For millions of Christians around the world this weekend, Easter isn’t all about the Easter bunny and chocolate eggs. Traditionally, the Easter holiday is a holiday dedicated to the memory of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In fact, it is the most important holiday in the Christian calendar, dating back to the second and third centuries, when Christians quietly and secretly celebrated the death of Christ, mostly in house churches, away from the prying eyes of Roman authorities.
The attraction of the power of this religion was certainly in abundance, and people across the Mediterranean, especially in the Greek-speaking world, were converting to Christianity en masse. The belief that Jesus rose from the dead after the crucifixion motivated Christians that if they believe and adhere to the teachings of Christ, they too will be resurrected after death and receive the promised salvation and eternal life in heaven. This belief alone distinguished them from Judaism, polytheists and other cults.
This central belief in “life after death” or victory over death certainly heralded a new era by the fourth century, when Constantine the Great embraced Christianity and brought his cause to the center of the Roman consciousness. But the Easter message, if we may get back to business, was not attributed to Constantine, but to the tireless work of early church fathers such as St. Paul. However, the first mention of Easter in any record is attributed to a second-century Easter sermon written by Meliton, Bishop of Sardis (d. 180 AD). He intended to read this sermon aloud on Pascha (Easter) morning.
Interestingly, Easter was first celebrated along with the Jewish Passover, but under the influence Konstantin and after the First Council of Nicaea in 325, Easter would be celebrated on a Sunday. The date of the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ was, although changeable, but as long as it was always celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Even so, the calculation of the date of Easter differs between East and West. As the Christian church split in the early centuries, Easter was calculated using the Gregorian calendar for Western Christians and the Julian calendar for Eastern Christians.
All of these Easter disputes (correct date) are forgivable, and the bigger picture is that all Christians believe the same thing at heart. That Christ died for their sins, he was buried and rose from the dead. His resurrection is also forever linked to redemption and rebirth for most Christians.
Photo credit: The title image of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene after the resurrection is a painting by Alexander Andreevich Ivanov, c. 1835
*This article was originally published in April 2015. Here it has been updated with a new introduction.