Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Two Greatest Festivals of the Christian World

      Easter, like Christmas, is a season of great rejoicing throughout the Christian world, writes George B. Catlin in the Detroit News. The two might be termed the alpha and the omega of Christian festivals, since one celebrates the nativity and the other the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from death and the grave.
      As the early Christian records are fragmentary and imperfect it is impossible to determine when the celebration of Easter began. The early Christians of the church in the East were mostly converts from Judaism and these Christians continued the observance of the principal feasts and fasts of their ancestors, the ancient Israelites. 
      The death and resurrection of Christ occurred at about the time of the Passover, which Jesus and his disciples had gone to Jerusalem to observe. The Last Supper, held in an "upper room" of a private home in Jerusalem, by some authorities supposed to be in the home of the mother of St. Mark, was the Feast of the Passover.
      The only allusion in the New Testament that would indicate a very early observance of Easter, as a feast celebrating the Resurrection, is in the first collection of the letters of St. Paul to the Christians of the church in Corinth; fifth chapter and seventh and eighth verses: "Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, even as ye are unleavened. For our passover also has been sacrificed, even Christ: wherefore let us keep the feast, not with the old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."
      In the subsequent records the first allusion to Easter is in connection with a dispute between two groups of Christians as to the date of the observance when, in the last decade of the second century of the Christian era, Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, and Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, wrote letters to Victor of Rome, differing with him on the subject of the proper date for the feast.
      The crucifixion occurred on the sixth day of the week, or Friday. The following day was the Jewish Sabbath and the Resurrection occurred on the first day of the week. The early Christians of Jewish ancestry wished to signify their separation from their former faith, so, presently, they ceased to observe the Jewish Sabbath and made their holy day Sunday, the first day of the week.
      The Jewish calendar is based on the phases of the moon, having months of 29 and 30 days alternately. The days of the month in the Jewish calendar, therefore, change from year to year during a period of 19 years or the metonic cycle, at the end of which period the phases of the moon reoccur on the same day. A partial readjustment of the dates is achieved by introducing an extra or interciary month in the third, sixth, eight, eleventh, fourteenth, seventeenth and nineteenth years.
      The years having this interciary month are known as "embolismic" years. The length of the Jewish year varies from 353 to 385 days and because of this irregularity the Jewish new year may occur anywhere between September 5 and October 5. All other dates, including the Passover, are movable because of this peculiarity of the calendar.
      In 325 A. D. the date of the Easter feast, in dispute because of calendar and religious differences, was finally settled, but this did not obviate all difficulties. Because of the imperfections of the Julian calendar days of the month and year began to fall behind. By the year 1582 the calendar was 10 days behind and the vernal equinox, supposed to fall invariably on March 21, fell upon the 11th. This caused difficulty in fixing the correct date of the Easter celebration reformed calendar was invented and adopted.
      This festival was always preceded by a fast of some duration. At first the fast began on Good Friday and continued for 40 hours. A little later it was extended to three days and later still it was extended to a week known as Holy week, during which there was general abstinence from flesh meats. The first mention of the fast, corresponding closely to our present Lenten period, occurs in the fifth canon of the council of Nicea in which it is styled "the quadrigesima" or 40 days.

More Related Links About Religious Calendars:

Hebrew Date Converters

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