29 October 2011

Sabbath or Sunday, Seventh or First Day?

A few years ago, at an international meeting in Korea, I met one person who told me he belonged to the Seventh Day Baptists, and asked me if I had heard of them.

As it happened, I knew of the group, a Christian group that is Baptist in faith and practice, except that they still honor the old Hebrew Sabbath, worshiping on the 7th day of the week instead of the 1st, as most Christians do.

In North America, I knew that the Seventh Day Baptists participate in the North American Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist World Alliance, like most other Baptist groups in the US, Mexico and Canada.

Most people will be familiar with another Sabbath Christian group, the Seventh Day Adventists, a better-known church that also worships on the Sabbath. Though better known for their apocalyptic beliefs, the Adventists observe more of the Hebrew requirements and practices than other Christians. Even so, they have become more closely allied with "evangelical" denominations in North America in recent years.

Most Christians worldwide observe the first day of the week as the Lord's Day in honor of the resurrection of Jesus. The pattern was set even before the New Testament Gospels and letters were written, as indicated in the book of Acts, the strong admonition in Hebrews (Hebrews 10:25) and other New Testament references.

As the Greek-speaking peoples gradually became Christian, this led to the first day of the week, their worship day, being named "The Lord's Day." This is the Greek name even today for that first day of the week.

But the first followers of Jesus the Messiah ("Christ" in Greek) were often meeting every day of the week, including Saturday. The first messianic believers continued observing the Sabbath as well as worshiping on Sunday and other days throughout the week. Jewish followers of Jesus continued worshiping in the synagogues and the temple until its destruction in AD 70.

What are the factors about worshiping on Saturday or Sunday? I recently thought through this question again in some detail and have posted a recent article discussing this topic. I also list here other related topics among my resources.

Sabbath, Sunday and Covenant Relationships – The Sabbath for the Christian: Thoughts on Commandment Four
Sabbath and Sunday
Keeping The Torah By Nature – Life Instruction
The Gospels in their Jewish Setting
When Paul Studied with Gamaliel

06 October 2011

Cyprus, Afrodite and the Holy Virgin

A few years back, I had the awesome experience of living in Cyprus for 3.5 years. I loved the small island country, the warm family-oriented people and the ancient history all around us, with about 3500 archaeological sites and dozens of museums tucked in the old medieval streets of all the towns.

Aphrodite (also transliterated Afrodite) is a major figure in the history and culture of Cyprus. It is said that she was born out of the foam of the sea where the Mediterranean crashes against the great rocks of a bay near Paphos, on the western coast of the island.

Note Homer's comment on Afrodite:
"And laughter-loving Afrodite went to Paphos in Cyprus where she has her sacred precinct and fragrant altar."
-- Odyssey VIII 362

Afrodite is a great tourist focus with sites like Afrodite's Bay and Afrodite's baths in the Pafos district. Replicas of the classical figures of Afrodite as well as many of the old Greek gods are sold. The stories of these gods are told in the literature with the same historical tone as other historical stories. It is hard to tell how seriously these are taken.

This focus on the pagan past is surprising in light of the strong Christian identity of Cyprus, and the great struggles of the Christians against their pagan opponents and persecutors until about AD 400. Afrodite's ties with traditional Cyprus is a great money-earner.

Of course commercial interests are the context for much of the reproduction of classical art work representing the ancient Greek religious scenes and characters from the myths.

These ancient "myths" (Greek mythos for "story"), further, are the symbolic history of the Greek peoples. Like other ancient and current oral-relational peoples of the world, the Greeks encapulate and transmit their identity and origins and pre-history in story form.

The story flow and relationships of the characters are in focus, not necessarily (not usually) literal, specific objective "facts" like moderns have come to prefer. Think of Aesop's Fables, and compare with the Germanic Grimm's fairy tales, and stories like Hansel and Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood in the Black Forest of Germany.

But such stories convey quickly whole categories of wisdom and truth in story form, notably guidance for life, personal safety or moral values.

Prayer Bows
In Cyprus, bits of cloth are tied to branches and stems of bushes and trees in certain areas, as prayers for fertility (originally, and apparently still so intended). These bows on the bushes were originally prayers to Afrodite, and now are considered prayers to Mary Mother of Jesus (the God-Bearer theotokos). These are found on trees or bushes in church yards, as well as more genral public areas.

As in the rest of the Christian world, other previously pagan celebrations have been reinterpreted into Christan themes. For instance, the annual celebration of Kataklysmos. This originally-pagan holiday also originally honored Aphrodite.

Kataklysmos is now supposed to be a celebration of the deliverance from the Flood (kataklysmos). This is usually celebrated in Cyprus at the same time as Pentecost Sunday, celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit on the first Day of Pentecost after Jesus' resurrection. Kataklysmos is celebrated with traditional dances and fairs all weekend and Monday. The most famous venue is the Larnaca seafront boardwalk fair.

Learn more about Cyprus and its fascinating, deep-history culture at these links on my website:
Across the Greek Divide
Cyprus: Notes and Perceptions
Eastern Orthodoxy
Eastern Orthodoxy Presentation
Prayer for Cyprus
History and Art in Cyprus
Italians, Etruscans and Greeks: Genetics and Ethnicity

For More on Cyprus
History of Cyprus
The Church of Cyprus - Official Site
The Church of Cyprus - Religion Wiki
The Church of Cyprus - Wikipedia