Editorial Features

Passover is Crossover

In Orthodox Christian Theology the most meaningful word after Christ or Jesus is Pascha, which is a Greek rendering of the Aramaic word Pesacha, from which during the very apostolic times Pascha became part of the spoken Greek of the first century. Etymologically, Pesacha comes from the Hebrew word, Pesach, which literally means passing over or Passover.

There is a biblical history behind the event of Passover.

For four hundred years the Hebrews, the chosen people of God, had been in Egypt under the Pharaoh. The earlier period of their self-inflicted exile was very constructive for their growth in population and physical and material wealth. The Hebrews flourished in a foreign land, but they always retained their identity as a monotheistic ethnic group with their own unique worshipping and living customs; and their hosts were happy and comfortable with their new neighbors, who had been brought there from Canaan during a great famine and drought period long ago by one of their prime ministers who happened to be the first Hebrew to enter Egypt as a slave first and later to become their prime minister by God’s providential care. After a few centuries these new immigrants became the most prospering communities around Egypt, because they were very industrious and hardworking. Gradually, the Egyptians began to dislike these growing communities of Hebrews; they thought that their wealth and riches would finally end up in the possession of their guests. They, with their Pharaoh, began to oppress the Hebrews in many ways. They were brutally treated at work places. They were sent to forced labor and inhumane conditions. Animals began to be treated better than the Hebrews. Their children were tormented. The miseries of their slavery were unfathomable. To reduce their manpower and to impede their growth as a distinct and prospering ethnic group, the Pharaoh even ordered to kill the male babies of Hebrew women; and the order was executed and the Hebrew communities were buried in unending tears and fear.

But there was one baby that miraculously escaped this terror due to the kindness of a princess from the palace of the Pharaoh; the baby’s name was Moses. It was him that God later chose for the deliverance His chosen people out of the land of Egypt. Many years later, it took ten plagues by the hand of God to liberate the Israelites. The last one was the death of all the first-born in Egypt; an angel of death would go to all the Egyptian homes and kill the firs-born. Moses, who had escaped to the Sinai for fear of his own life, was chosen by God to be a prophet and priest to lead his people out of Egypt. Through the instrumentality of Moses, God had inflicted nine plagues one after another to change the mind of the Pharaoh so that he could let the Israelites leave the country. The pharaoh changed his mind repeatedly, and so the ultimate weapon directed by God against the Pharaoh and Egypt was the death of all the Egyptian first-born. God instructed Moses to prepare His chosen people for two emergencies, first to avert the angel of death getting into the Hebrew homes, and then to get ready for their exodus next day morning.

In order to save all the Israeli first-born from death and to get ready for the exodus out of Egypt God demanded Moses that every household should observe a Pesach. The children of Israel should sacrifice a blameless lamb. And the blood of the lamb should be sprinkled on the door posts of every Hebrew house, so that the angel of death may pass over to the Egyptian house to do his job. Thus the blood of the blameless lamb would redeem them from the imminent death. They should cook the lamb and eat a meal with five items which would signify their different sufferings in Egypt. Since there was no time to prepare the regular leavened bread, the bread that was to be used in this meal must be unleavened. Every Israeli household obeyed Moses, and sprinkled the blood of the blameless lamb on the door posts of their houses, and observed their meal in Egypt as Moses had commanded. The angel of death passed over their houses and the death of their first-born was averted. The first-born of the Egyptians were all killed by the angel of death in the same night. Next day morning the children of Israel set out for Canaan, when the entire Egyptian population was grieving over the death of their first-born. The slaughter of the lamb and the ritual consumption of that lamb in a ceremonial meal are together called the Passover event or Pesach, ort Pascha.

In this event the sacrifice of the lamb is the most crucial. It is the blood of the lamb that redeems the believer from death. In fact the liberation of the Israelites was not just a physical liberation. It was an exodus from the land of idolatry, where the Pharaoh himself was considered a god, and even an eternal being, which was the reason why the Egyptians constructed those huge pyramids to immortalize their monarchs through the sweat and blood and the slave labor of the Hebrews. The children of God had lost their freedom to worship the one and only God, Yahweh. In this sense the deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt meant both physical and spiritual emancipation. Even the very crossing over the Red Sea to the Sinai Peninsula was tumultuous, because it took an unnatural event of splitting the sea and unrolling a dry land on the sea bed right in front of their eyes through the wondrous instrumentality of Moses and of crossing the bottom terrain of the sea to the desert. They were yet very fearful; for the Egyptian army was catching up with them. But once they all stepped in the desert land of Sinai, the entire Egyptian army that had entered the dry sea bed following the Israelites was swallowed up by the roaring waves of Red Sea that had been restored to their natural position!

This is the true prefiguration of our true Pascha! The very event that took place about 1500 years before Christ in Egypt is a prototype of the slaughter of the Lamb of God.

Sin has its inevitable consequence. St Paul calls it ‘death’. For the sin of the Egyptians every first-born in Egypt had to die according to God’s plan. However God decided that a lamb could die in the place of every Hebrew family that needed to avert death. The blood of the lamb could avoid death. God wanted the blood of the lamb to be sprinkled over the door posts, which indicated the household being in observance of God’s command and the angel of death could not inflict the punishment of death on that family.

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