Russia and the Sabbath

On June 17th (please see article on Benedict and Orthodox Unity) I posted a news item that showed that the Patriarch Alexy II of the Russian Orthodox Church was interested in becoming closer to the Roman Catholic Church.

But  did you know that the Orthodox used to observe the Sabbath, long after Rome stopped doing so and that there were Sabbath-keepers, well prior to the Protestant Reformation, in Russia? 

Notice this nineteenth century report:

The ancient Russian name for this people was Strigolniks.  Dr. Murdock says of them:–

“…The earliest of the schismatics first appeared in Novogorod, early in the fifteenth century, under the name of Strigolniks.

   “A Jew named Horie preached a mixture of Judaism and Christianity; and proselyted two priests, Denis and Alexie, who gained a vast amount of followers.  This sect was so numerous that a national council was called, towards the close of the fifteenth century, to oppose it.  Soon afterwards one Karp, an excommunicated deacon, joined the Strigolniks, and accused the higher clergy of selling the office of the priesthood, and of so far corrupting the church, that the Holy Ghost was withdrawn from it.  He was a very successful propagtor for this sect.”

…What was the origin of these Russian Sabbath-keepers?  Certainly it was not from the Reformation of the sixteenth century; for they were in existence for at least one century prior to that event.  We have seen that the Waldenses, during the Dark Ages, were dispersed through many of the counties of Europe.  And also, were the people called Cathari, if indeed, the two were not one people.  In particular, we note the fact that they were scattered through Poland, Lithuania, Sclavonia, Bulgaria, Livonia, Albania, and Sarmartia.  These countries are now part of the Russian empire.  Sabbath-keepers were numerous in Russia before the time of Luther (Andrews J.N. in History of the Sabbath, 3rd editon, 1887. Reprint Teach Services, Brushton (NY), 1998, p. 470).

“There is a sect of Greek Christians in Siberia who keep the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday)…”(Semi-Weekly Tribune, May 4, 1869.  Cited in Andrews, p. 505) 

Sadly there was persecution of Sabbath-keepers in Russia back then: 


“The accused [Sabbath-keepers] were summoned; they openly acknowledged the new faith, and defended the same. The most eminent of them, the secretary of state, Kuritzyn, Ivan Maximow, Kassian, archimandrite of the Fury Monastery of Novgorod, were condemned to death, and burned publicly in cages, at Moscow; Dec. 17,1503.”  Geschichte der Juden” (Leipsig, 1873), pp.117-122  

However, I believe that knowledge and observance of the Sabbath was in Russia long before that.


One reason is the Russian language, like many others, essentially uses a term for Sabbath to mean what we in English term Saturday: 

105 Languages: In over 100 languages the name for the day that we call “Saturday” is “the Sabbath.” For example, “Saturday” in the Spanish language is “Sabado,” which means “the Sabbath.” In Italian, it is “Sabbato,” which also means “the Sabbath.” In Russian it is, “Subbota.” In Polish, “Sobota,” etc. Interestingly enough, in Ghana the day for Sunday, literally translated, means “White man changed this day!”  (Wohlberg S.  Can We Know What Day is the Sabbath? White Horse Media).суббота is how the word Saturday was translated by two online dictionaries for me–but this is using Russian uses characters.  There simply is no serious reason to use a term that means Sabbath for Saturday unless there was knowledge of the Sabbath in Russia.

Notice the following: 

The reign of Vasily (1505-1533) was characterized by cruelty and a return to ignorance. His son and successor Ivan IV (1531-1584) turned out to be a bloody ruler who terrorized all Russia, earning from history the infamous title, Ivan the Terrible. Even during his reign, there were people in Russia who were true to the teachings of the Bible, especially the Sabbath. The “One Hundred Head” Church Council, called in 1551 during the reign of Ivan IV, adopted a resolution which until today has not been annulled by the Russian Orthodox Church. This regulation states that the people, besides worshiping on Sunday, could also worship on Saturday in the confines of the Russian Orthodox Church—a statement which was recognized by the church council as authorized by the Apostles Peter and Paul (D. E. Kozhachnikov, ed., Stoglav [Source: One-Hundred-Head Council] (St. Petersburg: Tipografiia Imperatorskoi Akademy Nauk, 1863), pp. 270, 271. As cited by Zhigankov, Oleg.  Ahead of their time? The 15th century Reformation in Russia.  College and University Dialogue Journal).

Notice that the practices of Peter and Paul are mentioned.  They kept the Sabbath.  But one still may wonder how the Orthodox Church could possibly condone Saturday.

Well, because Saturday had been observed by those in Asia Minor for centuries, and even after the area mainly became part of the Greco-Orthodox confederation of Catholics, in Constantinople (the primary see, “first among equals” in its words of the Orthodox Churches, for documentation please go to Orthodox Church of Constantinople ) the Sabbath was kept. 

Both the Sabbath and Sunday were kept into fifth centuries all over the world, including Constantinople. 

Sozomen reported in the mid-5th Century,

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 (Sozomen. THE ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY OF SOZOMEN. Comprising a History of the Church, from a.d. 323 to a.d. 425. Book VII, Chapter XIX. Translated from the Greek. Revised by Chester D. Hartranft, Hartford Theological Seminary UNDER THE EDITORIAL SUPERVISION OF PHILIP SCHAFF, D.D., LL.D., AND HENRY WACE, D.D., Professor of Church History in the Union Theological Seminary, New York. Principal of King’s College, London. T&T CLARK, EDINBURGH, circa 1846).

Also in the fifth century, the historian Socrates noted:

For although almost all churches throughout the world celebrate the sacred mysteries on the sabbath of every week, yet the Christians of Alexandria and at Rome, on account of some ancient tradition, have ceased to do this. The Egyptians in the neighborhood of Alexandria, and the inhabitants of Thebais, hold their religious assemblies on the sabbath, but do not participate of the mysteries in the manner usual among Christians in general (Socrates Scholasticus. Ecclesiastical History, Book V, Chapter XXII. Excerpted from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Volume 2. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. American Edition, 1890. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight).

Apparently, however, Sabbath-observance was still observed by some in Rome (though the Roman Catholics were opposed to it) as the Catholic pope they call “Gregory the Great” wrote the following:

Gregory, servant of the servants of God, to his most beloved sons the Roman citizens.

It has come to my ears that certain men of perverse spirit have sown among you some things that are wrong and opposed to the holy faith, so as to forbid any work being done on the Sabbath day. What else can I call these but preachers of Antichrist (Gregory I. Registrum Epistolarum, Book XIII, Letter 1).

Hence, even within the area of Rome, some people were keeping the Sabbath in the late sixth/early seventh century.

Even in recent times, Sabbath-keepers have been found in the Russia, Tajikistan and Siberia and elsewhere (please see the article In Search of the Thyatira Church).

Two articles of possibly related interest may include:

The Sabbath in the Early Church and Abroad Was the seventh-day (Saturday) Sabbath observed by the apostolic and post-apostolic Church?
Some Similarities and Differences Between the Orthodox Church and the Churches of God Both groups have some amazing similarities and some major differences. Do you know what they are?

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