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Tom Kovach

What’s in a name?

meanings behind "Easter" and "Pascha"

Wed, 31 Mar 2010

NOTE 1: This column was originally published on 09 April 2003 by Men's News Daily; but, that site was redesigned about a year later, and this column did not survive.)

NOTE 2: One of the key differences between "Easter" and "Pascha" is the rule for calculating the date. In the method of the Orthodox Church, the date for Holy Pascha must always follow Passover -- because the Crucifixion of Yeshua immediately followed Passover. In the method of the Western churches, the Passover rule is omitted. This year, both Easter and Pascha fall on the same date.

We are approaching the most holy season for Christians around the world. As I write this, the television news is broadcasting the fall of Baghdad and the emerging liberation of Iraq and its oppressed citizens. This is a graphic parallel to the liberation of the human soul, which is the core of what Christians are about to celebrate: the defeat of evil. The question that I present today is: what do we call this celebration, and why?

A little background will help explain my viewpoint. For most of my upbringing, the working definition of being a Christian was simply someone that goes to church. My thought was, “Isn’t everybody?” The ideas that someone did not know who God was, or that they would actively reject Him, were rather foreign to me. Yet, was there more? What did it mean to love God? I wasn’t sure. Then, in November of 1975, while at a training base in the Air Force, I had an experience that opened my eyes. For the first time, I realized that Jesus actually suffered; and, that He willingly accepted the task of suffering on behalf of sinners — even me. Up until that point, I had thought that Jesus was immune to the pain that ordinary humans feel. Perhaps I even thought that He didn’t really die on the Cross. (These last two sentences, by the way, describe the Muslim understanding of Issa -- their version of Jesus.) But, I came to realize that He really did suffer: betrayal, rejection, abandonment, mocking, beating, whipping, more beating ... and then ... the pain of suffocating while being punished by the pain of His own body weight hanging by nails through His wrists and ankles. The enormity of that overwhelmed me. Not just that He endured it, but that He volunteered to endure it so that I would not have to endure the torments of Hell.

What a cause for celebration!

At that time, I had barely begun to attend a church. I had attended as a boy, but it was under parental coercion much of the time. (And, my parents did not attend, nor did I attend one church consistently. I visited many churches, but “belonged” to none.) Away from home, free to do as I pleased, the idea of going to church had not been high on my list. But, after my understanding had changed, going to church and reading the Bible became things that I wanted to do, rather than things I’d been told to do.

Having come of age during the Hippie years, I tended to question everything (and still do, but in different ways). Therefore, a burning question for me was finding the "right" church. My search took me to the Orthodox Church, which traces its history — unbroken, which separates it from all other churches — all the way back to the Apostles. From 1975 until 2001, whenever I went to church, I usually attended various Orthodox parishes. On one occasion, I even lived in a monastery for three months. (I was their guest while working out of town.) This perspective will help the reader understand that my comments are based upon a sincere decades-long search for spiritual truth. It’s OK if readers don’t agree with me, as long as they appreciate that I’m not being flippant.

I despise the name "Easter".

What does it mean? Even as a boy, when I accepted things around me without much examination, the name didn’t make sense to me. Was something supposed to come out of the East? Was one thing East, and something more religious thus more East-er? (I really did wonder that as a boy.) And, what did the resurrection of Jesus have to do with eggs and bunnies? And, if there was no connection, then why do people use them? And, if there is no connection, then wouldn’t God be angry?

Well, let me tell you the Orthodox perspective. (And, for those that think I’m trying to proselytize in favor of that denomination, I now attend a Church of Christ. But, I still admire the Orthodox Church. That is a topic for another discussion.) In the Orthodox Church, there is no such thing as Easter. The translation in English for the “official” name of the feast day is: “The Holy Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ”. For short, it is called "Pascha". (pronounced: PAHSS-ka)

The word pascha is Greek for "lamb". It comes from the Hebrew word peshach, which also means "lamb". But, in both languages, it means far more.

In the Hebrew usage, the word peshach is also the word for "Passover". You will recall that God told Moses to have each family sacrifice a lamb, and paint its blood on the doorframes of their houses. That night, when the Angel of Death saw the blood of the lamb on the doorframes, he would "pass over" their house. In a single night, the first born of every house in Egypt — boy, girl, animal — died, and the nation was brought to shambles. Only after the Passover did the selfish Pharaoh (Ramses II) allow the Hebrews to leave their bonds of slavery.

In the Christian usage, the ultimate sacrifice is God’s own son. The precursor for this is the call of Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac. As a unique and atoning sacrifice, Jesus is called "the Lamb of God", and it is His blood on the doors of our hearts that allows us to escape the punishments of Hell. Thus, the day of His rise from the dead is our Passover. This is reflected in Greek (the language of the Apostles) by the use of the word "Pascha" to describe the Christian parallel to the Passover.

Now, let’s look at the word "Easter".

In the dark ages of central Europe, the Druids arose as a culture and religion that dominated the uneducated peoples. One of their key celebrations occurred in the Spring (which, in German, is the word "Lent"). As with many pagan religions, the coming of Spring represented the rebirth of the world, and it prompted the seeking of new life by means of procreating children. Many pagan religions have fertility goddesses and certain rites devoted to them. Druids were no exception. They worshipped the Babylonian fertility goddess. Her name is Ishtar, and her celebration involves symbols of fertility: eggs and bunnies. (When the city of Babylon was rebuilt in the late 1980s by Saddam Hussein, the most elaborate structure was the Ishtar Gate.) The Druid word for the fertility festival is "Oestara", from which we get the word "Easter".

Thus, in a bizarre twist of language, many Christians in the West have been blindly calling their most holy day by the name of a pagan goddess. That is why I don’t like the name "Easter". In our modern times, many people fret endlessly about whether something they do will "offend" someone of another religion. Yet, we Christians don’t seem to mind at all offending our own God, by calling this most holy day by the name of a foreign goddess. (And, one can debate whether the “Ashtoreth” mentioned in I Kings 11:33 is a regional Assyrian transliteration of the Babylonian name Ishtar. If so, then using the name "Easter" can be traced back to something that God specifically describes as an "abomination" in 2 Kings 23:13.)

My challenge is for Christians of all denominations is to follow the example of the Orthodox Church, and to examine the roots of words to stand on their true meaning. When that examination takes place, I’m convinced that true Christians will throw off the name "Easter", and regain Christian possession of our most holy Pascha season.

Tom Kovach (rhymes with "watch") lives near Nashville, is a former USAF Blue Beret, and has written for several online publications. He has written two books: Slingshot in 2006, and Tribulation: 2008 in late August of 2008. Tom is an inventor, a horse wrangler, a certified paralegal, and former network talk-show host. He has also run for Congress. To learn more, click: www.TomKovach.US.

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