Book: Occult Holidays or God’s Holy Days—Which?

From the death of the apostle John in AD 100, apostate religious leaders and church scholars systematically began to reject God’s Sabbath, holy days and feasts. These so-called early “church fathers” found favor instead with Sunday as the weekly day of rest and worship, as well as with various holidays and feasts of pagan origin—all of which they had conveniently “Christianized.” The same “theologians” that denigrated the seventh-day weekly Sabbath likewise put forth countless false arguments that Christians were no longer required to observe God’s feasts. Their hatred of God’s holy days and feasts was, in many cases, more pronounced than their loathing of the Sabbath.

The attack against the biblical feasts and holy days began with the Passover. The church in the West particularly detested the observance of the Christian Passover, which they saw as “Jewish.” True Christians kept the Passover on the night of the 14th day of the first month, as commanded by God. A conflict arose over the keeping of Passover—known in history as the “Quartodeciman controversy”—in which Rome called for the abolition of the Passover and the institution of “Easter-Sunday” (derived from Baalism and Mithraism). Central to their efforts was the condemnation of any observance of the Passover and biblical holy days as “Judaizing.” In so doing, the western church rejected the true Christ Jesus as the Passover Lamb of God, slain on Nisan 14, as well as the Christian Passover that He instituted.

Baalism was the primary stumbling block that turned both Israel and Judah away from their covenant relationship with God, and ultimately brought them into national captivity. Their worship of Baal focused on a “transubstantiation” ritual celebrated on the day of the sun, Sunday—and was particularly important in sunrise celebrations on Easter Sunday (see Appendix J, “The Eucharist—Sacrifice of the Mass,” p. 328).

Orthodox Christendom has always favored the insidious influences of Baalism over adherence to the commandments of God. Deliberate attempts to pervert the true worship of God through the counterfeit teachings of Baalism are recorded in the writings of the New Testament. One motive behind such attempts was the elimination of the Nisan 14 Christian Passover. The epistles of Paul are rife with this doctrinal combat (e.g., Galatians, Colossians, Hebrews), and the Gospel of John attests to this spiritual and doctrinal battle in which all true Christians were fully engaged by AD 70 (see Jude 3-4, 11 and Rev. 2:14).

By AD 95, the leadership of the Roman church was fast abandoning the seventh-day Sabbath for Sunday, and the Nisan 14 Passover for Easter. Once the observance of Easter Sunday superseded the Christian Passover, the abandonment of the remaining biblical feasts and holy days soon followed. These were quickly replaced with “Christianized” occult holidays—Christmas, Halloween, Lent, etc.

This movement soon coalesced into a weekly ritual meal of transubstantiation to Mithras (the Baal of Persia)—and ultimately led to the annual observance of Easter sunrise services in honor of Mithras’ supposed resurrection. Mithras was anciently known as the pagan deity Tammuz (Ezek. 8:13-16). This “Christian” celebration—now renamed as a “communion service”—was adopted by growing numbers of churches throughout the empire until it eventually replaced the true Passover service of Nisan 14. This push to “Christianize” pagan worship as “sanctified Christian worship” of God was championed by apostate church leaders of Rome, Asia Minor, and Alexandria, Egypt.

In AD 135, the majority of church congregations in the Mediterranean region had already abandoned the true Passover in favor of Sunday communion and the yearly Easter sunrise service. By AD 195, a mere sixty years later, the Orthodox Gentile bishops of Palestine had fully succumbed to this onslaught. It cannot be overstated that the first step in this departure from the true worship of God was the introduction of weekly Sunday worship by the leadership of Rome.

By AD 200, the only remaining champions of truth were found in scattered congregations in Asia Minor, some of whom continued faithfully in the observance of the Passover, feasts and holy days of God well into the sixth century. As the book of Revelation and early church history records, there remained a number of true Christians in Asia Minor who, led by the church at Ephesus, stood fast for the righteousness they had received from the Lord Jesus Christ and the apostles, particularly the apostle John. Faithfully, they repelled assault after assault against the weekly seventh-day Sabbath, the Nisan 14th Passover, and the remaining holy days of God.

The church historian Eusebius records the testimony of Polycrates, the leader of the Ephesian resistance, who held fast against this invasion of false doctrine: “[B]ut the bishops in Asia were led by Polycrates in persisting that it was necessary to keep the custom which had been handed down to them of old [given by Jesus Christ as recorded in the four Gospels]. Polycrates himself in a document which he addressed to Victor and to the church of Rome, expounds the tradition which had come to him as follows: ‘Therefore we keep the day undeviatingly, neither adding [to] nor taking away, for in Asia great luminaries sleep, and they will rise on the day of the coming of the Lord, when [H]e shall come with glory from heaven and seek out [literally, to raise up] all the saints. Such were Phillip of the twelve apostles, and two of his daughters who grew old as virgins, who sleep in Hierapolis, and another daughter of his, who lived in the Holy Spirit, rests at Ephesus. Moreover, there is also John, who lay on the Lord’s breast, who was a priest wearing the breastplate, and the martyr, and teacher. He sleeps at Ephesus. And there is also Polycarp at Smyrna, both bishop and martyr, who sleeps at Laodicea, and Papirius, too, the blessed, and Melito the eunuch, who lived entirely in the Holy Spirit, who lies in Sardis, waiting for the visitation from heaven when he will rise from the dead. All these kept the fourteenth day of the Passover according to the gospel, never swerving, but following according to the rule of the faith [as taught by Jesus and the apostles]. And I also, Polycrates, the least of you all, live according to the tradition of my kinsmen, and some of them have I followed. For seven of my family were bishops and I am the eighth, and my kinsmen ever kept the day when the people put away the leaven. Therefore, brethren, I who have lived sixty-five years in the Lord and conversed with the brethren from every country, and have studied all the holy Scriptures, am not afraid of threats, for they have said who were greater than I, “It is better to obey God rather than men” ’ ” (Eusebius, The Ecclesiastical History, Vol. I, pp. 505-507, bracketed comments added).

After the death of Polycrates and his faithful fellow Christian leaders in Asia Minor, the only remaining resistance to the relentless pagan conspiracy was in the distant Mesopotamian Valley and in the mountainous regions of Europe. The true Christian brethren of these regions faithfully preserved the Old and New Testaments from the ravages of the Roman Orthodox, Jewish Orthodox and Gnostic communities. Opposing all corrupting influences, they preserved the only true testimony of our Messiah and His Passover.

Samuele Bacchiocchi writes of Rome’s leading role in replacing the true Nisan 14 Passover with Easter Sunday: “There seems to be no question as to Rome being the place of its origin. Later historical data confirm, in fact, the Roman origin of Easter-Sunday. J.B. Pitra, for instance, has discovered and edited the conciliar decree of the Council of Nicaea [by Emperor Constantine in] (AD 325) concerning the celebration of Easter, where it specifically enjoined: ‘All the brethren in the East who formerly celebrated Easter [i.e., the Nisan 14 Passover] with the Jews, will henceforth keep it at the same time as the Romans, with us and with all those who from ancient times have celebrated the feast at the same time with us.’… Scholars usually recognize in the Roman custom of celebrating Easter on Sunday instead of the 14th of Nisan, to use Jeremias’ words, ‘the inclination to break away from Judaism.’ Lightfoot holds, for instance, that Rome and Alexandria adopted Easter-Sunday to avoid ‘even the semblance of Judaism.’ M. Righetti, in his monumental history of liturgy, also points out that Rome and Alexandria, after ‘having eliminated the Judaizing quartodeciman tradition,’ repudiated even the Jewish computations, making their own calculations, since ‘such dependence on the Jews must have appeared humiliating.’ The Nicene conciliar letter of Constantine, referred to above, explicitly reveals a marked anti-Judaic motivation for the repudiation of the quartodeciman Passover. The Emperor in fact, desiring to establish a [new religion] completely free from any Jewish influences writes: ‘It appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast we should follow the practice of the Jews, who have impiously defiled their hands with enormous sin, and are, therefore, deservedly afflicted with blindness of soul…Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd; for we have received from our Saviour a different way…Strive and pray continually that the purity of your souls may not seem in anything to be sullied by fellowship with the customs of these most wicked men…All should unite in desiring that which sound reason appears to demand, and in avoiding all participation in the perjured conduct of the Jews.’

“The anti-Judaic motivations for [the] repudiation of the Jewish reckoning of Passover could not have been expressed more explicitly and forcefully in the letter of Constantine. Nicaea represents the culmination of a controversy initiated two centuries earlier and motivated by strong anti-Judaic feelings and one which had Rome as its epicenter.

“In all this controversy Rome exercised a role of leadership. We have noticed that it was in Rome that the Easter-Sunday custom arose, possibly under bishop Sixtus; it was to Rome that Polycrates addressed himself to defend his different tradition; it was to Rome that the Council of Nicaea pointed as the example to follow on the Easter observance” (Bacchiocchi, Anti-Judaism and the Origin of Sunday, pp. 86-87, bracketed comments added).