Considering that last week Pastor Jon Church wrote about Halloween, I thought I might write a bit about church history on the following days that get hardly any secular attention in the United States even though Halloween is simply the start of this holy weekend; the days following have little attention unless of course you make your way to church and hear about them.
The days following Halloween are All Saints Day and All Souls Day, which are considered Christian holy days. All Saints Day dates back to around 359 A.D. and was originally referred to as the Feast of All Holy by Ephraem Syrus in one of his hymns set for May 13. Later John Chrysostom in Antioch around 380 A.D. preached a sermon in honor of “all the saints who anywhere on earth have suffered martyrdom.” He did this the Sunday after Pentecost, which the Greek Orthodox Church has continued to keep as their Sunday for All Saints.
For the Catholic Church, the official title is the Solemnity of All Saints, and also called All Hallows or Hallowmass, which is typically shortened to All Saints. On May 13 around 609 A.D., Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon, which was given over to the church by Emperor Phocas “in honor of the Virgin Mary and all martyrs.” Boniface also established All Souls Day as well which follows All Saints Day.
Around the mid-eighth century, Pope Gregory III established Nov. 1 as the day dedicated to the saints. For the Catholic Church, All Saints Day is dedicated to the saints of the Church, or all those who have attained heaven. All Souls Day was dedicated to those who have died and not yet reached heaven. All Saints is a Holy Day of Obligation according to the Catholic Church and Catholic believers are required to attend mass that day when it falls on Sunday. All Souls Day is not considered a Holy Day of Obligation.
There are many countries where you can find these days still observed. For example, in Mexico it is celebrated as the “Day of the Dead” and is usually observed from Oct. 31 -Nov. 2. This holiday in Mexico has spread into part of the United States and in Latin America in recent times.
Also, Portugal, Spain and Mexico have traditional observances of the play “Don Juan Tenorio” and often make offerings to the dead. In Europe, many still commemorate the day by offering flowers on the graves of the dead. In Eastern Europe, candles are lit on tops of the graves instead of placing flowers.
No matter your church background, almost all Christians, including Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Protestants, usually have some observance of All Saints Day in modern times. This is a day in which we can observe and remember those who have gone before us. As one writer put it, All Saints Day is “the Christian version of Memorial Day, when we honor the memory of all the saints of God who have preceded us in the faith.”
This should still be a solemn day of remembrance for all who have blazed a trail especially here in the United States of America where our country was founded on the idea of religious liberty and freedom to worship God without government entanglement. It is also a day to remember those all over the world who are still being harassed, beaten and martyred for their faith and belief in the God of the Bible.
Thinking about this Christian holiday reminds me of the great Faith chapter found in Hebrews 11, in particular verses 32-40 (NLT).
“How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets. By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. Women received their loves ones back again from death.
“But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
“All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.”
I can’t help but think about those who have gone before me and paved the way. Their sacrifices cannot be overlooked, whether as a martyr giving their last breath to the cause of Christ or even as a soldier on the battlefield serving by giving his/her very life, “For God and Country.” We cannot forget our roots as Christians and were we have come from and we must remember that the “world was not worthy of them” (HCSB).
The ultimate sacrifice that we certainly cannot lose sight of is that of God the Father, when He allowed His very own Son Jesus, the Christ to pay the greatest price as a martyr for our freedom and our souls. I believe that All Saints Day still has validity and needs to be remembered by our churches here in the United States of America.
What say you Sedalia — how about we lead the way?