I’m open to correction. But seeing it on a web site doesn’t count – the Web was not around in Bede’s day.

Update:

For an interesting Neo=Pagan take on this, see  Ostara, the Spring Equinox, at Starweaver’s Corner.

Meanwhile Orthodox Christians, who said goodbye to eggs on Cheesefare Sunday, a fortnight ago, will have fun with their Easter eggs (and bacon, yum!) on 27 April.

In the Orthodox Church the Second Sunday in Lent is always marked by the commemoration of St Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), who is known for his theological defence of hesychasm. He distinguished between the essence and the energies of God, and said that while God in his essence is unknowable, his uncreated energies permeate all things and can be experienced by man through God’s grace. You can read more about St Gregory Palamas here.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 22 March 2008 8:09 pm

    Hi Steve
    This is interesting! I tend to just go along with this ‘factoid’ stuff, because Christianity is tough enough to take it. Are you saying that there is no historical evidence that Easter has picked up ‘pagan’ traditions or converted pagan festivals? Or is it just particularly the goddess Eostre that has not been ‘usurped’?

  2. 22 March 2008 8:44 pm

    Jenny,

    Christianity has certainly picked up pagan traditions, and possibly converted some pagan festivals, but Easter isn’t one of them. Certainly the goddess Eostre wasn’t usurped. Christians celebrated Pascha long before there were any Anglo-Saxon Christians. The name of the month may have been that of a pagan goddess (just as the name of March is from the name of a pagan god), but that doesn’t make Christian Pascha a celebration of either Mars or Eostre.

    The trouble with the factoids is that they start with the assumption that Christian festivals were all stolen from pagans, and then manufacture evidence (usually spurious) to support it. The relationship is rarely as simple as the factoids suggest.

    Traditions about the “Easter bunny” don’t seem to be Christian, but where they come from, nobody knows for sure. Linking them to Esotre is pure guesswork.

  3. 28 March 2008 10:00 pm

    So if I follow the argument you are saying that there is a tenuous link with a Pagan God(ess), but no clear proof either way. At the least though the Christian festival was named after the month, which seems to be named after the God(ess).

    The links with bunnies and eggs are not explained but (undeniably) have something to do with the riotous explosion of life I witness here in North Western Europe every year – or else why would the Christian church adopt them as a symbol of rebirth.

    Perhaps people believed that the Christians adopted a pagan festival because they had history of doing this, and because it, erm, is just so plausible?

  4. 29 March 2008 8:43 am

    bbm

    My point about the word “Easter” is that it is derived from the Anglo-Saxon “Eosturmonath”, which was the name for the month roughly equivalent to our April. Bede thought it was linked to a goddess called Eostre, but nothing more is known about her or how she was worshipped than what he said.

    The fluffy factoids published in newspapers around this time of year suggesting that the Christian celebration of “Easter” is somehow derived from the hares and eggs of the cult of Eostre are just so much hogwash.

    That’s no more so than that the Wednesday night service at the Presbyterian Church down the road is derived from the worship of Woden, or that the Thursday night Bingo Bash is derived from the worship of Thor — and we know a good deal more about Woden and Thor than we do about Eostre.

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