The Theosophical Forum — April 1943

HOW EASTER BECAME A CHRISTIAN FESTIVAL — G. de Purucker

What is Easter, this age-old festival-time? To us Theosophists it is one of the four main Holy Seasons of the year. We recognise Easter as a very holy time indeed. The word Easter is not only used in English but is in use in other languages. It was taken over originally from the Anglo-Saxons and was adopted by the English folk. In other countries they used a word derived from the Greek, or rather through the Greek from the ancient Hebrew. The Greek was πάσχσ, and the Hebrew pesahh, meaning "to step over," "to jump over," and hence "to pass over'; from the ancient Jewish Biblical story that when the Lord God led the children of Israel out of Bondage in Egypt, on the night before they began their journey, the exterminating Angel of Jehovah passed over Egypt slaying all of the first-born of the Egyptians, and skipping over, passing over, the houses of the Jews, because they had been instructed by Jehovah to put a smear of the blood of a lamb on the door. A quaint old tale, and it was accepted, as it happens by most Jews and Christians literally, and is very calculated indeed to induce disrespect if not contempt for what ought to be a truly beautiful and holy tale.

The Passover was adopted by the Christians from the Jews. The Christians, while adopting this Jewish festival celebrated by the Jews at a certain date, did not like to have it exactly as the Jews had it. Being Christians and borrowing a great deal from the Jews, they liked to have things a little their own way, these new Christians; so they changed the date somewhat. They accepted, took over, the Jewish Passover Festival, but gave it Christian coloring and a Christian twist. Thus the Jews celebrated their Passover on the 14th day or the full moon day of their month Nisan, originally called Abib, when Spring begins to come to fruitful earth, when the buds and the trees begin to burgeon. Abib and Nisan meant the first month of Spring so to speak — Spring meant the beginning.

Now the Jews, as I stated, celebrated their Passover on the full moon day of the month of Nisan, that is, 14 days after the new moon. So did the Christians. But they wanted a distinction from the day the Jews had it; and perhaps from ignorance, perhaps from other reasons, and after disputes lasting for centuries — and very bitter indeed in the second, third and fourth centuries — they finally decided upon this rule: Easter, the time of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ shall hereafter fall upon the first Sunday following the full moon after the Spring Equinox. Note the entrance of an archaic cosmic thought there. First find the spring equinox, then find the first full moon after that, then find the first Sunday after the full moon, and that is Easter. But the original Jewish way and Pagan way was to celebrate their whole festival of Passover on the full moon day of the Spring, of Abib or Nisan.

I call your attention to this: Easter is not a local festival, or rather a Christian festival alone. It is a festival of cosmic significance, depending upon the seasons and mainly upon the date upon which the Spring Equinox falls. There is the key to the original holy festival. It had not anything to do whatsoever with Jesus Christ. But they chose it as the date of his so-called resurrection for an excellent reason. They knew something of what took place in the adytum of the sanctuary. They knew something about the four sacred seasons of the year, which, as the great Pagan philosopher Plato pointed out, make a cross in nature, the two solstices opposite each other, the two equinoxes opposite each other; the so-called Greek cross; and during all initiations the candidate was laid upon this cruciform couch or bed, a bed in the form of a cross, and there he passed his trance.

Now then, this lying down, this beginning of the torture, of the trial, of the test, of the struggle, was on the new moon day in every one of the four sacred seasons. The beginning was always at the new moon time; and when the new moon coincided with the equinox or solstice, it was considered, and indeed was, especially holy.

Do you know that there is a Christian fact, known by a few, ignored by most of the Christian clergy, and it is that Passion Sunday, considered to be the beginning of the Passion or agony of their Lord Jesus, is the 14th day before Easter?

Why did Jesus as a type, this holy Teacher, Avatara, become connected with the lamb, as undoubtedly connected with the teaching concerning the Zodiac? For this reason: that the Christians in every way wanted to connect their Teacher with the promised Messiah of the Jews. They could only succeed in doing so, with even a coloring of truth, by adopting the old Jewish stories. The Jews celebrated their Passover by eating a meal of lamb killed and baked in an oven on the day of their Passover. They were making a ritual, a ceremonial, as all the other ancient nations did, caught by the esoteric wisdom of what were in Nature herself cosmic laws and cosmic events.

In the above I have given out a few hints as to why we Theosophists look upon Easter as one of the four Holy Days of the year.

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Good Will in the Cosmos

Man, the Thinker . . . is making urgent inquiry as to what part he is consciously to play in the vast systems of worlds that he is able with his intellect to contemplate. Can he discover and emulate in his human associations on Earth the principles of co-operation, the laws of life, according to which order and safety in solar systems and galaxies are maintained during the aeons of time it takes for the cosmic purpose to be consummated?

Theosophy answers, Man is of the stuff of stars and suns, both in his outer and his inner nature. One Hierarchy of his progenitors, the Builders, have directed the evolution of form, body, vehicle, for Man the offspring of Divinity. Another Hierarchy, that of Compassion, has in charge the advance of the inner man, whose ancestry is akin to the invisible Beings who use for body the great celestial sun and star systems. They have in hand the guidance and direction of that part of human destiny still to be unfolded, when man, abandoning "uncharted freedom," will become conscious of and obedient to, that infinite duty, which the poets intuit.

The most precious gift offered to the human race is the knowledge of that glorious destiny. Nightly the stars look down with their message of assurance that we have our home in a friendly universe, that we too, like the Great Beings whose visible forms are those "diamonds in the sky," may become conscious collaborators in Cosmic Purpose and Cosmic Good Will. — M. M. Tyberg


The Theosophical Forum

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