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Description and comparative analysis of the celebrations of different religions and confessions


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4.2. Easter and the Holy week
Easter is a religious festival celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, described in the New Testament as having occurred on the third day of his burial after his crucifixion by the Romans at Mount Golgotha.

Easter and the holidays that are related to it are moveable feasts which do not fall on a fixed date in the Gregorian or Julian solar calendars. Its date is determined on a lunisolar calendar similar to the Hebrew calendar. Easter is linked to the Jewish Passover Feasts by much of its symbolism, as well as by its position in the calendar.

Easter is the first and most important Christian holiday. The doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of the Christian faith. The death and resurrection of Jesus form the point in scripture where he gives his ultimate demonstration of power over life and death, and the ability to grant eternal life. By sacrificing himself, Christ has redeemed humanity from its sins and thus given the faithful the way to salvation.

Easter is the culmination of the Holy Week, which commemorates the Passion of Jesus – the final period in his life, beginning with the entrance in Jerusalem and leading to his crucifixion and resurrection.

The Holy Week is preceded by Great Lent, a forty day period of fasting, prayer, and penance. Great Lent ends on the Friday before Palm Sunday. The two days that follow, Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday, form a transition to Holy Week. Lazarus Saturday commemorates Jesus' raising of Lazarus from the dead, just before he went to Jerusalem himself. The main themes anticipate the Resurrection of Jesus, showing him as master over death.

Palm Sunday in a great religious feast, commemorating Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an event mentioned in each of the four canonical Gospels.

Great Monday. On this day the Church commemorates the withering of the fruitless fig tree (Matthew 21:18-22), a symbol of judgement that will befall those who do not bring forth the fruits of repentance. The hymns on this day also recall Joseph, the son of Jacob, whose innocent suffering at the hand of his brethren (Genesis 37), and false accusation (Genesis 39-40) foreshadow the Passion of Christ.

Great Tuesday. On this day the Church commemorates the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), teaching about vigilance, and Christ as the Bridegroom. The bridal chamber is used as a symbol not only of the Tomb of Christ, but also of the blessed state of the saved on the Day of Judgement. The theme of the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) is also developed in the hymns of this day.

Great Wednesday relates to the gospel parable of the two debtors, in which Jesus Christ points out that forgiveness of sinners is more important than that of the righteous, (Luke 7:36:50) as well as Judas Iscariot's decision to betray Christ. The Holy Unction Mystery is performed in the evening, following the Presanctified Liturgy. This commemorates the anointing of Jesus and prepares the faithful to enter with Christ into his death and Resurrection.

Great Thursday commemorates some of the most dramatic episodes of the Passion of Christ - The Last Supper, The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and the betrayal of Judas. Divine Liturgy of the Last Supper is held on the morning of Great and Holy Thursday, combining Vespers with the Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great.

Great Friday commemorates the crucifixion and death of Christ. The faithful revisit the events from the Last Supper though the Crucifixion and burial of Jesus and sing hymns about Christ's death. Rich visual imagery and symbolism as well as mystical chanting are remarkable elements of these observances. In the Orthodox understanding, the events of Holy Week are not simply an annual commemoration of past events, but the faithful actually participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Holy Saturday begins with the Proti Anastasi (First Resurrection) service, commemorating the Harrowing of Hell. Just before the reading of the Gospel, the hangings and vestments and changed from dark Lenten colours to white, and the entire mood of the service changes from mourning to joy. The Easter Vigil is observed until the Good News of the resurrection of Jesus is announced at midnight. The celebrations of Eastertide begin.

On the afternoon of Easter Day, the joyful service Agape Vespers is celebrated and the Great Prokeimenon is chanted. A lesson from the Gospel is read in as many different languages as possible, accompanied by the joyful ringing of bells.

Eastertide continues for forty days and ends with the coming Feast of the Ascension.

The Passion of Christ XV CE Orthodox icon
The production of this icon by an unknown artist from the Great Novgorod school has been dated 1484–1504. It depicts five scenes: the Last Supper, Washing of Feet, Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and the arrest of Jesus by the Sanhedrin priests.

The Last Supper by Juan de Juanes
An artistic representation of the Last Supper, showing Jesus with the Eucharist, by the Spanish painter Juan de Juanes, 1562. In the front right, the traitor Judas, for better recognition he has been equipped with a money pouch. He is dressed in yellow, the colour of envy. He is also the only figure without halo. In the foreground a bowl for washing feet before supper. The panel was made for the altar of the church of San Esteban in Valencia, together with a series of paintings on the life of Saint Stephen. It was sided by panels showing The agony in the garden and The Crowning with Thorns.

Christ the Bridegroom
Icon of Christ the Bridegroom, sitting above the star at Golgotha in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem. The church contains the two holiest sites in Christianity: the site where Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and his empty tomb, where he is said to have been buried and resurrected. The Icon shows Christ humiliated by Pontius Pilate’s soldiers (Matthew 27:27-31). In a cruel irony, the soldiers mockingly worshiped Jesus and through insults proclaimed Him rightly to be the King of the Jews. Crowned with thorns, cloaked in scarlet, bound and holding a reed, this is how Christ appears in the Bridegroom Icon. The crown is a symbol of Christian marriage in the Orthodox Church, and the ropes binding Christ’s hands also allude to the sacred bond. The reed used as a mock-sceptre is a symbol of humility, of a person that does all possible to bend in service to others.

Washing of Feet
Byzantine mosaic depicting Jesus washing the disciples' feet, at the Monreale Cathedral, Italy, XII CE. According to the Gospels, after the Last Supper, Christ washed the feet of the Apostles. At the Mystical Supper Jesus revealed His divine identity and authority, offering Himself as Communion and life. By washing the feet of His disciples, He manifested His perfect love humility. Saint Peter was the first to have his feet washed. He was reluctant until Jesus said that if He did not wash His feet then Peter had no communion with Him. Saint Peter retorted: “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” Canonical depiction in icons of the scene shows the saint with hand raised to his head.

Holy week Epistyle
This XII c. CE Tempestone Epistyle from the St. Ekaterina monastery in Sinai, Egypt depicts three scenes from the Holy week – the triumphal entrance to Jerusalem, the Crucifixion and the Harrowing of hell.


European Easter: The Story through Art
This segment of Rick Steves’ European Easter tells the Easter story — Jesus' Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection — illustrated by great European artwork.

Holy Week of Orthodox Christians in Jerusalem
The Holy Week celebrations of Orthodox Christians who have come to Jerusalem on pilgrimage from all over the world.

Christ's Passion - Journey to Pascha in the Orthodox Christian Church
The events of Holy Week and Pascha comprise the very heart of the Orthodox Christian faith. These presentations explore the history, traditions, services, and their meanings, of this central period. The enlightening interviews, music, hymns, icons, insightful commentary and beautiful visuals will inspire and provoke thoughtful exploration of this definitive period of the Church's liturgical year.

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This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.