In the ancient Church the feast of Christ’s resurrection was the pinnacle of the Christian year. Following a three-year process of training and education, converts were baptized and received their first communion at Easter. Saturday night (Holy Saturday) began with candlelight, and anticipated the return of Jesus Christ. As dawn came, Christians joyfully celebrated Christ’s resurrection and victory over evil.
Easter was not entirely without controversy in the early Church. Different Church regions were celebrating Easter at different times, and all claimed Apostolic authority. This controversy is called the Quartodeciman (Latin for “fourteenism”) controversy. In Asia Minor, many churches, including the church at Smyrna under the pastoral care of St. Polycarp, were celebrating Easter on the 14th of Nisan, following Jewish Passover customs. However, Church historian Eusebius tells us that the Church in Rome and most other Catholic dioceses always celebrated Easter on a Sunday. Both customs may have derived from Apostolic authority, but by the time of Origen (230 AD), the numbers of Quartodecimans were few. Also, differences arose between the Churches of Antioch and Alexandria as to the computation of the Paschal Moon. The Council of Nicaea settled the date of Easter (for the time being), in favor of the Alexandrians, putting Easter on the Sunday after the vernal equinox. However, as discussed above, Eastern Orthodox and Western/Eastern Catholic Easter falls on different dates because of differing calendars.
The English word for the feast of the resurrection, Easter, differs from the feast’s name in other regions. In other regions the term is “Pascha,” which is derived from the word for “Passover.” The word “Easter” might come from an Anglo-Saxon spring goddess. This is probably because the festival of Easter overlapped some pagan holiday in ancient England. While some have used this fact to say celebrating Easter is pagan, the fact is that only the name comes from a pagan source, probably stemming from popular usage.