Pascha and Easter
This past week, which is called Great and Holy Week, we have observed the annual commemoration of the events that led up to the death and burial of our Lord Jesus Christ. Saturday morning, the theme was the resurrection, when Jesus came back to life and rose from the tomb where he had been buried. And tonight, we are in the full-blown celebration of the resurrection; and we call our feast Pascha and Easter.
Pascha is a Hebrew word, and it means Passover. The Jews celebrate Passover, and it refers to the historical event when the Israelites were saved from the bondage of Egypt, and Moses led them out and they passed over the Red Sea, passed over from slavery to freedom.
Today, we Christians also celebrate Passover, the ultimate and spiritual Passover, where instead of Moses we have Christ, who opened the way for us to pass over from slavery to the devil to freedom in God, to pass over from death to eternal life. So, when we say Pascha, we ought to remember that it means passing over from death to life.
Easter is an English word that refers to the Resurrection of Christ. The origin of the word Easter is similar to that of east, which has to do with springtime, sunrise, and shining. Easter, as another name for Pascha, is much like the Greek word Λαμπρή, which is also another name for Pascha, and which means bright and shining.
When Jesus was crucified, He died on the Cross sooner than expected. This indicates that He was in control and that He died when and because He wished to. He was buried in a tomb. Another word for tomb is sepulcher. In Jerusalem, the church that enshrines the site of the Lord’s burial is called the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
Descent into Hades
While Jesus’ body was in the tomb, His soul went down into what is called hell or Hades. He went there by dying, like everyone before Him. Everyone else, however, even the holy people, (and I mean their souls), were being held there by the devil, like in a prison. So Jesus went down there and with the glory of His divinity, He smashed the prison bars and gates, and filled that place with His divine light and glory.
While it is difficult to speak of these events with complete certainty, what is universally endorsed is the teaching that Christ mortified death and destroyed hell, and He preached the Gospel in hell. Many Church Fathers maintained that Christ freed all who were held captive, while others thought that only the Old Testament righteous were liberated. Another group believed that only those who came to believe in Christ and followed him were saved. In any case, now, all who believe and are baptized do not go to Hades.
Many Orthodox authors think that in Hades there is an enduring memory of Christ’s descent there, and that all who were not baptized, when they die, receive the opportunity to believe and to be saved.
The Stone of the Tomb
When Jesus’ soul returned to his body, He rose and exited the tomb without the stone being removed. Later, an Angel came and removed the stone, and this caused the earthquake. The Angel removed the stone, not so that Jesus could get out, but so that the Myrrh-bearing women could see that it was empty.