The Easter homilies of the Fathers occupy a place of special importance in the ancient corpus of homilies for two reasons: 1 After the week-long celebration of the Lord’s death and resurrection, from the beginning of Christianity, Easter was not only the most ancient annual feast of the liturgical calendar, but also Christianity’s fundamental, highest and, including Pentecost, longest feast. 2 Easter theology includes the entire mystery of salvation, beginning from the creation of the world, through original sin, the preparation for the coming of the Savior in the OT, his incarnation, death and resurrection until his return at the end of time. Consequently, the Fathers’ Easter homilies are the richest and most developed for the entire liturgical year.
The two most ancient and sole extant Easter homilies from the first three centuries are dated to the same period of the oldest information that has survived about an annual feast of the Christian Easter: Melito of Sardis, Peri Pascha ca. 160 170 and pseudo-Hippolytus, In sanctum Pascha between 164166 and the end of the 2nd c.. Both are inserted within the Quartodeciman tradition of celebrating Easter with the Jews, that is, on the 14th of Nisan, regardless of the day of the week, which, at the same time, caused the Easter controversy. Consequently, the homilies insist upon the typology of Christ as the new Paschal Lamb 1 Cor 5:7 and his prefiguration in the OT Passover Ex 12 such as the fulfillment of all the propheciesfigures of the OT, especially the sacrifice of Isaac Gen 22:1-8 and the persecutions of the prophets Is 53:7, he was like a lamb led to the slaughter; Jer 11:19, I will be like a gentle lamb; cf. Mt 5:12. At the same time, the Easter homilies take this interrelation as a point of departure for limiting the novelty of Christianity in comparison to Judaism, which has now been superseded, including the argument that the Jews rejected and killed the Messiah.
Moreover, the discoveries of Melito’s homilies in 1940 caused a fundamental change in the way scholars evaluated the development of homilies in the ancient church; this homily presents itself as a large hymn containing all the elements of Asiatic rhetoric: alliterations, anaphora, antitheses, chiasma, epiphora, parallelisms etc. Up until that time, scholars presupposed that the use of classical rhetoric in the homilies of the Fathers began only after the Constantinian turning point in the 4th c.; this change was seen as one of the causes for the church’s decline. The hymn-like style also continued in the following centuries, always provoked by the paradox of the mystery of the salvation, death and resurrection, the old and the new, and the inability to explain the mystery apart from a song of awe and praise. In the 4th c., the Easter homilies naturally followed the development of the Easter cycle beginning from ca. 380 and the institution of the catechumenate, which required the catechesis of the competentes i.e., the ones qualified in preparation for baptism during the Easter vigil or Pentecost and the ancillary instruction of the newly baptized during Pentecost.
Therefore, the themes of the Easter homilies shifted. The various elements of the entire mystery of the faith, up until that time, were celebrated in a single moment or redistributed among various occasions: Palm Sunday, Holy Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter evening, Easter day, Easter time, Mesopentecost, Ascension, the Pentecost vigil and Pentecost, even if there never was an absolute division. The Lenten homilies were dedicated to, among other things, the teaching of the Creed and the Lord’s prayer to the catechumens, while the holy days of Easter and the time thereafter was primarily dedicated to explaining the Eucharist and the other elements of the faith and the moral life to show the way to the most perfect Christian life. Among others, the Easter homilies of the following authors have survived: Augustine, Alexander of Alexandria, Apollinaris, Asterius the Sophist, Gaudentius of Brescia, John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, Leo the Great, Maximus of Turin, Peter Chrysologus, pseudoChrysostom, pseudo-Epiphanius, pseudo-Gregory of Nyssa, Zeno of Verona.