In the Fourth Commandment, our Lord commanded the Hebrews to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”. In some Protestant circles, this has caused quite a stir. Many of them insist Christians should only worship on the Sabbath (Saturday) and not on the Eighth Day (Sunday). Others assert that Christians no longer need to observe the Sabbath, claiming the Law no longer binds us. In this post, we explain the difference between the Sabbath Day and the Lord’s Day.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Institution of the Sabbath Day
The institution of the Sabbath occurred when the Lord delivered the Ten Commandments to the Hebrew people, who observed the Sabbath to remember the Lord’s resting on the seventh day after making heaven and earth (Ex 20:8, 11; cf. Gn 2:1-3). In Deuteronomy 5, Moses further told the people: “Remember, you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore, the Lord your God ordered you to keep the Sabbath day” (5:15).
The Lord called the Hebrews to remember, keep, and hallow or sanctify (Lv 19:3, 30; Jer 17:19-27; Ezk 20:19, 20; Neh 13:15-22) the Sabbath by resting from almost every kind of work. He provided them this sacred time to contemplate His awesome work in creation and their miraculous deliverance from Egypt. This was one of the main ways God ordained to reinforce the people’s covenant with Him (Ex 31:12-17; cf. Lv 24:8).
Originally, observance of the Sabbath did not contain communal worship; but with the development of the synagogue during the Hebrews’ exile in Babylon, the Sabbath naturally became the day for synagogue worship, as it is for the Jews today.
Sunday as the day of worship for Christians
In the earliest days of the Church, many Jewish Christians continued to observe Sabbath regulations and worship on the Sabbath (Acts 13:13-15, 42-44; 18:1-4). However, they also met for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist on the first day of the week – the Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10), or Sunday (Acts 20:7; 1Co 16:1-2).
The practice of observing the Divine Liturgy on the first day of the week has its origin in Apostolic times. The Didache, the oldest Christian document outside of the New Testament itself, commands us: “On the Lord’s Day gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanks, first confessing your transgressional, that your sacrifice may be pure.” Written in about AD 110, letters from St. Ignatius of Antioch confirm that Sunday served as the main day of worship for the early Church:
If then those who had walked in ancient practices attained unto newness of hope, no longer observing sabbaths but fashioning their lives after the Lord’s day, on which our life also arose through Him and through His death which some men deny—a mystery whereby we attained unto belief, and for this cause we endure patiently, that we may be found disciples of Jesus Christ our only teacher—if this be so, how shall we be able to live apart from Him?Epistle to the Magnesians, 9:1-2
Additionally, Saint Justin Martyr and Tertullian, Christian writers in the third century, mention assembling for worship on the first day of the week. By the fourth century, the practice of setting aside first day of the week for assembly and rest began to be codified in both civil and church canons. And in AD 325, the Council of Nicea formally declared that the Lord’s Day, Sunday, as the day of worship for Orthodox Christians.
Alleged pagan roots of Christian worship on “Sunday”
Contrary to what many fringe Protestants believe, worship on Sunday does not derive from any sort of pagan roots. While “Sunday” on the civil Roman calendar was indeed the day dedicated to the worship of the Roman sun god, the day itself did not, does not, and will never belong to the pagans or their false gods.
Sunday is simply the name of a given day of the week in English and other languages of Germanic origin. Moreover, in many Christian nations around the Mediterranean Sea, the name for this day is derived from Lord’s Day, while other exclusively Orthodox nations (those in Eastern Europe) use a word derived from the word Resurrection.
The Mystical Eighth Day
The Sabbath day (Gr. Σάββατο) is the seventh day, it is the day of rest in this world, the final day of the week. The next day, the Lord’s Day (Gr. Κυριακή), is symbolic of the first day of creation. It also symbolizes the last day of the Kingdom of God, the Eighth Day. In other words, the first day is also the eighth day. It is the day beyond the confines of this world, the day which stands for the life of the world to come, the day of the eternal rest of the Kingdom of God.
In both Jewish and Christian tradition, the number seven signifies completion and fullness, while the number eight signifies more than completion and fullness. Thus, for Orthodox Christians, the Lord’s Day is the day of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, the day of God’s judgment and victory predicted by the prophets. The Lord’s Day inaugurates the presence and the power of the kingdom to come, already within the life of this present world. That is why every week Christians gather together to worship and celebrate what the Lord has done for His people.
Fittingly, during the week after Pascha (Easter), called Bright Week, the Church celebrates Pascha for eight days. By tradition, babies are named on the eighth day after birth. And from ancient times, Christian baptismal fonts have been built with eight sides, indicating the newly baptized are entering the realm of the Eighth Day, the day of eternal rest (Heb. 4:1-11) in Christ’s Heavenly Kingdom.
For Orthodox Christians, Saturday remains the Sabbath, the day on which the Church especially remembers the departed, since Christ rested in the tomb on Great and Holy Saturday. Thus, the Sabbath retains its significance. This is why we never fast strictly on Saturdays (except for Holy Saturday, which is not even a complete fast). Even during Great Lent, when we do not serve full liturgies on most days of the week, the Church always appoints a liturgy for both Saturday and Sunday.
However, for Christians, Sunday, the Lord’s Day, is the day of the New Creation, the day of the Resurrection, and so it supersedes Saturday as the primary day of Christian worship.
Read More: Is Orthodox Worship Biblical?