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A History Of The Church In Nine Books by Sozomen

WE have now described the various usages that prevailed in the celebration of the Passover. It appears to me that Victor, bishop of Rome, and Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, came to a very wise decision on the controversy that had arisen among them. For as the bishops of the West considered it right to adhere to the tradition handed down to them by Peter and by Paul; and as, on the other hand, the Asiatic bishops persisted in following the rules laid down by John the Evangelist, they unanimously agreed to continue in the observance of the festival according to their respective customs, without abstaining from communion with each other. They very justly reflected, that it would be absurd to render a mere point of discipline a ground of schism between those who were bound to each other by the profession of the same faith. Different customs prevail in many churches, where the same doctrines are received. There are, for instance, many cities in Syria, which possess but one bishop between them; whereas, in other nations, a bishop is appointed even over a village, as I have myself observed in Arabia, and in Cyprus; and among the Novatians and Montanists, of Phrygia. Again, there are but seven deacons at Rome, answering precisely to the number ordained by the apostles, of whom Stephen was the first martyr; whereas, in other churches, the number of deacons is unlimited. At Rome, hallelujah is sung once annually, namely, on the first day of the festival of the Passover; so that it is a common thing among the Romans to swear by the fact of hearing or singing this hymn. In this city, the people are not taught by the bishop, nor by anyone in the church. At Alexandria, the bishop alone teaches the people; and it is said that this custom has prevailed there ever since the days of Arms, who, though but a presbyter, broached a new doctrine. Another custom also prevails at Alexandria, which I have never witnessed nor heard of elsewhere; and this is, that when the Gospel is read, the bishop does not rise from his seat. The archdeacon alone reads the Gospel in this city, whereas in some places it is read by the deacons, and in others only by the presbyters; while in many churches, it is read on stated days by the bishops; as, for instance, at Constantinople, on the first day of the festival of the resurrection. In some churches, the interval, called Quadragesima, which occurs before this festival, and is devoted by the people to fasting, is made to consist of six weeks; and this is the case in Illyria, and the Western regions, in Lybia, throughout Egypt, and in Palestine: whereas it is made to comprise seven weeks at Constantinople, and in the neighbouring provinces, as far as Phœnicia. In some churches, the people fast three alternate weeks, during the space of six or seven weeks: whereas in others, they fast continuously, during the three weeks immediately preceding the festival. Some people, as the Montanists, only fast two weeks. Assemblies are not held in all churches on the same day, or upon the same occasions. The people of Constantinople, and of several other cities, assemble together on the Sabbath, as well as on the next day; which custom is never observed at Rome, or at Alexandria. There are several cities and villages in Egypt where, contrary to the usages established elsewhere, the people meet together on Sabbath evenings; and although they have dined previously, partake of the mysteries. The same prayers and psalms are not recited, nor the same passages read on the same occasions, in all churches. Thus the book entitled “The Apocalypse of Peter,” which was considered spurious by the ancients, is still read in some of the churches of Palestine, on the day of preparation, when the people observe a fast in memory of the passion of the Saviour. So the work entitled “The Apocalypse of the Apostle Paul,” though rejected by the ancients, is still esteemed by most of the monks. Some persons affirm, that the book was found during this reign, by divine revelation, in a marble box, buried beneath the soil, in the house of Paul, at Tarsus, in Cilicia, I have been informed that this report is false by a presbyter of Tarsus, a man of very advanced age, as is indicated by his grey hairs. He says that the rumour was probably devised by heretics. What I have said upon this subject must now suffice. Many other customs are still to be observed in cities and villages: and those who have been brought up in their observance would, from respect to the great men who instituted and perpetuated these customs, consider it wrong to abolish them. Similar motives must be attributed to those who observe different practices in the celebration of the feast, which has led us into this long digression.








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