by V. Rev. Fr. Barouyr Shernezian
Easter is the most important feast day of the year for Christian communities. The resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is the central event of the church, and also our lives. It is the culmination of the teachings of the Gospel, and the fulfillment of the prophecies. The Armenian Church calendar has many moveable festal and Lenten days. In order to determine their dates, the Church first determines the date of Easter. In other words, when Easter is fixed, all other dates fall into place. The resurrection of our Lord is the compass of our life and the keystone of the liturgical calendar.
This article will explain how the date of Easter is determined every year and the spiritual meaning behind it.
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ became man to restore humankind’s communion with God. His crucifixion culminated in His resurrection, when he overcame death. The Feast of Resurrection is the celebration of victory over death through Him. The Resurrection is the cornerstone of our spiritual lives. It changed human history, and the universe.
How is the date of Easter determined every year?
Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are the fulfillment of Passover. Jesus died on the Cross before the Passover celebration started. On the Passover, Jesus resurrected and restored our communion with God. In Exodus, God told Moses that the Israelites shall sacrifice lambs and eat them with unleavened bread. The lambs’ blood should be swabbed on the Israelits’ doorposts as a sign. Seeing the sign, God would “pass over” the houses of the Israelites, while smiting the Egyptians with the tenth plague, the killing of first-born sons (Exodus 12). Accordingly, Jesus fulfilled the Passover by becoming the lamb of God.
Passover is held at twilight on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Nisan (Exodus 12:18). How do we translate this date and time into our context?
The church fathers decided to celebrate Easter on the Sunday immediately following the first spring full moon at the Council of Nicaea, in 325 A.D. The first spring full moon is technically called Vernal Equinox or the Spring Equinox. On that day, the sun is directly above the Equator and day and night are equal in length.
What is the Spiritual Meaning?
With the coming of Spring, the sun dominates more of our day, giving us longer hours to enjoy the sunlight. In the liturgical context, 5:00 pm is the end of a day, because that is when the sunset begins. During the Evening of Hour, we fight the darkness with our prayers. The Vernal Equinox flips this, with light dominating even the evening hours. The resurrection of our Lord also flips our lives upside down. With the light of His resurrection, He shook the stones of the graves gave new light to the world. He enlightened our lives and brought victory over death.
In the past, sunset would mean staying in your house at the end of a day. Reading or writing at home would be accomplished with the dim light of a candle or a lamp. The impact of longer days in those times would be immeasurable, when sundown triggered darkness. In modern times, we have electricity. Accordingly, morning and evening may not have as much of a direct impact on our ability to work or read. However, the longer days allow us to enjoy the presence of sun for longer every day. It brings a special feeling of joy when evening comes but to remain in light. Christ is resurrected! He conquered death, therefore darkness has no more power over us.
When God created the world, He divided the light from the darkness. He saw that the light was good (Genesis 1:3-5). God created the world with righteousness, but the evil one brought darkness into the world. Unrighteousness carried with it sin and death.
We celebrate the Feast of Resurrection on a spring day split equally between day and night, light and dark. It reminds us of righteousness’ victory over death with Christ’s resurrection. The triumphant glory of Resurrection uplifts man’s fallen nature, and restores our communion with God. With His blood, our Lord Jesus Christ paid the wages of our sin, and gave us eternal, resurrected life. The resurrected life overcomes pain, suffering, sickness, heartbrokenness, adversity and even death. No matter what we face in life, Christ’s resurrection grants us hope for a new, eternal life.
Our forebears welcomed the spring with a zeal that is difficult for us to understand today. In the past, people were often forced to spend much of the fall and winter seasons in their houses. This was preceded by working tirelessly to plant, harvest, and store enough food to last over the next several months. After months of staying indoors, the spring would arrive, revive people’s lives with the blossoming of flowers.
Before Jesus, we were imprisoned by the chains of sin and death. No matter man how much we tried to stay away from sin, man could not free himself from the slavery of sin. The Law was so heavy that people were unable to bear it. Our Lord Jesus Christ redeemed us from the controlling nature of sin and gave us voice to expel the adversary. He gave us the grace of belonging and channeling the source of love, power and peace. This is the spring that Christianity gives us, more powerful and more beautiful than just the changing of the leaves. It allows us to feel the power of peace.
The season of the year helps us to understand God’s mysterious and glorious salvation. The resurrection of our Lord gives us a small taste of heavenly life, along with hope. It’s also important to remember that without the other three seasons of the year, spring would be meaningless. Without confession and repentance, we cannot receive the blessing and grace of the Resurrection. We would not appreciate the change of the season. Likewise, we have to prepare with confession and repentance. Thus, we will celebrate the festal season of the Resurrection.