Eastern Catholicism and Orthodoxy, practices concerning the sabbath

I have recently been in discussions with Seventh Day Adventists. They claim that the Eastern Catholic Church and also Eastern Orthodox Church have observed the seventh day sabbath for the first 1,000 years of it’s history.

When I say the Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox of course I do not mean really any one sect, I mean as opposed to Western Catholicism. I understand that different practices have occured in different christian regions, depending on who founded the churches in whatever place.

For example, it is said that John, the beloved, observed the sabbath and taught all christians to do so… it is known that he founded churches in asia, or the east.

So, what is the history of the Eastern Catholics and Orthodox concerning the seventh day sabbath? If it was practiced did they consider it required by the commandments of God?

SDAs are very ignorant about Church History in general, and Eastern in particular. It’s strange that in the index to false prophetess Ellen G. White’s writings, there are pages and pages of screeds against that nasty ole pope feller, but not ONE WORD about Eastern Christians.

The Sabbath commandment was NOT about worship, but resting from work. This was a work stoppage that extended to one’s slaves and even farm animals. The very word “sabbath” in Hebrew means ‘cessation’.

Remember, services were held in the Tabernacle, Temple, and later Synagoges (and still are to this day) TWICE DAILY morning and evening.

Furthermore, “Sabbath” meant not just the weekly sabbath, but all the holy days of the Law.

So I would ask them first why they pick and choose which of the sabbaths they observe.

Next, in the Eastern Church tradition, fasting and abstinence are somewhat relaxed on Saturdays during fast periods. The notable exception is Holy Saturday.

The point of Sunday worship was for the EUCHARIST. The first few generations of Christians did not scruple to treat Sunday as an ordinary working day after they had attended the Eucharist in the wee hours of the morning. In fact, there was a lively polemic about “idling” on Sunday in imitation of the Sabbath.

right, but did the Eastern churches hold to sabbath keeping in the first 1,000 years more than the western church did? I know there are very early quotations from the leaders of the church stating we no longer hold to the sabbath as the jews did, but most of the quotes are indeed from the more western side of christianity, being Alexandria and Rome.

So, did the Eastern churches hold to the sabbath obligation?

I’ve already described the influence of the Sabbath on at least the Byzantine tradition: it was chiefly in how the fasts were kept.

It influenced the Liturgy ONLY to the extent that some of the hymns of the previous Sunday were repeated on Friday Vespers/Saturday Matins.

It was not considered a day of precept by any means. And certainly not of rest from labor.

If any SDA say this, they are simply in error.

As a side note, I once slipped in (in disguise) into an SDA Revelation seminar. The speaker said, “Why Jerusalem is the Moslem Mecca!” During the Q&A, I said, “I thought Mecca was the Moslem Mecca.”

And then I mentioned a few things in passing from Eastern Church history to a life-long SDA. He said, “If what you’re saying is true, what does this do to the Adventist interpretation of Bible prophecy?”

I replied, “You are the one who asked this question. Not me. You can verify what I’m telling you in secular encyclopedias. If you find out what I’m saying is true, are you willing to re-evaluate the Adventist interpretion of Bible prophecy?”

He thought a moment and said, “No.”

In other words, don’t confuse him with facts. His mind is already made up.

You can tell them they are half right. We still observe Saturday as the Sabbath. Saturday (except Holy Saturday) is never a fast day (although abstinence continues) and the Liturgy is always allowed to be celebrated. Saturday is the Sabbath, the day of rest remembering the day the Lord rested after Creation and the day the Lord rested in the tomb after the Crucifixion. Sunday is the Lord’s day, celebrating his Resurrection and we rest on this day as well as we would for any Holy Day. Under Christian Emperor’s we were afforded the ability to rest on both days. In secular society we often only get one and Sunday trumps Saturday, but Saturday does not cease being the Sabbath because of it.

Fr. Deacon Lance

Deacon Lance,

Is your sabbath rest as you describe as the Jews observed it? As an obligation by God’s law?

Obligation does not fit well within an Eastern Christian framework. Saturday is the Sabbath because it has always been so. If one can go to Liturgy and refrain from work on both Saturday and Sunday one should, but since the end of the Byzantine Empire this has not been possible. Sunday, Resurrection day, remains our primary day of worship because this is what was handed down to us from the Apostles.

I don’t understand your question. According to the CCC, Saturday is still regarded as the Sabbath, and Sunday as “the Lord’s Day.” Isn’t it a matter of choice to celebrate the Day of Rest on either Saturday OR Sunday in the Catholic Churches, Latin, Eastern or Oriental?


How do you qualify a statement like this?

It’s a Byzantine thing…

Seriously, Byzantine theology, Catholic and Orthodox, shies away from obligations per se, and presents mostly norms and traditions, and those who love the Lord will keep to them as best they are able.

Absent latinization and the imported ideas that go with it, I’d actually say the same is true for the East/Orient in general.

okay, maybe this is a better way to word this question.

Do sabbath keeping Eastern Orthodox/Catholics (if there are some) believe to NOT rest on Saturday is breaking one of the laws of God?

Contrary to what your SDA friends what to think, “Sabbath keeping” has simply never been an issue or practice in the Christian East.


If they think there are such things as “Eastern Christian Sabbath Keepers”, they simply don’t know whereof they speak.

Consider this hymn from Holy Saturday Matins and Vesperal Divine Liturgy:

Great Moses mystically prefigured this present day when he said, ‘And God blessed the seventh day’. For this is the blessed Sabbath; this is the day of rest on which the only-begotten Son of God rested from all his works, through the dispensation in accordance with death, he kept the Sabbath in the flesh; and returning once again to what he was through the Resurrection he has granted us eternal life, for he alone is good and loves mankind.

As we can see, the sabbath commandment was a prophecy of Christ’s rest in the tomb.

Since the fulfilment of this figure and commandment, it has therefore passed away.

I might point out that SDAs themselves do NOT keep the sabbath at all. The particulars of sabbath observance in the Bible forbade lighting of fires–yet they drive their cars to church on the sabbath, and the internal combustion engine lights hundreds of fires a minute.

And as I’ve said, it was about REST FROM LABOR, not worship.

BTW, where did you get this tidbit in your original posting:

For example, it is said that John, the beloved, observed the sabbath and taught all christians to do so… it is known that he founded churches in asia, or the east.

It’s said by WHOM?

There is no such reference to this in the hagiographical tradition, and it’s quite extensive.

To paraphrase St. Paul, we have no such tradition, nor do the other Churches of God.

I’ll see if I can find the quote they presented and then try to reconstruct their argument.

But, on other topics I have run into error after error on church history so I do not doubt that this is probably going to turn out the same way. Unfortunately though, they seem to not respond well to people correcting their historical errors.

Instead of me reconstructing their argument, I’ll just give you a link so you can see what they put forward most of the time. I have also challenged the person who said that the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches observe the sabbath and they have yet to respond.


While we certainly do not keep Sunday as the Orthodox Jews keep the Sabbath, there are naturally some influences from the Jewish Sabbath observance. For example Vespers has some roots in the Friday evening Shabbat service. But it is not the same. And as bpbasilphx well stated, the SDAs do not even come close to keeping the Levitical Shabbat.

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