Passover Started to Differ

After all the apostles died, the Early Church divided into the Eastern Church and the Western Church. The Patriarch of Constantinople in Asia Minor governed the Eastern Church, and the Pope from Rome ruled over the Western Church1).

At that time, both churches kept the bread and wine communion on different dates.

1) Eastern Church: Kept the Communion on Passover

The Eastern Church held the Passover Communion on the 14th day of the first month of the sacred calendar. Indeed, this was in accordance with the teachings of the Bible. Other than the Passover, they also celebrated the Day of Resurrection on the first Sunday after the Feast of Unleavened Bread (the 15th day of the first month of the sacred calendar).

The Eastern Churches followed strictly the teachings of Jesus Christ by commemorating the Passover on the 14th day of the first month of the sacred calendar, as shown in the "Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History".

Figure 1. The Eastern Churches followed strictly the teaching of Jesus Christ, as shown in the “Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History”2)

2) Western Church: Kept the Communion on Resurrection Day

On the other hand, the Western Church did not have the Holy Supper on Passover. Instead, they held it on Sunday (Resurrection Day) after the Passover. Thus, they mixed the two feasts together.

In the Bible, however, we can see that these two feasts are in fact completely distinct. The Passover is to commemorate Christ’s death (1 Corinthians 11:26), and the Resurrection Day, His resurrection.

This non-uniformity among the two churches caused much confusion among the Christians travelling between east and west, since they saw the two churches having differing practices.

The differing practices of the Eastern and Western Churches, as recorded in the book "A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500.

Figure 2. The differing practices of the Eastern and Western Churches, as recorded in the book “A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500″3)

The New Covenant Passover Under Debate

1) The First Passover Controversy

Polycarp, Bishop of the Church of Smyrna (Eastern) and Pope Anicetus, Bishop of the Church of Rome (Western), disputed over the date to keep the Passover.

Around A.D. 155, Polycarp, Bishop of the Church of Smyrna (Eastern), and Pope Anicetus, Bishop of the Church of Rome (Western), disputed over the Passover. Polycarp emphasised that the Passover was a traditional custom handed down from Jesus, saying that he had been celebrating the Passover every year, together with John—one of Jesus’ disciples—and many other apostles. In this dispute, however, they failed to persuade each other.

The first Passover Controversy in A.D. 155 between the Eastern and Western Churches, recorded in the book "A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500.

Figure 3. The evidence of the first controversy between the Eastern and Western Churches, recorded in the book “A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500″4)

2) The Second Passover Controversy

Subsequently, around A.D. 197, Victor the Bishop of Rome insisted that the churches should adopt the Roman practice of celebrating the Holy Supper on the Resurrection Day instead of the Passover. Accordingly, he called it the Dominical Rule (Lord’s Rule) and compelled all the churches to accept it. This led to the second controversy. The churches in the West agreed to follow the rule, but the churches in the East greatly opposed it. Especially, Polycrates, Bishop of the Church of Ephesus, sent a letter to Victor, in which he strongly emphasised that the Passover should be celebrated.

Bishop Polycrates' (of the Eastern Church) letter to Bishop Victor (of the Western Church) regarding the keeping of the Passover at the correct time on the 14th day of the first month, as shown in the "Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History”

Figure 4. Bishop Polycrates’ letter to Bishop Victor regarding the keeping of the Passover at the correct time, as shown in the “Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History”5)

When Victor received this letter, he planned to excommunicate all the churches in Asia by accusing them of being “non-Orthodox”. However, he could not achieve his plan because of objections from many churches around him.

Bishop Victor's attempt to excommunicate churches which kept the Passover, as recorded in "Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History"

Figure 5. Bishop Victor’s attempt to excommunicate churches which kept the Passover, in “Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History”6)

The Second Passover Controvery occurred in around A.D. 197 when Pople Victor wanted to compel churches to adopt the Dominical Rule, as recorded in "A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500"

Figure 6. Recordings of the Dominical Rule and further controversy on keeping the Passover in the book “A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500″7)

Passover Abolished

1) The Council of Nicaea

The controversy arose again in the 4th century and this time, the Council of Nicaea finally abolished the Passover in A.D. 325. The Council, convened by the Roman emperor Constantine, decided in favour of the church of Rome. The Passover would be abolished and the Holy Supper be kept on Resurrection Day.

The Council of Nicaea, held in A.D. 325, decided in favour of the Western Church.

Figure 7. The Council of Nicaea decided in favour of the Western Church, recorded in “Christianity Through the Centuries”8)

The Passover was officially abolished and replaced with Easter at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325, recorded in "Faith of the Ages: The Hebraic Roots of the Christian Faith".

Figure 8. Passover was officially abolished at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325, recorded in “Faith of the Ages: The Hebraic Roots of the Christian Faith”9)

 

With the Passover (including the Feast of Unleavened Bread) abolished, there was no Biblical standard to determine the date of the Resurrection Day. The Council subsequently also decided in favour of celebrating the resurrection on the first Sunday that comes after the full moon of the vernal equinox. This decision was made under the excuse that it was difficult to calculate the date of the feast according to the movements of the moon.

Click here to read more about the Council of Nicaea.

In addition, the Church of Rome, which had been associated with polytheistic traditions and ideas for a long time, introduced Easter to commemorate the resurrection. Easter was originally a festival in honour of Eostre the goddess of spring. It was celebrated at the vernal equinox in Northern Europe10).

Eostre, the goddess of spring

Eostre, the goddess of spring. Ostara (1884) by Johannes Gehrts.

 

2) Passover disappears from History

The decision made by the council had a significant impact on Christianity. The churches which kept the Passover on the 14th day of the first month, not yielding to the authority of the church of Rome, were persecuted and called heretics. Consequently, this forced many saints to move into deserts and caves.

The Western Church had not kept the Passover till then, but it continued to celebrate the resurrection on the Sunday after the Passover. In other words, both churches had used the Passover in determining the date of resurrection. However, as the Council of Nicaea established the date of resurrection based on the vernal equinox, the meaning of the Passover completely disappeared.

Toggle Footnotes
1)   Anthony. West of Jesus: The Bible's Answer to the Protestant Departure from Orthodox Belief. Salisbury, MA: Regina Orthodox, 2007. 22. Print.
2)   Eusebius. "Chapter XXIV." The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1998. 182. Print.
3)   Wand, J. W. C. "Chapter IV." A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500. London: Routledge, 2006. 49. Print.
4)   Wand, J. W. C. "Chapter IV." A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500. London: Routledge, 2006. 83. Print.
5)   Eusebius. "Chapter XXIV." The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995. 209. Print.
6)   Eusebius. "Chapter XXIV." The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995. 209. Print.
7)   Wand, J. W. C. "Chapter IV." A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500. London: Routledge, 2006. 50. Print.
8)   Cairns, Earle E. Christianity through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub., 1996. 112. Print.
9)   Rhoades, Richard N. "Replacement of Passover." Faith of the Ages: The Hebraic Roots of the Christian Faith. N.p.: IUniverse, 2014. 50. Print.
10)   Fortsch, Charlene R., and Erica Dissler. Daniel: Understanding the Dreams and Visions. Anahim Lake, BC: Prophecy Song, 2006. 131. Print.