THE DISCUSSIONS BELOW ILLUSTRATE JUST HOW FLUID THE DEVELOPMENT OF SYMBOLS, ICONS, TRADITIONS AND BELIEFS WERE
THERE IS AN ENDLESS LIST OF RITUALS AND SYMBOLS OF FAITH THAT ACTUALLY ORIGINATEd WITH OTHER CULTURES OR WERE NOT EXCLUSIVE TO A GIVEN RELIGION. 

BEFORE GETTING TOO EXCITED  ABOUT  THOSE  PRACTICES  THAT ARE  SUCH  AN  INTEGRAL  PART  OF  YOUR  TRADITIONS, IT'S  SOMETIMES  HELPFUL TO TAKE  A  STEP  BACK  TO  EXAMINE  WHERE  THEY  CAME  FROM. 

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Constantine invited 1800 bishops to the Council of Nicaea. an estimated 300 came. They argued, fought and ultimately voted on many of the beliefs of today's Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox And most protestants.

Some of the issues the bishops voted on included:

 Determining that Jesus was 'begot' rather than 'made'. This elevated Jesus from a man/human to the son of God.

 Easter's date of celebration was moved from the Jewish calendar which linked Easter to Passover. Early Christians determined that the Arian lunar calendar made the date too variable, leaving Easter celebrations before the Spring equinox.


 here are some of the things they voted into cannon law:

                      

1. prohibition of self-castration
2. establishment of a minimum term for catechumen (persons studying for baptism)
3. prohibition of the presence in the house of a cleric of a younger woman who might bring him under suspicion (the so called virgines subintroductae)
4. ordination of a bishop in the presence of at least three provincial bishops and confirmation by the Metropolitan bishop
5. provision for two provincial synods to be held annually
6. exceptional authority acknowledged for the patriarchs of Alexandria (pope), Antioch, and Rome (the Pope), for their respective regions
7. recognition of the honorary rights of the See of Jerusalem
8. provision for agreement with the Novatianists, an early sect. Provision for mild procedure against the lapsed during the persecution under Licinius. prohibition of the removal of priests
17. prohibition of usury among the clergy
18. precedence of bishops and presbyters before deacons in receiving the Eucharist (Holy Communion)
19. declaration of the invalidity of baptism by Paulian heretics
20. prohibition of kneeling on Sundays and during the Pentecost (the 50 days commencing on Easter). Standing was the normative posture for prayer at this time, as it still is among the Eastern Christians. Kneeling was considered most appropriate to penitential prayer, as distinct from the festive nature of Eastertide and its remembrance every Sunday.

The ancients borrowed a little of everything around them. Sometimes when deciding what your own traditions and rituals will be it is helpful to understand how they came to be and whether they have much of anything to do with religious teachings. If frequently comes as a surprise to Christians that much of the formal practice of what we now view as Christian belief was actually legislated at the behest of the Roman Emperor, Constantine.


During his reign from 306 - 337 C.E., Constantine, a Pagan who murdered both his son and wife, managed to unite the Roman Empire, which had split into an East and West duality. In uniting the Empire, he sought to settle the frequent disputes among early Christians and unify the doctrines. To do this, he called the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E.


Bringing 300 Bishops to the table, they were ordered to unify divergent beliefs. Here are some of the decisions:


  • Jesus was defined as a deity vs a human.

  • The Trinity was declared to be co-equal (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). This places the Son on equal footing with the Father.

  • The date for celebrating Easter was selected. The Council separated it from the Jewish observance of Passover.

  • The Council established a Christian Luna Calendar, again separating it from the Jewish Lunar Calendar. The day of Sunday was designated as the beginning of the week.

  • The Council "tidied up" the ways in which clergy would be ordained and specifically prohibited one branch of Christian practice from ordaining any future clergy and even practicing outside the confines of its home city in Egypt. This move eliminated what was viewed as a trouble making sect of Christianity.

EASTER: THE BABYLONIAN GODDESS OF FERTILITY, LOVE AND WAR WAS ISTHER OR ISHTAR. SHE WAS HEAVILY WORSHIPED IN AN AREA NORTH OF MODERN DAY BAGHDAD, IRAQ, AND NORTHERN MESOPOTAMIA TO THE ANCIENTS. SOME SCHOLARS SUGGEST THAT THE NAME EASTER WAS SIMPLY BORROWED FROM ISTHER. WHILE HER IMAGE IS ASSOCIATED WITH TWO LIONS AND AN 8 POINTED STAR, SHE IS ALSO HEAVILY ASSOCIATED WITH SPRING, REPRODUCTION AND THE RESURRECTION OF THE EARTH FROM WINTER. ANOTHER ACCEPTED ORIGIN OF EASTER COMES FROM THE STORY OF NOAH. NOAH HAD A SON, NIMROD WHO MARRIED ISTHER (PRONOUNCED EASTER). UNLIKE HIS BENEVOLENT DAD, NIMROD WAS MORE RUTHLESS IN HIS POLITICS AND THE LENGTHS TO WHICH HE WENT TO BUILD CITIES IN MESOPOTANIA, INCLUDING BABEL AND ITS FAMOUS TOWER. NIMROD DIED AND ISTHER PROCLAIMED HIM A DEITY, SPECIFICALLY THE SUN-GOD. AND, IF HER DEAD HUSBAND WAS THE SUN-GOD, THAT WOULD MAKE HER THE MOON-GOD, THE GOD OF FERTILITY. ISTHER LIVED ON TO HAVE AN ILLEGITIMATE SON, TAMMUZ. SHE CLAIMED THAT HE WAS A VIRGINAL BIRTH, DELIVERED FROM A MOON EGG AS SHE DESCENDED FROM THE MOON. TAMMUZ WAS KILLED BY A WILD BOAR. HIS GRIEF STRICKEN MOTHER PROCLAIMED THAT HE, ALONG WITH HIS FATHER WOULD RESURRECT WITH THE COMING OF EACH SPRING. 


EASTER EGGS: ANCIENT BABYLONIANS BELIEVED THAT ISHTER WAS DROPPED INTO THE EUPHRATES RIVER IN AN EGG. THE EGG BECAME A SYMBOL OF ISHTAR AND BECAME ASSOCIATED WITH HER PROCLAIMED DEIFIED ROLE AS THE GODDESS OF FERTILITY. THE ANCIENT WORLD LOVED THE STORY OF THE MYSTERIOUS EGG AND ITS ROLE SPREAD. ROMANS USED AN EGG IN PROCESSIONS HONORING THE MOTHER GODDESS. THE MYSTERIES OF BACCHUS INCORPORATED THE EGG INTO ITS CEREMONIES.THE EGG BECAME THE SYMBOL OF THE DRUIDS. DECORATED EGGS BECAME PART OF SACRED CELEBRATIONS IN NORTHERN EUROPE, CHINA AND JAPAN. IT REMAINS THE SYMBOL OF FERTILITY AND THE MOTHER GOD OF PAGANS. WHILE CERTAINLY NOT AN EASTER EGG TRADITION, THE HARD BOILED EGG IS A PART OF THE SEDER PLATE FOR PASSOVER IN JUDAISM. THERE ARE TWO ACCEPTED EXPLANATIONS FOR THE INCLUSION OF THE EGG. ONE IS THE FERTILITY ASSOCIATION OF ISHTER, NOAH'S DAUGHTER-IN-LAW. THE OTHER IS THAT EATING HARD BOILED EGGS WAS FOR ANCIENT JEWS, A SYMBOL OF MOURNING AND AT PASSOVER JEWS MOURN THE LOSS OF THE TWO TEMPLES.


EASTER BUNNY: THE RABBIT HAS LONG BEEN A SYMBOL OF FERTILITY. IT IS AN ANIMAL THAT CAN CONCEIVE A SECOND LITTER WHILE STILL PREGNANT WITH A FIRST. THE RABBIT, ASSOCIATED WITH RE-BIRTHS/REINCARNATIONS OF SPRINGTIME WHEN THEY WILL GIVE BIRTH TO LARGE LITTERS WAS A FERTILITY SYMBOL IN ANCIENT TIMES. DURING THE MEDIEVAL PERIOD, THE RABBIT WAS THOUGHT TO BE A HERMAPHRODITE. THIS BELIEF THAT A RABBIT COULD BECOME PREGNANT WHILE MAINTAINING ITS VIRGINITY LED TO THE ASSOCIATION WITH THE VIRGIN MARY AND THE VIRGIN BIRTH. MANUSCRIPTS, ART AND THE MOTIF OF THE RABBIT WAS INCORPORATED IN NORTHERN EUROPE. THREE HARES BEGAN TO SURFACE REPRESENTING THE TRINITY.


BELLS:  BELLS WERE USED BY THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS IN THE WORSHIP TO THE GOD OSIRIS, THE GOD OF THE AFTERLIFE. BELLS IN THIS RITUAL WERE SMALL. MOSES, RAISED IN THE EGYPTIAN PRIESTLY CLASS IS CREDITED WITH BRINGING BELLS INTO JEWISH WORSHIP. IN THE EARLY DAYS OF THE TEMPLE (A CONGREGATIONAL WORSHIP PREDATING THE EXODUS) BELLS ADORNED THE TORAH SCROLLS TO ALERT CONGREGATIONS THAT THE READING OF THE TORAH WAS ABOUT TO COMMENCE. SINCE THERE WAS NO ORGANIZED SERVICE AND EVENTS MIGHT TAKE HOURS UPON HOURS IN THE TEMPLES, THE BELLS SERVED TO WAKE MEN UP AND ALERT THEM TO THE IMPORTANT PART. THE ROMANS NEVER USED BELLS AS PART OF A RELIGIOUS RITUAL, BUT DID USE THEM TO RECOGNIZE VICTORIES IN BATTLES. AS EARLY AS 400 C.E., BELLS WERE USED IN CHRISTIAN CHURCHES TO SUMMON PEOPLE TO SERVICES AND LATER TO WARN OF DANGERS.


CANDLES: CANDLES WERE VERY MUCH A PART OF THE EARLY PAGAN AND JEWISH RITUALS. THE USE OF LIGHTS IN CHRISTIAN TRADITION DIDN'T SURFACE FOR THE FIRST TWO HUNDRED YEARS. FIRE IS, OF COURSE, AN IMPRESSIVE ELEMENT. JEWS VIEW LIGHT AS A SYMBOL OF GOD'S PRESENCE. HINDU TRADITION HAS A FESTIVAL OF DIWALI OR FESTIVAL OF LIGHT WHICH IS CELEBRATED IN NOVEMBER WITH THE LIGHTING OF COUNTLESS LAMPS IN HOUSES AND TEMPLES. THE FESTIVAL HONORS LAKHSHMI, THE GODDESS OF PROSPERITY. ANCIENT GREEKS AND ROMANS USED LAMPS AND CANDLES EXTENSIVELY AS RELIGIOUS OFFERINGS FOR DEITIES AND GODS.


CROSS: AS A JEW, THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT JESUS WOULD HAVE VIEWED THE CROSS AS A ROMAN IMPLEMENT OF DEATH. THE SYMBOL OF THE CROSS, HOWEVER, PREDATES THE ROMANS. POSSIBLY REPRESENTING A MECHANISM FOR MAKING FIRE, ARYAN'S TREATED THE CROSS WITH RELIGIOUS IMPORTANCE WITH THE GOD OF TEMPEST.THE EGYPTIAN GOD, SHEKET (GODDESS OF FIRE, WAR, VENGEANCE, MENSTRUATION, AND MEDICINE) WAS SYMBOLIZED WITH THE CROSS. TWO HUNDRED YEARS AFTER THE ROMANS CRUCIFIED JESUS, CHRISTIANS WERE MAKING THE SIGN OF THE CROSS ON THEIR FOREHEADS AS A TALISMAN TO WARD OFF DEMONS. IT WAS 600 YEARS AFTER THE CRUCIFIXION THAT CROSSES WITH A BODY REPRESENTING JESUS WERE INCORPORATED.


SHIELD OF DAVID: ALSO, KNOWN AS THE STAR OF DAVID, THE HEXAGON, COMPOSED OF TWO EQUILATERAL TRIANGLES IS NOT A UNIQUELY JEWISH SYMBOL. ANCIENT HINDU AND JAINISM USE THE 6-POINTED STAR TO REPRESENT MAN'S RELATIONSHIP TO THE EARTH AND SKY WITH ONE TRIANGLE POINTED UP AND ONE DOWN AND IT REFLECTS THE FEMALE/DOWN AND MALE/UP UNION. IT IS FOUND IN THE BUDDHIST GUIDE FOR WHAT HAPPENS TO THE CONSCIOUSNESS BETWEEN THE TIME OF DEATH AND REBIRTH. THE STAR'S EARLIEST USE BY JEWS IS FROM 300-400 C.E. IT IS THOUGHT THAT THE STAR MIGHT HAVE SERVED AS AN AMULET TO PREVENT DISEASE OR PROVIDE PROTECTION. ONE COMMON UNDERSTANDING OF THE MEANING OF THE STAR IS THAT DAVID USED THE SHAPE AS HIS SHIELD WITH G-D PROTECTING FROM ABOVE WITH THE TRIANGLE POINTING DOWN AND DAVID FIGHTING FOR G-D WITH THE TRIANGLE POINTING UP. THE MIDRASH OFFERS THE STORY THAT THE HEXAGON WAS FORMED DURING THE BATTLE BETWEEN DAVID AND NIMROD. IN THIS MORE MAGICAL ACCOUNT, DAVID HAD A TRIANGULAR SHIELD THAT POINTED UP REPRESENTING THAT ALL HE DID WAS FOR G-D AND KING NIMROD'S SHIELD WAS A TRIANGLE POINTING DOWN, SYMBOLIZING THAT ALL HE DID WAS FOR HIMSELF. IN THE HEAT OF BATTLE, THE SHIELDS WELDED TOGETHER, LEAVING THE HEXAGON KNOWN AS THE STAR OF DAVID. REGARDLESS OF ITS ORIGINAL MEANING, IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT MENTION OF THE STAR OF DAVID OR SHIELD OF SOLOMON AS IT IS KNOWN IN JEWISH, CHRISTIAN AND ISLAMIC INTERPRETATIONS, IS FOUND ABSOLUTELY NOWHERE IN THE TORAH.