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Easter: Sunrise Service
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Easter: Sunrise Service

Before Jesus' Birth?

Here is the surprising story of how a pagan festival came to be regarded as a Christian holiday. Have you ever wondered what colored eggs have to do with the death of the man we call Jesus Christ? And what Easter rabbits and "hot-cross" buns have to do with a supposed Sunday resurrection?

How did a Christian world come to accept and celebrate what was at one time pagan religious traditions? Let's pull back the curtain of time and see, at this season, how and why these strange customs became part of today's religious heritage.

The little known history of Easter:

Turn back the pages of historic for a moment to the year 8 B.C. (there about). Notice before Jesus' birth. What was taking place in that particular time among the non-Christian population of Europe - the Germanic people?

As was customary with the spring of each year, a particular event was about to take place. General excitement permeated the town and villages. It was a Saturday evening called sunn-abend, when the was to occur.

On This particular evening in 8 BC, everyone left his habitation and gathered outside the village or town. All those capable, would collect wood, place it around an oak tree and set alight.

As the massive mountain of wood began to burn, everyone would gather around the fire, completely encircling it. Flames would light up the entire sky. This ceremony occurred throughout the land.

Then followed the more solemn part of the evening. The populace would kneel and Besee uh Sunna, their goddess of dawn, as she was then called, imploring her to bring back the long awaited spring days. The date of This festival was Saturday night the twenty-first of March.

This was the time of the vernal equinox, when the short winter days ceased and the long, warm spring months began. (As a matter of interest, the German word for Saturday -sonn-abend). it origin traces back to the Saturday night on which the goddess Sunna was worshipped Hathor.

The ancient Germans counted their days from evening to evening. Thus Saturday eve was actually the beginning of Sunday. After having offered sacrifices to the goddess of the spring, on This evening, the people retired till early morning. On This morning, Sunday, sometime before dawn, everyone would meet again outside with their faces to the east, toward the rising sun, praising their goddess Sunna of bringing them This long awaited first day of spring.

This day, the first Sunday after March 21, was their annual holiday. It was a joyous day of various celebrations and games. One of the games was to find colored eggs which were hidden in the grass, around trees and in other hiding places. The children especially enjoyed these games.

Although The coloring varied, The predominant colors of The eggs were red and gold symbolizing The bright rays of The sun. Some of The eggs were given as an offering to The spring goddess and The others were eaten. Eggs were regarded as The emblem of germinating life of early spring. "Hot-Cross" bun were also baked and offered to The goddess. (Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics Vol.2 page 34 and Symbolik W. menzel p180.)

Why called Easter?

Moving forward in history, to a time several centuries after The birth of Christ, we find The heathen populace of Europe still observing This annual spring festival to The goddess of dawn or spring. But now she was known by another name - Eostre.

The name Sunna had merely been The localized German name, which was now changed to The more general name Eostre. Here is what happened.

During other previous centuries, vast numbers of people from Persia and Assyria had settled on The European mainland. These Eastern people were also worshipping a spring goddess. There celebration likewise coincided with beginning of spring. In fact even colored eggs were associated with their spring festival. The ancient Persians, when they depict The festival of the solar new year in March, mutually presented each other with colored eggs. The spring festival of these Eastern immigrants was identical to the festival the Germanic people celebrated. There was only one difference. The name of their goddess was Ishtar. There Germans pronounced it slightly different, resulting in Eoster, which was pronounced as we today pronounce Easter.

Thus the settlers from the East influenced the local population to alter the name of their goddess Sunna to that of Easter. With the influx of these Eastern tribes, it became more generally celebrated than ever before.

Nothing had changed except the name of their goddess, now Eostre or in more modern terminology, Easter.

INTRODUCED INTO CHRISTIANITY

But how and why did the Christian world accept this festival, knowing its heathen origin? The first three centuries after Christ reveal what transpired.

Notice the words of a historian of the third century, Socrates Scholastics, :neither the apostles, therefore, nor the Gospels have anywhere imposed Easter.: (Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 22)

The first Christians continues to observe the Jewish festivals (that is, the festival God and given to His people Israel) though in a new spirit, as commemoration of events which those festivals had foreshadowed (Encyclopedia Britianica, Vol 8 p828)

There was no holiday commemorating a resurrection, only a festival (the New Testament Passover) commemorating Christ's death. Instead of celebration a resurrection or Easter festival - the early Christians kept the annual festival, the Passover."The Jewish Christians (those who were Jews before conversion and others who commemorated Christ's death) in the early church continued to celebrate the Passover." ( International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, p899).

But why this new Sunday festival introduced on a day that doesn't even commemorate the resurrection? Philosophers - Magi - from the East had traveled westward, bringing their philosophy with them. Their powerful influence actually changed the religion of the Roman populace.

This is how it happened. Some of the most powerful divine invaders who came from the east to conquer the west were Solar Divinities. These immigrants from the east brought the religion of the sun with them. (Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics Hasting, Vol. 8 p59)

And one form of sun worship there were very familiar with was a resurrection festival in the spring. Now these eastern immigrants settling in the west - with their appealing sun worship - made a profound impression on the mind of the average Roman. Because of this, and the fact that a large percentage of the population was already eastern in origin, the progressing Christian world thought of a way to add immense numbers to its membership rolls.

Realizing that a vast portion of the population in the Roman Empire was familiar with Sun Worship, it was decided to make use of the day on which these Easterners worshipped on Sunday. A resurrection feast was instituted - not on the literal Sun, which the pagan had worshipped, but supposedly in honor of the true Sun Christ? This Sunday festival was introduced in the mid-second century A.D.

Heathens become Christians Overnight

Introducing this new festival on the pagan day of Sunday paid immediate dividends. The heathen populace of Rome quickly noticed the similarity of the new introduced festival with own spring festival in honor their goddess.

As a result, they became Christians in droves. The church grew in numbers speedily outgrowing all the others rivals. Since the goal during the time of her ascendancy and growth was to quickly attract new members, the church leaders would often meet the heathens halfway. This lenient policy made it easier for the unconverted to become members. Deliberately soliciting new members, the church allowed the unconverted populace to retain many of its heathen practices and beliefs - on a watered-down version.

For example, the church knew that many of the immigrants form the east were used in celebrating a heathen spring festival. So these heathen practices and festivals were given a Christina dressing. The newly converted were asked, not to worship their pagan gods or goddess on certain days, but rather to worship the Christian God and Savior for these Christianized celebrations were the identical days on which the pagans worshipped their gods.

This compromise is admitted by the scholar, Aringhus, he mentions that the church "found it necessary, in the conversion if the Gentiles to disassemble and wink at many things and yield to the times. (Diegesis: The Discovery of the Origin of Christianity, Robert Taylor Boston Mass 1829 p237)

Such compromise with the pagans gained Christianity vast number of converts. By the time of Constantine in 325 AD church leaders were able to influence the emperor to pass a decree forcing all within the empire to keep This Sunday resurrection. It was strictly forbidden for any Christen to continue keeping the New Testament Passover. It was considered Jewish. Pagans, now professing to be Christians, developed a "Christian" philosophy of their own.

Related Articles:
http://www.religioustolerance.org/easter.htm

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