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The Meaning of Pascha


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#1 Owen Jones

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Posted 28 April 2013 - 05:46 PM


 

We all know that Pascha is a celebration of Christ's
Resurrection.  But I am wondering about
the specific meaning and origins of the word pascha and what that tells us
about the theological meaning.  Origen
wrote that the Hebrew word pesach from which we get the Greek word pascha
really meanings "passage."  Is
this right?  If so, doesn't it fit more
with the Exodus of the Israelites and their passage from bondage into freedom
through the Red Sea, rather than the plagues "passing over" the homes
of the Israelites in Egypt?  This would
imply that when we say that Christ is our passover, what we mean is that He is
our Exodus from bondage in sin and bondage to Satan, to freedom, and our Exodus
from this world to the next.  Would this
be the correct interpretation?



 



#2 Lakis Papas

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Posted 28 April 2013 - 11:48 PM

It is true that Orthodox patristic writings and tradition is presenting Pascha as a route of liberation from 'slavery'. This illustration follows the Jewish tradition and portrays a reality using a form from the Jewish language. The Jewish history is a history of struggle for survival in a hostile environment (even the current situation in the state of Israel follows this path). Jewish Passover is a celebration of victory over rival Egyptians. This picture of ethno-religious victory was adopted by Christian writers. Pascha was presented in Christianity as a path between two extremes: death-life, bondage-freedom, old world-new world. This is a path that leads from something worthless into something wonderful. And while this theological metaphor is reasonable, I think, it can be problematic.
 
At historic Passover a sacrifice of a "lamb" took place, both at the Jewish and at the Christian Passover. The picture presented before and after the sacrifice is substantially different:
  • After the sacrifice of the Jewish lamb, the Jews were liberated from the Egyptians.
  • After the sacrifice of the Christian lamb, mankind was liberated from death.
It is written in Exodus that Moses gave instructions to people of Israel how to prepare the Passover lamb and how to use the blood at the doors and then he said to them (exodus 12:24-27) : "And you shall observe this thing as an ordinance for you and your sons forever. It will come to pass when you come to the land which the Lord will give you, just as He promised, that you shall keep this service. And it shall be, when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ that you shall say, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice of the Lord, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households.’"  
 
St John writes about the lamb (Revelation 5:6) : "And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth." Then, at the last chapter of Revelation, St John writes (Revelation 21-1,22:1-5) :  "Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.  ... And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever."
 
I think, it is important to notice that after Jewish Passover as well as after the Christian Pascha the lamb is present, standing "as though it had been slain". Pascha is not just a transition from one state to another, it needs the actual presence of the Lamb. 
 
To be a free Jew, in a new state, and not a slave of Egyptian means to follow the instruction: "observe this thing as an ordinance for you and your sons forever. It will come to pass when you come to the land which the Lord will give you, just as He promised, that you shall keep this service." A Jew must keep this, even after the exodus from Egypt,  even after coming to the promised land - this is how a free Jew is the new state. 
 
To be a Christian in a new state, in a new heaven and a new earth, means to: be in front of "the throne of God and of the Lamb" and "serve Him.. and see His face..." - this is how a Christian is in the new state.
 
So, the new state after Passover/Pascha is a dynamic condition (not a static one) of "how to be", that is closely bonded with the presence of the lamb - to be with the lamb. 
 
Pascha is how to be with the Lamb, Pascha is how to be with Christ. As St Paul said  (1 Corinthians 5:7): "For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us".  

Edited by Lakis Papas, 28 April 2013 - 11:55 PM.


#3 Owen Jones

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Posted 29 April 2013 - 01:44 AM

Yes, but pascha, etymologically speaking, does not refer to Christ's sacrifice.  Right?  That's the issue I am asking about.



#4 Lakis Papas

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Posted 29 April 2013 - 11:11 AM

Pascha is not a Greek word. It originates from Jewish language. So I do not know its etymology (I know Greek but I do not know know Jew).
 
Regarding the question whether "Pascha" refers to Christ's sacrifice, I do not know if it has etymological justification.
 
First Moses received an order from God (Exodus 3:18) :

And they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.’

 

Then Moses asked Pharaoh (Exodus 5:1) :

Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’”

 

When Pharaoh denied them to "go a three days' journey into the wilderness, that they may sacrifice to the Lord God", then they followed God's command to perform the sacrifice to the Lord in Egypt and to sign their homes with the blood of the sacrificed lamb. Then God "pass over" them and stroke Egyptians. 
 
Exodus 12:13

Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

 

Exodus 12:27 

that you shall say, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice of the Lord, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households.’” So the people bowed their heads and worshiped.
 

 

This was foretold by Isaiah 31:5

"Like birds hovering, so the Lord of hosts will protect Jerusalem; he will protect and deliver it; he will spare and rescue it."

 

So, the main issue for the original Jewish Passover was "the sacrifice".  Τhis was also the main reason for the confrontation with Pharaoh. Exodus from Egypt was an aftereffect.  Pharaoh finally said to Moses that the people of Israel was free to "go, serve the Lord, as you have said"  (Exodus 12:31) :

"Then he summoned Moses and Aaron by night and said, “Up, go out from among my people, both you and the people of Israel; and go, serve the Lord, as you have said. Take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone, and bless me also!”

 

My point is that Jewish Passover is about "the sacrifice". 


Edited by Lakis Papas, 29 April 2013 - 11:13 AM.


#5 Owen Jones

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Posted 29 April 2013 - 02:10 PM


 

Experiencing this wonderful Jewish meal and interactive
"happening" is to live through all the varied themes of the Passover
festival.



The most obvious theme of the festival is redemption.
In the Exodus
story, which Jews are commanded to tell their children every year on Passover,
the Jews were redeemed physically from slavery. While Pesach is "z'man
heyruteinu,
" the season of our freedom, it is also a festival that
speaks of spiritual redemption. Jews were freed from mental as well as physical
slavery. It was as a physically and spiritually free people that the Jewish
nation prepared to receive the Torah on Mt.
Sinai
.



The
notion of spiritual redemption is in part demonstrated by the fundamental
Jewish idea that in every generation every individual is obliged to view him or
herself as though he or she had actually gone forth from Egypt. Egypt is "Mitzraim"
in Hebrew. It stems from the root "tzar," which means narrow
or constrained. In order to leave Egypt, each individual must break out of
personal narrowness, becoming free to achieve his full spiritual potential.
Another explanation of the root "tzar" is calamity. In this
view, "Mitzraim" represents the country of calamities that
befall the Jews.



The seder includes many allusions to a future messianic redemption. One of
the clearest symbols of the presence and hope of future redemption is the Cup
of Elijah
that is placed on every seder table. Contained within the
salvation from Egypt are the seeds of future redemption, as the Torah states,
"This same night is a night of watching unto the Lord for all the children
of Israel throughout their generations" (Exodus 12:42).



An illustration of the coexistence of past and future redemption at the
Seder is the unusual way of reciting Hallel
(Psalms
of praise). The haggadah
splits Hallel into two parts, so that from kiddush at the beginning of
the seder until the meal in the middle, the seder emphasizes past redemption,
such as the Exodus, and from the meal to the end it looks to the future
redemption.



Passover also contains a strong connection to the theme of creation. It is
one of the four new years of the Jewish calendar. Nisan,
the time the festival occurs, was traditionally seen as the first month of the
Jewish year. Pesach celebrates spring, rebirth, and renewal, symbolized by the
green "karpas" and the egg on the seder plate. It is also a
time of "beginning," as exemplified by the first grain harvest and
the birth or creation of Israel as a nation. As a newborn nation, the Jews
began their journey to receive Torah on Mt. Sinai.



Meticulous
preparation is the theme of the weeks and days leading up to Pesach. Every
speck of hametz
(yeast or leaven) must be removed from the house in the days before sitting
down to the seder table. On Passover, we also rid ourselves of spiritual
"hametz"
--any type of arrogance, indulgence, or self-assertion.
As slaves, Jews had no choice but to be self-denying. After liberation, they
had to freely choose to humble themselves and subject themselves to God's
sovereignty. Traditional Judaism interprets hametz as a metaphor for the "yetzer
hara
"--the evil inclination. The absence of leaven is epitomized
by matzah,
the flat bread Jews eat during Passover. Matzah is also a link between exile
and redemption. It is the bread of affliction, eaten by slaves who did not have
decent food. It is also a symbol of freedom, because when the Jews left Egypt,
they rushed away with unleavened bread.



Another notable theme of the Pesach seder is the repetition of patterns of
four. This is based on the verse in Exodus that states, "I am the Lord,
and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I
will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with
an outstretched arm and with great judgments, and I will take you to Me
for a people, and I will be to you a God…" (Exodus 6:6-7). Among many
other patterns of four at the seder, we drink four
cups of wine
, ask four
questions
, and speak about four
types of children
.



In telling the story of the escape from Egypt and the plagues that preceded
it, Jews also highlight God's role in the redemption. Moses is not mentioned in
the traditional Haggadah lest too much focus center on him and his role rather
than on God, the Sovereign of the Universe. The Haggadah emphasizes that it was
not a messenger or angel,
but the almighty God who redeemed the Jews. The events and circumstances of the
Exodus, from the calling of Moses at the burning
bush
to the plagues
brought against the Egyptians, proved beyond any doubt to Pharaoh and all
humankind that the one God is Sovereign over all the earth. Beyond that, the
Exodus is a formative experience for the Jewish people. What was once a group
of slaves gains an identity as a nation. This event laying the foundation for a
covenantal
relationship with God.



 




 

Before
beginning our exegesis of the passover, a few remarks about the very word
"passover" are in order.  Most
of the brethren, indeed perhaps all, take the word "passover" as
referring to the passion of the Savior. 
But among the Hebrews, the feast in question is not called pascha but
phas, ...which, translated, means "passage."... And if one of us in
discussion with the Hebrews should rashly say that the passover is so named
because of the passion of the Savior, they will laugh at him as one ignorant of
the meaning of the word.



               



-- Origen,
as quoted in Spirit and Fire, Hans Urs Von Balthasar



comments, anyone?  It strikes me that if we begin to see Christ as our Exodus, then the Holy Scriptures open our eyes in a whole new way. 



#6 Timothy Phillips

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Posted 30 April 2013 - 02:13 AM

Philo uses the word diabateria / διαβατήρια ("crossing-offering", "crossing-feast") as a translation of "pascha" (e.g. Special Laws II.145).  If this is the equivalence that Origen uses, perhaps Philo is his source.


Edited by Timothy Phillips, 30 April 2013 - 02:15 AM.


#7 Lakis Papas

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Posted 30 April 2013 - 02:53 PM

"diabateria" in antiquity was a ceremony with a sacrifice offered to the gods by the head of every military campaign, or when he was going to pass the borders of his own country, or when he came to cross a river. If the signs of the sacrifice was not favorable, the army did not come out of the borders of the country and returned back.
 
"diabateria" was also called the thanksgiving sacrifice after each successful crossing of a river.
 
The modern term for diabateria is the term passport (if you have a passport you can cross the borders).


#8 Owen Jones

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Posted 30 April 2013 - 05:51 PM

So the meaning is always attached to a sacrifice, but pertains directly to the passage.  Would that be correct?



#9 Lakis Papas

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Posted 01 May 2013 - 11:11 AM

So the meaning is always attached to a sacrifice, but pertains directly to the passage.  Would that be correct?

 

Yes, I think so, too. 


Edited by Lakis Papas, 01 May 2013 - 11:11 AM.


#10 Anna Stickles

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Posted 07 May 2013 - 09:06 PM

So the meaning is always attached to a sacrifice, but pertains directly to the passage.  Would that be correct?

There is an interesting comment in Melito of Sardis' Paschal homily that explains the etymology of the word pascha as being related to the word suffer

 

"Now that you have heard the explanation of the type and of that which corresponds to it, hear also what goes into making up the mystery.
What is the passover? Indeed its name is derived from that event–"to celebrate the passover" (to paschein) is derived from "to suffer" (tou pathein). Therefore, learn who the sufferer is and who he is who suffers along with the sufferer."

 

I think one thing to keep in mind when looking at the context of meaning for this word is that even the Jews would be using this not only or maybe even primarily according to its strict historical context, but more directly as it took on a liturgical context.  One can see in the quotes below from Melito how the themes of Christ's suffering and sacrifice are intimately related to our freedom from death and sin and our passage into the eternal kingdom.
 

66. When this one came from heaven to earth for the sake of
the one who suffers, and had clothed himself with that very one through the
womb of a virgin, and having come forth as man, he accepted the sufferings of
the sufferer through his body which was capable of suffering. And he destroyed
those human sufferings by his spirit which was incapable of dying. He killed
death which had put man to death.


67. For this one, who was led away as a lamb, and who was sacrificed
as a sheep, by himself delivered us from servitude to the world as from the
land of Egypt, and released us from bondage to the devil as from the hand of
Pharaoh, and sealed our souls by his own spirit and the members of our bodies
by his own blood.


68. This is the one who covered death with shame and who plunged
the devil into mourning as Moses did Pharaoh. This is the one who smote lawlessness
and deprived injustice of its offspring, as Moses deprived Egypt. This is the
one who delivered us from slavery into freedom, from darkness into light, from
death into life, from tyranny into an eternal kingdom, and who made us a new
priesthood, and a special people forever.


69. This one is the passover of our salvation. This is the one
who patiently endured many things in many people: This is the one who was murdered
in Abel, and bound as a sacrifice in Isaac, and exiled in Jacob, and sold in
Joseph, and exposed in Moses, and sacrificed in the lamb, and hunted down in
David, and dishonored in the prophets.



#11 Owen Jones

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Posted 07 May 2013 - 10:28 PM

Which is why I quoted Origen on the subject, Anna.  I think it's worth repeating it:

 

Before beginning our exegesis of the passover, a few remarks about the very word
"passover" are in order.  Most of the brethren, indeed perhaps all, take the word "passover" as
referring to the passion of the Savior. 

But among the Hebrews, the feast in question is not called pascha but
phas, ...which, translated, means "passage."... And if one of us in
discussion with the Hebrews should rashly say that the passover is so named
because of the passion of the Savior, they will laugh at him as one ignorant of
the meaning of the word.



#12 Timothy Phillips

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Posted 18 May 2013 - 06:05 PM

The Greek word used by Philo to translate the Hebrew פֶסַח pesach is, as noted above,  diabateria / διαβατήρια ("crossing-offering", "crossing-feast").  

 

The precise meaning of the Hebrew word itself is, according to my sources, somewhat obscure.  However, in Isaiah 31.5

Like birds hovering, so the Lord of hosts will protect Jerusalem; he will protect and deliver it, he will spare and rescue it. (RSV)

the word here translated "spare" is פָּסֹחַ pawsoach which is likely related to pesach.  So in Hebrew the sense may be "protection".  "Passage" seems a reasonable English translation in some contexts too, since we often speak metaphorically of "passing" through troubles or dangers or sorrows.

#13 Owen Jones

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Posted 19 May 2013 - 01:05 AM

So, in other words, Christ is our Exodus.






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