Easter and Jewish Passover - what they have in common, and why they are different
Unlike the yoking of Christmas and Hanukkah, Easter and Passover are festivals of equal gravity. Side by side, they bring to light the deep structures of both religions.
Rabbi Ismar Schorsch’s contribution from the Jewish learning newspaper.
First, their inviolable matrix is spring. In each case, the calendar is adjusted to ensure that the holiday is celebrated early in the spring.
The First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD determined that Easter should always fall on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox, which coincided with the start of Passover on the 15th of the Hebrew month Nissan according to the Hebrew lunar calendar.
Passover celebrates the exodus from Egypt and liberation of the Jewish people. The rabbis understood the verse “You go free on this day, in the month of Aviv” (Exodus 13:4) to restrict Passover to early spring — which is in a transitional month when the winter rains end and the weather turns mild.
Jewish community preparing for Passover. 2017, Jerusalem. Video – Reuters
Thus, Passover and Easter are destined to be in close proximity with one another.
Both festivals emphasize history and hope
Secondly, in both festivals, nature and history converge with a resounding message of hope. The renewal of nature that comes with spring amplifies the promise of redemption embedded in the historical events being commemorated.
Passover symbolizes the end of slavery and the path to new life.
Easter means that the death of one has the capacity to save many. The resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate affirmation of life, or in the words of the Byzantine liturgy:
“Christ is risen from the dead!
Dying, he conquered death;
To the dead, he has given life.” – Nr 638.
Still, for all their commonalities, Passover and Easter diverge fundamentally.
Passover is communal, while Easter is individual
While both festivals are about deliverance from a state of despair, be it slavery or sin, Passover heralds the birth of the Jewish people as a force for good in the comity of nations. In contrast, Easter assures the individual Christian life eternal.
Why the days of the Orthodox and Catholic Easter do not coincide
14 April 2017, Jerusalem. Pre-Easter service in Basilica Agoniae Domini in the garden of Gethsemane. Video – JAMnews
In 2017 both Catholics and Orthodox celebrated Easter on the same day – 16 April. This, however, is not always the case – the next occurrence will only be in 2025.
The Orthodox Christian Church celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus Christ later than the Catholic Church. While the issue is somewhat complicated, it may be summarized in the two factors at work that cause this conflict in dates:
• The issue concerning the calendar; and
• The adherence by the Orthodox to the early practices of the Christian Church.
Also worth noting is that Orthodox Christians celebrate the rest of the major holidays on the same days as Western Churches due to a decision made in 1923 during an inter-Orthodox congress in Constantinople.
Representatives of many of the Orthodox Church gathered and decided that the Church should start to follow a revised Gregorian calendar which is used to calculate all celebrations – except that of Easter, which is still calculated according to the original Julian calendar.