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Why Easter Occurs in the Spring

March 31, 2010

As had Athanasius before him, Cyril of Alexandria sent out an annual Festal Letter to all the churches in Egypt, announcing the date for Easter. In the letter excerpt below, taken from Cyril’s letter in 415, he considers the significance of Easter occurring in the spring time. As creation experiences rebirth in the springtime, so also Christ has brought about a new creation on Easter. As those who are a part of this new creation, Christians should ‘rival the earth’ in producing good fruits.

Since Moses thus says, “Keep the month of the new growth, and perform the Passover for the Lord, your God” (Deut. 16:1), it is evident that we must announce the time of the feast, which is already here. For the sullen threat of winter is gone, the unwholesome air and darkness have been driven off, and the rains and blasts of wild winds have finally been banished from us. Springtime has come again, releasing the planter from idleness and inaction, and almost crying our to tillers that it is time to set to work. The meadows are bursting with a variety of flowers. The vegetation on the mountains and in gardens is budding forth the offspring it has been carrying, as through disgorging the energy from the loins of its own nature. The fields have already turned green (Wis. 19:7), a reminder of God’s beneficence, “making grass spring up for the cattle” (Ps. 104:14)

Now we have not spoken thus to no purpose, nor should it be thought that we have discoursed about these things pointlessly; the point was to show how useful the commandment is. It was not in vain that the Law has bidden us to observe the month of the new growth. For it was necessary, quite necessary, that the human race should rival the earth in bearing fresh growth, and should, if I may say so, run riot with fresh blooms of piety. . . . [For] the month of the new growth [is] the time of the arrival of our Savior Jesus Christ, when all should hold festival. For that demon who is the author of evil, who fell upon the souls of everyone like winter, and drenched us with foul desires like heavy rain, is already heading for perdition. The power of unclean spirits has been driven away, and the sullen cloud of sin has been dispelled by grace. A light as of springtime has spread over us; and now the first-fruits of the Spirit which are given blow around the souls of all like a zephyr or light breeze, giving those in whom they dwell, in different ways, a scent no less pleasing than those of flowers. “For we are the aroma of Christ to God” (2 Cor. 2:15), as Paul says, and we have put off the oldness of our past life like a leaf, and are being renewed for another way of life which has just budded and sprung forth. Thus the blessed Paul says, “Therefore anyone who is in Christ is a new creation; the old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17) . . .

Hence we are already dismissing the passions of the flesh, directed as we are towards salvation, and, in settling within ourselves the pure grace of the Spirit, we are being refashioned into a better way of life. We remember what Paul said: “Our old self has been crucified, so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For they who have died are freed from sin. But if we have died in Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him” (Rom. 6:6-8). For we will truly live with him, and will reign with him, rejecting the defilement that comes from the body; “hating,” as one of the saints says, “the garment spotted by the flesh” (Jude 23); honoring the continence which is dear to God; and rendering a life lived in virtue as a gift in return to Christ, who died for us. For thus indeed the Psalmist says, “All those around him will bring gifts” (Ps. 76:11). It is, then, worthwhie inquiring about, and learning from holy Scripture, what kind of gift we will give to the Lord, in what way it will be presented, and further how it will be acceptable.

Taken from St. Cyril of Alexandria, Festal Letters, trans. Philip R. Amidon (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2009), 54-56.

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