It is Pascha not Easter!

SOURCE: Orthodox Research Institute

I hear occasionally from someone who sometimes accuses the Orthodox Church of being "foreign", and so unsuitable for the British. A few days ago he sent me a card saying "the word in English is Easter". My reply was "the word in Greek (and, therefore, English), is Pascha".

This is a much more important subject than a mere dispute about words. If the word in English is Easter, then one is bound to ask "what word?" Was there some word which, when translated into English, became "Easter"? The plain answer is "no". There is one simple reason for this, Jesus Christ in the days of his flesh never visited these shores, and his words were not written in English. He spoke Aramaic, and his sayings were recorded in Greek, as were the words of the other NT writers like Paul and Peter. An example of the desire to replace the word "Pascha" with "Easter" is the King James version translation of Acts 12:4 which describes the arrest of Peter by Herod and his intention "after Easter to bring him forth to the people". The Greek word here is pascha, and all modern translations rightly now translate the word "passover"

We need to realise also that there is no equivalent word for "Easter" in the Greek language, for one simple but important reason, the word is an Anglo-Saxon word for a pagan festival. The word in its original use is entirely pagan. According to the English Church historian Bede, it derives from a pagan spring festival in honour of Eastra or Ostara a Teutonic goddess. It has no associations whatsoever with Christ, His death and Resurrection, or indeed anything Christian. Is it not, therefore, unsuitable to be used to describe the greatest day in the life of the Church? The French, Italians and Spanish do not make the same mistake. Their words come from the proper source — Passover, which in Greek is the word "Pascha".

Pascha is derived from the Jewish word Pesah which means "Passover". And here there is a direct link with the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 5:7 we read, "for our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed". According to St John, Christ was crucified at the very time that the paschal lambs were being killed. There is another link with the Old Testament because of the importance to the Jews of the Feast of the Passover. The verbal form means to protect and to have compassion as well as "passover". The experience of the Israelites was literally a "passover", but it was also an experience of both God’s compassion for his people, and a great act of protection, as for example, the passage through the Red Sea. The crucifixion and later Resurrection of Christ took place during the Passover Feast. So for Christians Christ was clearly the Paschal Lamb, the fulfilment of all that the Passover had foreshadowed since the first Passover which celebrated the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Let us remember that because the word "Pascha" is in its origin a Hebrew word, by using it we are a witness to the Jewish community, for whom the Passover is still one of the most important words in their religious faith.

Orthodox believers living in the West have always been under pressure in all directions to conform to western ways, ideas and practices. There is nothing new in this. The Crusades were the worst and most blatant attempt by the West to bring the East to heel. But the pressures continue, albeit in more subtle ways. And one example of this is our constant temptation to drop the word "Pascha" and for clarity (and sometimes charity) use the western word "Easter". But perhaps the time has come for us to make a stand against this. In our increasingly secular and pagan society the use of a pagan word, of which no one knows the meaning, is hardly suitable to describe the greatest day in the Christian year. When most people knew the Christian meaning of the word "Easter" one could perhaps make out a case for using the word. But not today!

To be practical

There are still some for whom the word "Easter" has all the right resonances. Let us not want for a moment to deprive them of that blessing. Easter for them does not mean hats, chocolate eggs, parades or watching football; it means the Cross of Christ and his glorious Resurrection.

But let the Orthodox stick to the right word, which is "Pascha". Let us use it in our own circles, and discard the pagan word "Easter". We should do this — not to be different, but to be truthful.

However, when we are in mixed company, for the sake of clarity (and charity) let us use both words, if possible with a simple and humbly presented explanation. For example — "We shall soon be celebrating Pascha — or as you call it ‘Easter’". Or, "we shall soon be celebrating Easter, or as we call it ‘Pascha’".

We should encourage the West to unite with us in using the right word, which is Pascha.

And finally, let us not get dragged down with a dispute about mere words. St Paul warned believers in his day "to avoid wrangling about words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening" (2 Timothy 2:14). The important matter here is not what the Festival is called, but the reality of the Death and Resurrection of Christ. Yes, Christ is Risen! If we can agree there, then what we call it, important though that is, can be seen in its proper perspective.

Bob5/7/2024 5:39 am
Referring to our most holy Christian holiday as "Passover" just seems silly to me. Passover already exists as a Jewish holiday. You can't overload the term.
Billy McBiggle3/3/2024 3:25 am
Antonios: so the word is Pascha, even in non-Greek languages. I'll make sure to tell Russians to stop calling it Voskresenie then. And God forbid we refer to it as Resurrection Sunday in English. Thanks for enlightening us that the Holy Fathers meant everything to be in Greek only. I learned a new thing today!
Antonios3/21/2023 1:00 am
Interesting how every comment is informed by dictionaries and whatever bible translations, too many opinions here and no mention of our Holy Fathers (οι Άγιοι πατέρες μας οι οποίοι υπομνηματεύουν πνευματοφόρα τις γραφές). Orthodoxy is all about what the Old Testament + New Testament + Holy Synods + The Orthodox Saints (our Holy Fathers) + Holy Ecclesiastical Tradition are informing us about God, NOT what we think, NOT what we suppose and NOT what Britannica tells us. Εύχομαι σε όλους καλή Ανάσταση και Καλό Πάσχα. And yes! It is Pascha the word. Να είσαστε όλοι/ες καλά ΠΑΝΤΑ! Α
Charles2/27/2022 1:41 am
Actually, the KJV got it right. Study the feast of the passover,all the days of unleavened bread, study all the scriptures about passover and you will see that in Acts, what they are referring to is not passover, Easter was used to describe the pagan rituals, it had nothing to do with Jesus' resurrection back then, it was the festival of Ishtar, the word for passover actually was invented by Tyndale and even HE did not use it where the KJV was concerned because in Acts it was NOT during passover it was the festival of Ishtar, (Easter).
Elena5/2/2021 2:04 pm
Thank you for this article! I completely agree. This year I was wonder why Easter which is no common. I share you point of view.
Paul5/2/2021 10:17 am
I must agree with Vlad's comment here. The best way to avoid a dispute over mere words is to not start one. That may not have been the author's intention when he wrote this article however I fear that will be it's legacy. To quote the author: "The important matter here is not what the Festival is called, but the reality of the Death and Resurrection of Christ."
David Bullock4/24/2021 4:10 pm
I find this article most interesting.

How can the Orthodox Church be foreign when it was there at the begining. The word Pascha is the closest to that of the original bible when it was translated into Greek from Arameic, the language of our Lord. The word Easter was later introduced which descended from the Latin word for 'dawn'.

We could fight over means and words till the end of days, but it destracts us from the tream reason for Pascha and that is of the Lords Crucifixion and Resurrection. Being a Russian Orthodox member, I see not need to reform to western changes and ideologies. Why change something when it works well.
Rdr Andreas Moran5/7/2020 1:07 pm
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Mark Atkins is right. Mention of a pagan goddess of the dawn called Eostre appears nowhere else than in one sentence of St Bede's "De Temporum Ratione". The etymology of "Easter", the OED says, shows derivation from Sanskrit and Greek words for "east".
A. George4/16/2020 9:50 pm
Black’s Law Dictionary defines Pascha as follows: “In old English law and practice. Easter. Do termino Pascha, of the term of Easter. Bract. fol. 240&.” The issue is not binary.
William4/13/2020 9:53 am
I believe for Christians it's not Pascha ether it's Resurrection Sunday as Pascha is the celebration of Passover. Where the Israelites put the blood of a lamb on their doorposts. The connection here is that Jesus is our Paschal Lamb! As Christians we are not celebrating passover. Therefore it's RESURRECTION SUNDAY because our celebration is the RESURRECTION OF CHRIST!!!
Mark Atkins5/3/2019 6:10 pm
English Christians have used the word Easter for Christ’s Resurrection for approximately 1500 years. It is not derived from a pagan god, but from the same root as words like “East” and “Eastern.” As in, the rising of the sun. You know, like the Resurrection itself, which is the dawn of the Sun of Righteousness.

Easter was also the name of a month in the Anglo-Saxon lunar calendar whereon the Resurrection fell every year, similar to the Hebrew month of Nisan. In Old English, the Jewish Passover was often referred to as “Easter of the Jews.” So your comment that it has nothing to do with Passover is an outright lie.

Orthodox people everywhere, please stop being so ignorant!
Vlad4/30/2019 10:39 am
Well, the word in English is Easter.
Time has come for us to make a stand against "It is Pascha not Easter".
To not get dragged down with a dispute about mere words as St Paul warns, one should not start such disputes in the first place.
It is a bad and proud and Protestant thing to vilify words (example: "Christianity is a relationship, not a religion.").
Lawrence Driscoll4/13/2019 6:24 pm
As a Catholic Christian I couldn't agree more. It's time to replace the "Easter" misnomer with Pascha....or, Resurrection Day, anything but Easter....
Although they are nice, we are not about colored eggs.
Bessie Chronopoulos2/21/2018 5:34 am
I work on the Bulletin and schedule for our Church and a fellow parishioner suggested we change the word Easter to Pascha...we did. I had not realized the significance of this and the article explained it further. This has been most enlightening...Thank you. Bessie
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