Thousands of pilgrims hold candles as they surround the 'Edicule', or empty tomb where, it is believed Jesus Christ was buried, inside the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
The photo was taken during the Christian Orthodox ceremony of the Holy Fire, which celebrates Christ's resurrection.
Easter is Christianity’s most important festival, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after his crucifixion. But while it is one of the most important and respected annual religious festivals in the world, the date of Easter varies each year. For most Christians, it falls usually on the first Sunday after a full moon on or after March 21. It cannot be celebrated before March 22, or after April 25. The method of determining the date was set by the first Nicene Council in 325 AD. This council was a meeting of several hundred Christian bishops who met in Nicea (now the Turkish city of Iznic) for the first Ecumenical Council. However, the date for Easter set by this method is not accepted by all Christian churches.
The Eastern Orthodox Church sometimes celebrates Easter up to five weeks later than the Western churches. This was because at the time of the first Nicene Council the Roman world was using the Julian calendar, introduced by Julius Caesar about 46 BC. The Julian calendar had three years each of 365 days, followed by a leap year of 366 days. The average length of the year was therefore 365.25 days, fractionally longer than the tropical year of 365.2422 days - the period after which the seasons recur. This meant an extra day appeared about every 128 years. In 1582 AD, Pope Gregory XIII made adjustments to the Julian calendar when he found that the calendar and the real year were drifting further and further apart. He introduced his own calendar, in which leap years were restricted to century years divisible by 400 (e.g. 1600 and 20001 and any other year divisible by four. This reduces the average length of the calendar year to a much more acceptable 365.2425 days.
Roman Catholic countries adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1582, by which time a discrepancy of 10 days between it and the Julian Calendar had built up. The extra 10 days were eliminated by the date jumping straight from October 4 to October 15. By early 20th century, most countries adopted the Gregorian calendar, at least for secular purposes. The Eastern Orthodox church still uses the Julian calendar, which is now 13 days after the Gregorian calendar, to calculate the date of Easter.
Many Middle-East newspapers show two dates on their mastheads: a secular date according to the Gregorian calendar and a religious date according to the Julian calendar.
There has been much discussion, so far without result, among the Christian churches about the possibility of adopting a fixed date for Easter. The second Sunday in April has been proposed.
A scene from the 2004 film "The Passion of Christ"
The origin of the English word Easter is uncertain. It has been popularly believed the word derives from the Anglo-Saxon word Eastre. Curiously, even Eastre cannot be tied to a specific definition. It was either the name of the pagan goddess of spring, the name of a spring festival or the name of the season itself.
Another explanation for the term Easter is that in the early Christian church, Easter week was known as "white week" because of the white garments worn by those who had been baptised during Easter. It has been suggested that the word "white" was mistakenly translated and became, in the old High German language, "eostarum", meaning dawn. It is possible that this is the word from which the English word Easter is derived.
The relationship between Easter and the Jewish feast of the Passover is strongly identified in languages other than English. Christ's crucifixion and resurrection took place during the Passover festival and so in Greek, the word for Easter is Paskha, in French, Paques, in Italian, Pasqua, and in Spanish, Pascua. All of these words derive from Pesach, the Hebrew word for Passover.
In terms of adherents alone, Christianity rates as the world's biggest religion. With 2 billion followers scattered around the globe, it is still a major spiritual force in the world today. An offshoot of Judaism, Christianity is open to everyone as long as they live by the principles set down in the Christian Bible. Although there are many different kinds of Christians in the world, with varying rituals and points of disagreement, they share basic similarities and still have a sense of being part of the same religion.
Name five famous Christians (ancient or modern historical figures) that have made an impact on society. Prepare a short biography on one as if for The Mercury.
Locate a Christian church in your town that has some historical significance. Write a short half page report about it.
Many Christian celebrations have historical significance. Work in small groups to research one. Prepare a short talk and activity about it. For example make pancakes for Shrove Tuesday.
List the ways in which Christians celebrate their religion, e.g. prayer, music, hymn, etc. Find an example.
If you were to start your own religion what would you need? Write a shopping list of those aspects of Christianity you would choose.
Prepare an advertisement for the travel section of The Mercury encouraging tourists to join a Christian celebration overseas. Focus on the style of accommodation, food, transport, etc., on offer for visitors to experience first hand how other people live. Make a postcard for a friend as if sent from the event.
List the many religions that are based on Christian beliefs. Select one and draw a diagram showing the hierarchy of that church.
Find a reference to another religion in the newspaper. How is this religion different to Christianity? What would followers of this faith find difficult in a predominately Christian society?
On a map of the world indicate those countries whose religions are predominately Christian.
There are many Christian festivals celebrated around the world. Locate the countries where the following days are celebrated: Epiphany -Three Kings' Day, Shrove Tuesday, Carnival, Day of the Dead, St Nicholas' Day, and St Lucia's Day.
What events on the Christian calendar have been commercialized? Discuss the positive and negative aspects of commercialization. Design an Easter card that symbolizes Easter for you; write a greeting inside that reflects the historical significance of Easter.
Carnival is a large Christian celebration in Brazil. Find out more about the significance of Carnival to the Brazilians. Choreograph a dance to Samba music. The moves must tell a story. Design a suitable outfit for the Carnival parade.
Conduct a class survey to find out what religions are represented in your class. Calculate the percentage of population for each religion. Do you think your statistics on Christianity are representative of the nation? Give an explanation as to why or why not.
Everyone loves a celebration. What events do Christians celebrate? On what dates do they appear on the calendar? Indicate which ones are dedicated public holidays.
How is the date for Easter determined each year? Predict what date Easter will fall in 2006.
Consider how technology has changed the way Christianity has spread and how it is practiced. Draw a timeline of events showing how major developments in transport and communication have affected Christians throughout the world.
Special foods are often associated with religious festivals. Hold a class celebration feast. Prepare a food that would be shared at a Christian celebration and share it with your class. Prepare a short description of the food and its significance.
An online version of one of the most beloved English translations of the bible.
Allows you to search several different versions of the Bible- old and new testaments- with a simple search engine. There are also other research tools, a multilingual bible and other texts.
A site for statistics on all religions.
First published nearly a century ago this remains one of the authoritative reference works on Christianity. It has some surprisingly objective views of many different topics related to Christianity. New Advent (www.newadvent.org) also has other important religious texts.
A quest for the historical Jesus. Designed as a companion for a PBS program it still has a lot of info for students.
The basics of possibly the most popular branch of Christianity. Explains some of the key ideas and rituals involved. Wiley Books.
The basic guide to all aspects of the Christian religion, its history and the culture that grew from it. (Wiley Books)
Lays out some of the basics of Christian beliefs and looks at some of the ways that Christian ideas are applicable to real life. (Lion Publishing distributed by Bookwise).
Wilson tries to get at the heart of the historical Jesus to see exactly what we can know about him. (Vintage/Ebury).
Looks at the authorship of the specifically Christian part of the bible. (HarperCollins).
A good basic beginner's guide to religion for younger readers. With colour illustrations throughout. (Wayland).