restricted access X: Easter in Jerusalem

From: 428 AD

Princeton University Press colophon
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Easter in Jerusalem T  for Easter, Christianity’s most important festival at the time, clearly had to be carefully calculated for each year, and in Egypt, the patriarch of Alexandria sent a letter as early as Epiphany to all the communities announcing the start of Lent and the date of Easter (Cassian, Conferences, , ). This calculation was not at all easy, and gave rise to endless debate, which led to improvements in the calendar (in the East, it was finally settled under Justinian). In , the calculation was already established: Easter fell on the first Sunday after the full moon that followed the spring equinox, which meant a date between  March and  April.1 The desire for a uniform date resulted from the need to have all the faithful in the empire—and hopefully also beyond—celebrating the event on the same day. For the ecclesiastic community, it must have been exhilarating to know that Christians of all Churches were intent upon the same ritual, listening to the passages from the New Testament and sacred hymns in their own liturgical languages: Greek, Latin, Syriac, Gothic, and Armenian. The ceremony of Anástasis (“Resurrection”) was particularly moving. Around , the reading of the Gospel was not restricted to the story of the resurrection, but also included an evocation of Christ’s suffering and death on the cross.2 A bishop’s personality had an important role in this. The success of the ceremony depended on his oratorical and perhaps even theatrical skills in enthralling the crowd and making it relive  C H A P T E R X those dramatic moments. The reading of the Gospel was accompanied by hymns such as the following: When, King of Justice, you stretched out your hands on the Cross, Your mother tearfully leaned on the Cross, the sepulcher had been prepared, God had foreseen it. And when you entered, Your divine and human being and Your angels, without body, did not recognize it. But on the third day You rose again, because of Your power, You who have brought about the death of death. And with your Resurrection, You have once more lifted up us who had fallen.3 The most important Easter celebration was held in Jerusalem. It was there that the festival was transformed into the complex ritual that would eventually evolve into Holy Week. It started with the Thursdaynight vigil on the Mount of Olives and Gethsemane.Then Good Friday was spent in reviving the memory of the trial of Jesus and his flagellation ; at midday, the relic of the True Cross was put on display, and there followed another vigil. Saturday was devoted to fasting and resting while awaiting the Easter vigil.Then the bishop went to the entrance of the Holy Sepulcher and told the story of the resurrection in the same place that the miracle had occurred. Here, the suggestive power of the sacred places provoked powerful reactions.As soon as the bishop started to read the Gospel, all the faithful burst into tears and started to scream and shout in what can only be called a collective trance.4 In , the bishop was the energetic Juvenal, who undoubtedly celebrated the ritual with the appropriate degree of rapture.5 The community in Jerusalem had every reason to celebrate. Following the destruction of the Temple and the subsequent Jewish diaspora at the time of Hadrian, the city had lost its supremacy to Caesarea. Jerusalem was turned into a Roman colony under the name of Aelia Capitolina, and entered a long period of decline.6 The Christianization of the empire had, however, restored its fortunes, and the development of the Holy Places for pilgrimage had caught the imagination of the E A S T E R I N J E R U S A L E M  more devout members of the imperial household, such as Saint Helena (Constantine’s mother) and Theodosius I. In the second half of the fourth century, the great Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem played a key role in the promotion of the city and transformed it into a cosmopolitan and multilingual metropolis.7 The increasing importance of religious affairs in the Empire of the East did not stop at promoting the rebirth of the city, but also marked the restoration of its former glory. From the moment of his election in , Bishop Juvenal set about promoting his episcopal see in any way he could, and elevated it to a much more powerful and prestigious position.8...


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