Sabbath Keepers in Armenia and Asia Minor (Part 1)
By Kelly McDonald, Jr.
In the sixth century, several connected groups evangelized in Armenia and Asia Minor. Their groups were called: Melchezedecs, Athingani, Paulicians, Tetraditoi, and Bogomils.
Some of these believers were Sabbatarians; they were also iconoclasts. Iconoclasts were those that did not believe in using images or idols in the worship of God. This was a heavily debated subject in the 6th through 9th centuries in the Eastern Roman Empire. Here are some quotes from historians about them.
“The Melchezedecs, who also have the name Athingani. In this place Melchezedek was lifted up, from whom they took their name. They live around Phrygia…In fact, they had been observed to certainly keep the Sabbath, but they did not circumcise the flesh. The same people do not allow themselves to be touched by any man…” (Timotheous of Constantinople, “De Receptione Hareticorum”, as quoted from Migne, LXXXVI, page 34).
“Nikephoros was a fiery friend of the Manichaeans (now called Paulicians) and his near neighbors the Athinganoi in Phrygia and Lykaonia…” (The Chronicle of Theophanes, sec. 488).
“People stopped censuring the wicked doctrines of the presumptuous heresies which opposed God; the many Paulicians, Athinganoi, Iconoclasts, Tetraditoi, and the rest of the lawbreakers… they wagged their tongues against the revered divine icons and against monastic garb…” (Chronicle of Theophanes, sec. 495)
“Out of zeal for God the most pious Emperor [Michael I] moved against the Manichaens (now known as Paulicians) and Athinganoi in Phrygia and Lykaonia…” (The Chronicle of Theophanes, sec. 497).
Theophanes wrote a Chronicle of this time period of history in Asia Minor. He was a pro-Catholic writer, and he clearly decries the iconoclastic beliefs of these Sabbath-keeping groups. These groups were also known for keeping Passover on the 14th of Nissan at the same time the Bible prescribes. The term Tetraditoi (used above) is the Greek version of Quartodecimani, which is the Latin word meaning “the fourteenth” or “the fourteentheners”.
Fred C Conneybeare, who translated the history of these people, wrote that, “The general impression which the study of it leaves on us is that in it we have before us a form of Church not very remote from the primitive Jewish Christianity of Palestine” (The Key of Truth, page CXCIII).
These groups had so much influence that some leaders took drastic action to suppress them. We will look at them more in the second part of this two-part series.
Kelly McDonald, Jr. BSA President
You can follow Kelly on his website: www.kellymcdonaldjr.com