Eastern Orthodox Regard Saturday as the Sabbath 

In previous articles I have highlighted Sabbath keeping in the Western Churches. However this article will demonstrate how the Seventh Day, Saturday, was the norm at Constantinople (the center of virtually all Eastern Orthodox) up until the Laodecian council. Since then it has remained a holy festival day above the other days of the week.  

Liturgical services on the Saturday Sabbath are testified to by many sources which describe Eastern liturgy. Few others but the Eastern Orthodox have preserved official Saturday Sabbath blessings. Specifically the Syrian and Byzantine Rites have preserved honour of the Sabbath.

Several scholars believe that Rome's forcing populations to make the Sabbath a day of fasting (rather than Biblical feasting) contributed greatly to the historic break between the Eastern and Western Christian Church which occurred in 1054 A.D.. To this day, the tradition to honour the Sabbath apart from the other days of the week, remains within the Orthodox church.

Example where Sabbath and Sunday are both called festive days in today's Orthodox church:

"In the tradition of our Church, Saturday like Sunday is considered a festal day. Even during the Great Lent the rules of fasting are relaed on Satrudays and Sundays (Calivas A. The Great and Holy Saturday. Copyright: 2002-2003 Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America).

Some of our strongest evidence is contained in the “Constitutiones Apostolorum”(Apostolic Constitutions), written in Syria in circa 250AD. In it, the Saturday Sabbath is given full recognition as being the commanded day for the church to observe (VII,23,2; II,36,1.5 and VIII,33,2).

There is a seventh book of the Apostolic Constitutions which contains seventeen Sabbath blessings in six prayers that are identical to the Jewish “Amidah of the Sabbath”. This is pre-rabbinic liturgy put together by Ezra the Scribe.

In the “Vita Polycarpi”(3rd Century), the Christian community of Vita Polycarpi is demonstrated to have been keeping the Saturday Sabbath in the same manner the Jews do. They gathered for Biblical instruction and to celebrate Sabbath as a feast day with their bretheren.

Eusebius spoke of “Ebionites” who  “used to observe the Sabbath and the rest of the Jewish ceremonial, but on Sunday celebrated rites like ours in commemoration of the Saviour’s resurrection.”

Socrates Scholasticus (fifth century) claimed: “For although almost all churches throughout the world celebrate the sacred mysteries [the Lord’s Supper] on the Sabbath [Saturday] of every week, yet the Christians of Alexandria and at Rome, on account of some ancient tradition, have ceased to do this.

Sozomen (fifth century) similarly acknowledged, “Assemblies are not held in all churches on the same time or manner. The people of Constantinople, and almost everywhere, assemble together on the Sabbath, as well as on the first day of the week, which custom is never observed at Rome or at Alexandria.

The Apostolic Constituitions, written in Syria around 250 A.D. states:

XXIII...But keep the Sabbath, and the Lord's day festival; because the former is the memorial of the creation, and the latter of the resurrection (Apostolic Constitutions - Didascalia Apostolorum Book VII, Section II. As cited in Andrews J.N. in History of the Sabbath, 3rd editon, 1887. Reprint Teach Services, Brushton (NY), 1998, p. 329 and Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, Bk. 7, Sec. 2, Ch. 23, trans. in ANF, Vol. 7, 1885.  Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody (MA), printing 1999, p. 469)...

XXXIII...Let the slaves work five days; but on the Sabbath-day and the Lord's day let them have leisure to go to church for instruction in piety. We have said that the Sabbath is on account of the creation, and the Lord's day of the resurrection (Apostolic Constitutions - Didascalia Apostolorum Book VIII, Section IV).

XXXVI. O Lord Almighty Thou hast created the world by Christ, and hast appointed the Sabbath in memory thereof, because that on that day Thou hast made us rest from our works, for the meditation upon Thy laws...Thou didst give them the law or decalogue, which was pronounced by Thy voice and written with Thy hand. Thou didst enjoin the observation of the Sabbath, not affording them an occasion of idleness, but an opportunity of piety, for their knowledge of Thy power, and the prohibition of evils; having limited them as within an holy circuit for the sake of doctrine, for the rejoicing upon the seventh period...On this account He permitted men every Sabbath to rest, that so no one might be willing to send one word out of his mouth in anger on the day of the Sabbath. For the Sabbath is the ceasing of the creation, the completion of the world, the inquiry after laws, and the grateful praise to God for the blessings He has bestowed upon men (Apostolic Constitutions - Didascalia Apostolorum Book VII, Section II)

About a century ago, it the following was reported about those who professed Christ during these early times:


Christians were very careful in the observationof Saturday,or the seventh day, which was the ancient Jewish sabbath... In the Eastern church it was ever observed as a festival...From hence it is plain, that all the Oriental churches, and the greatest part of the world, observed the sabbath as a festival. And the Greek writers are unanimous in their testimony. The author of the Constitutions, who describes the customs chiefly of the Oriental church, frequently speaks of it...Athanasius likewise tells us, that they held religious assemblies on the sabbath, not because they were infected with Judaism, but to worship Jesus the Lord of the sabbath. Epiphanius says the same, That it was a day of public assembly in many churches, meaning the Oriental churches, where it was kept a festival (Bingham J. Origines Ecclesiasticæ: The Antiquities of the Christian Church. With Two Sermons and Two Letters on the Nature and Necessity of Absolution. H. G. Bohn, 1856. Original from Harvard University Digitized Oct 19, 2006, pp. 1137-1138).

In 3rd Century Rome Sabbath observance still occurred (though not as strongly as in the Eastern and Celtic churches) as the following from the Catholic theologian Hippolytus attests, as well as Sunday:

20:7 Those who are to receive baptism shall fast on the Preparation of the Sabbath b. On the 
Sabbath c, those who are to receive baptism shall all gather together in one place...

b Friday
c Saturday

22:1 On the first day of the week the bishop, if possible, shall deliver the oblation to all  the people with his own hand, while the deacons break the bread.

(Hippolytus. The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome. From the work of Bernard Botte (La Tradition Apostolique. Sources Chretiennes, 11 bis. Paris, Editions du Cerf, 1984) and of Gregory Dix (The Treatise on the Apostolic Tradition of St. Hippolytus of Rome, Bishop and Martyr. London: Alban Press, 1992) as translated by Kevin P. Edgecomb http://www.bombaxo.com/hippolytus.html viewed 08/06/09)

In the fourth century, Sabbath-keeping was still going on in Jerusalem:

St. Cyril of Jerusalem, or as some believe, his successor John II…the saint…adds “…Keep away from all sabbathical observances, and do not call some foods clean and unclean because they are all indifferent”. (Bagatti, Bellarmino.  Translated by Eugene Hoade.  The Church from the Circumcision. Nihil obstat: Marcus Adinolfi, 13 Maii 1970. Imprimi potest: Herminius Roncari, 14 Junii 1970. Imprimatur: +Albertus Gori, die 26 Junii 1970.  Franciscan Printing Press, Jerusalem, 1971, p. 89).


"Except ye make the Sabbath a real Sabbath [sabbatize the Sabbath, Greek], ye shall not see the father." The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, pt. L, p. 3, Logion 2, verse 4-11 (London: Offices of the Egypt Exploration Fund, 1898)...

In SPAIN – Council Elvira (A.D. 305)

Canon 26 of the Council of Elvira reveals that the Church of Spain at that time kept Saturday, the seventh day. "As to fasting every Sabbath: Resolved, that the error be corrected of fasting every Sabbath." This resolution of the council is in direct opposition to the policy the church at Rome had inaugurated, that of commanding Sabbath as a fast day in order to humiliate it and make it repugnant to the people...

In PERSIA – A.D. 335-375:

"They despise our sun god. Did not Zoroaster, the sainted founder of our divine beliefs, institute Sunday one thousand years ago in honour of the sun and supplant the Sabbath of the Old Testament. Yet these Christians have divine services on Saturday." O’Leary, The Syriac Church and Fathers, pp. 83, 84. (Coltheart JF. The Sabbath of God Through the Centuries. Leaves-of-Autumn Books, Inc. Payson, Arizona, 1954. http://www.giveshare.org/churchhistory/sabbaththrucenturies.html 6/24/06).

Sabbath-keeping in Asia Minor was publicly still going on to at least 364 A.D. or else the Eastern Church would not have convened a Council in Laodicea to excommunicate any who rested on the seventh day. Notice what the Council of Laodicea declared in English and Latin,

CANON XXIX. CHRISTIANS must not judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honouring the Lord's Day; and, if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ (THE COMPLETE CANONS OF THE SYNOD OF LAODICEA IN PHRYGIA PACATIANA).

Quod non oportet Christianos Judaizere et otiare in Sabbato, sed operari in eodem die. Preferentes autem in veneratione Dominicum diem si vacare voluerint, ut Christiani hoc faciat ; quod si reperti fuerint Judaizare Anathema sin a Christo (Cited in Andrews, p. 362).

But although that Council tried to abolish the Sabbath, sabbath-keeping continued among the faithful. Around 404 A.D. Jerome wrote,

...the believing Jews do well in observing the precepts of the law, i.e....keeping the Jewish Sabbath…there exists a sect among… the synagogues of the East, which is called the sect of the Minei, and is even now condemned by the Pharisees. The adherents to this sect are known commonly as Nazarenes; they believe in Christ the Son of God, born of , the Virgin Mary; and they say that He who suffered under Pontius Pilate and rose again, is the same as the one in whom we believe”—yet, Jerome considered them to be part of “a most pestilential heresy” (Jerome. Translated by J.G. Cunningham, M.A. From Jerome to Augustine (A.D. 404); LETTER 75 (AUGUSTINE) OR 112 (JEROME). Excerpted from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series One, Volume 1. Edited by Philip Schaff, D.D., LL.D. American Edition, 1887. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

There were Semi-Arians in Armenia who also kept the seventh-day Sabbath in the late fourth century:

Eustathius was succeeded by Erius, a semi-Arian...he urged a purer morality and a stricter observance of the Sabbath (Davis, Tamar. A General History of the Sabbatarian Churches. 1851; Reprinted 1995 by Commonwealth Publishing, Salt Lake City, p. 20).











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