Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume II/Sozomen/Book VII/Chapter 19
Chapter XIX.—A List Worthy of Study, Given by the Historian, of Customs among Different Nations and Churches.
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 between them.
For as the bishops of the West did not deem it necessary to dishonor 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 separation from communion with each other. They faithfully and justly assumed, that those who accorded in the essentials of worship ought not to separate from one another on account of customs. For exactly similar traditions on every point are to be found in all the churches, even though they hold the same opinions. There are, for instance, many cities in Scythia, and yet they all have but one bishop; whereas, in other nations a bishop serves as priest 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 even now 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 a matter of indifference. 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 that city the people are not taught by the bishop, nor by any one in the Church. At Alexandria the bishop of the city alone teaches the people, and it is said that this custom has prevailed there ever since the days of Arius, who, though but a presbyter, broached a new doctrine. Another strange 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 many churches only by the priests; while on noted days it is read 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 Libya, throughout Egypt, and in Palestine; whereas it is
made to comprise seven weeks at Constantinople, and in the neighboring
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 time or
manner. 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. There are several
cities and villages in Egypt where, contrary to the usage 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 lections read on the same
occasions in all churches. Thus the book entitled “The Apocalypse
of Peter,” which was considered altogether 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 unrecognized 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 Cilix, a presbyter of the church
in Tarsus, a man of very advanced age, as is indicated by his gray
hairs, who says that no such occurrence is known among them, and
wonders if the heretics did not invent the story. 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
- Soc. v. 22. Soz. has much new matter of his own.
- Eus. H. E. iv. 14 (from Irenæus). Not Victor, but Anicetus; the conflict of Victor was with Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus. Eus. H. E. v. 24.
- Nicephorus (xii. 34) declares that this custom lasted down to his own day; and that it was practiced also on the 1st of January, as well as at Easter.