Archive for category Ekklesia and church
Two Families of Orthodox
The following is excerpted from the website of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, Diocese of Los Angeles, Southern California and Hawaii (http://lacopts.org/orthodoxy/orthodox-life/two-families-of-orthodox/)
“For over fifteen hundred years the Eastern (Byzantine) Orthodox churches and the Oriental Orthodox churches have remained separated. Only thirty years ago they came together for the first of four unofficial theological consultations : Aarhus (1964), Bristol (1967), Geneva (1970) and Addis Ababa (1971).
These were followed by the establishment of a Joint Commission of the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches, which has held four meetings : Chambesy, Geneva (December 1985), Anba Bishoy monastery, Egypt (June 1989), Chambesy II (September 1990) and Chambesy III (November 1993). Ignorance of the remarkable advance towards the eventual reunion of the “two families” is still widespread and it is a sad reflection on the lack of understanding of what has been agreed already that some journals, commenting on the recent reception of the British Orthodox Church by the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, are still impugning the Orthodoxy of the Oriental Orthodox churches with accusations of the Monophysite heresy.
There is, of course, always the zealot fringe, which has rather foolishly and improbably attempted to stigmatise the deep and careful deliberations of the Joint Commission as just another step in the liberal, ecumenist sell-out, preferring – for its own reasons – to re-open old wounds rather than pour out the healing balm of charity and truth. In accordance with the Bulletin’s declared policy of explaining our common understanding of the Orthodox faith, we published in this issue the key texts issued by the Joint Commission.
Members of the Joint Commission included official representatives of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, the Supreme Catholicosate of All Armenians at Etchmiadzin, the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church of the East and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church from the Oriental Orthodox family; the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, the Russian Patriarchate, the Romanian Patriarchate, the Serbian Patriarchate, the Bulgarian Patriarchate, the Georgian Patriarchate, the Church of Cyprus, the Church of Greece, the Church of Albania, the Czechoslovakian Orthodox Church, the Polish Orthodox Church and the Finnish Orthodox Church from the Byzantine Orthodox family.
First Agreed Statement (1989)
We have inherited from our fathers in Christ the one apostolic faith and tradition, though as Churches we have been separated from each other for centuries. As two families of Orthodox Churches long out of communion with each other we now pray and trust in God to restore that communion on the basis of the common apostolic faith of the undivided church of the first centuries which we confess in our common creed. What follows is a simple reverent statement of what we do believe on our way to restore communion between our two families of Orthodox Churches.
Throughout our discussions we have found our common ground in the formula of our common father, St. Cyril of Alexandria : mia physis hypostasis (he mia hypostasis) tou Theou Logou sesarkomene, and in the dictum that “it is sufficient for the confession of our true and irreproachable faith to say and to confess that the Holy Virgin is Theotokos” (Hom : 15, cf. Ep. 39).
Great indeed is the wonderful mystery of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one True God, one ousia in three hypostases or three prosopa. Blessed be the Name of the Lord our God, for ever and ever.
Great indeed is also the ineffable mystery of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, for us and for our salvation.
The Logos, eternally consubstantial with the Father and the Holy Spirit in His Divinity, has in these last days, become incarnate of the Holy Spirit and Blessed Virgin Mary Theotokos, and thus became man, consubstantial with us in His humanity but without sin. He is true God and true Man at the same time, perfect in His Divinity, perfect in His humanity. Because the one she bore in her womb was at the same time fully God as well as fully human we call the Blessed Virgin Theotokos.
When we speak of the one composite (synthetos) hypostasis of our Lord Jesus Christ, we do not say that in Him a divine hypostasis and a human hypostasis came together. It is that the one eternal hypostasis of the Second Person of the Trinity has assumed our created human nature in that act uniting it with His own uncreated divine nature, to form an inseparably and unconfusedly united real divine-human being, the natures being distinguished from each other in contemplation (theoria) only.
The hypostasis of the Logos before the incarnation, even with His divine nature, is of course not composite. The same hypostasis, as distinct from nature, of the Incarnate Logos, is not composite either. The unique theandric person (prosopon) of Jesus Christ is one eternal hypostasis Who has assumed human nature by the Incarnation. So we call that hypostasis composite, on account of the natures which are united to form one composite unity. It is not the case that our Fathers used physis and hypostasis always interchangeably and confused the one with the other. The term hypostasis can be used to denote both the person as distinct from nature, and also the person with the nature, for a hypostasis never in fact exists without a nature.
It is the same hypostasis of the Second Person of the Trinity, eternally begotten from the Father Who in these last days became a human being and was born of the Blessed Virgin. This is the mystery of the hypostatic union we confess in humble adoration – the real union of the divine with the human, with all the properties and functions of the uncreated divine nature, including natural will and natural energy, inseparably and unconfusedly united with the created human nature with all its properties and functions, including natural will and natural energy. It is the Logos Incarnate Who is the subject of all the willing and acting of Jesus Christ.
We agree in condemning the Nestorian and the Eutychian heresies. We neither separate nor divide the human nature in Christ from His divine nature, nor do we think that the former was absorbed in the latter and thus ceased to exist.
The four adverbs used to qualify the mystery of the hypostatic union belong to our common tradition – without commingling (or confusion)
(asyngchytos), without change (atreptos), without separation (achoristos) and without division (adiairetos). Those among us who speak of two natures in Christ, do not thereby deny their inseparable, indivisible union; those among us who speak of one united divine-human nature in Christ do not thereby deny the continuing dynamic presence in Christ of the divine and the human, without change, without confusion.
Our mutual agreement is not limited to Christology, but encompasses the whole faith of the one undivided church of the early centuries. We are agreed also in our understanding of the Person and Work of God the Holy Spirit, Who proceeds from the Father alone, and is always adored with the Father and the Son. 
Second Agreed Statement (1990)
The first Agreed Statement on Christology adopted by the Joint Commission of the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches, at our historic meeting at the Anba Bishoy Monastery, Egypt, from 20th to 24th June 1989 forms the basis of this Second Agreed Statement on the following affirmations of our common faith and understanding, and recommendations on steps to be taken for the communion of our two families of Churches in Jesus Christ our Lord, Who prayed “that they all may be one”.
1. Both families agree in condemning the Eutychian heresy. Both families confess that the Logos, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, only begotten of the Father before the ages and consubstantial with Him, was incarnate and was born from the Virgin Mary Theotokos; fully consubstantial with us, perfect man with soul, body and mind (nous); He was crucified, died, was buried, and rose from the dead on the third day, ascended to the Heavenly Father, where He sits on the right hand of the Father as Lord of all Creation. At Pentecost, by the coming of the Holy Spirit He manifested the Church as His Body. We look forward to His coming again in the fullness of His glory, according to the Scriptures.
2. Both families condemn the Nestorian heresy and the crypto-Nestorianism of Theodoret of Cyrus. They agree that it is not sufficient merely to say that Christ is consubstantial both with His Father and with us, by nature God and by nature man; it is necessary to affirm also that the Logos, Who is by nature God, became by nature Man, by His Incarnation in the fullness of time.
3. Both families agree that the Hypostasis of the Logos became composite (sunqetoj) by uniting to His divine uncreated nature with its natural will and energy, which He has in common with the Father and the Holy Spirit, created human nature, which He assumed at the Incarnation and made His own, with its natural will and energy.
4. Both families agree that the natures with their proper energies and wills are united hypostatically and naturally without confusion, without change, without division and without separation, and that they are distinguished in thought alone (th qewria monh). 20
5. Both families agree that He Who wills and acts is always the one Hypostasis of the Logos incarnate.
6. Both families agree in rejecting interpretations of Councils which do not fully agree with the Horos of the Third Ecumenical Council and the letter (433) of Cyril of Alexandria to John of Antioch.
7. The Orthodox agree that the Oriental Orthodox will continue to maintain their traditional Cyrillian terminology of “one nature of the incarnate Logos” (“mia fusij tou qeou Logou sesarkwmenh”), since they acknowledge the double consubstantiality of the Logos which Eutyches denied. The Orthodox also use this terminology. The Oriental Orthodox agree that the Orthodox are justified in their use of the two-natures formula, since they acknowledge that the distinction is “in thought alone” (th qewria monh). Cyril interpreted correctly this use in his letter to John of Antioch and his letters to Acacius of Melitene (PG 77, 184-201), to Eulogius (PG 77, 224-228) and to Succensus (PG 77, 228-245).
8. Both families accept the first three Ecumenical Councils, which form our common heritage. In relation to the four later Councils of the Orthodox Church, the Orthodox state that for them the above points 1-7 are the teachings also of the four later Councils of the Orthodox Church, while the Oriental Orthodox consider this statement of the Orthodox as their interpretation. With this understanding, the Oriental Orthodox respond to it positively.
In relation to the teaching of the Seventh Ecumenical Council of the Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox agree that the theology and practice of the veneration of icons taught by that Council are in basic agreement with the teaching and practice of the Oriental Orthodox from ancient times, long before the convening of the Council, and that we have no disagreement in this regard.
9. In the light of our Agreed Statement on Christology as well as of the above common affirmations, we have now clearly understood that both families have always loyally maintained the same authentic Orthodox Christological faith, and the unbroken continuity of the apostolic tradition, though they have used Christological terms in different ways. It is this common faith and continuous loyalty to the Apostolic Tradition that should be the basis for our unity and communion.
10. Both families agree that all the anathemas and condemnations of the past which now divide us should be lifted by the Churches in order that the last obstacle to the full unity and communion of our two families can be removed by the grace and power of God. Both families agree that the lifting of anathemas and condemnations will be consummated on the basis that the Councils and Fathers previously anathematized or condemned are not heretical.”
Romanides: “The schism between Eastern and Western Christianity was not between East and West Romans.”
Father John Romanides (1927 – 2001) – was a prominent 20th century Orthodox Christian theologian, priest, and writer. He was Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the Holy Cross Theological School in Brookline, MA and later Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the University of Thessaloniki, Greece. His books include: The Ecclesiology of St Ignatius of Antioch (1956); Franks, Romans, Feudalism, and Doctrine: An Interplay Between Theology and Society (1982); Ancestral Sin (2002); An Outline of Orthodox Patristic Dogmatics (2004); and The Life in Christ (2010).
Romanides traced the 1054 split between the Eastern and Western Christian churches to a long political, military, and ethnic struggle between the Roman East and the Germanic conquerors of the Roman West. These German tribes started with the Visigoths in AD 410, culminating with Charlemagne and the Franks in AD 800. The Great Schism of 1054 had more to do with a Frankish – Eastern Roman power struggle than it did with religious doctrine. In the West, the church was simply used as a tool in that imperial struggle.
“The schism between Eastern and Western Christianity was not between East and West Romans. In actuality, it was a split between East Romans and the conquerors of the West Romans.”
“In the background of dialogue and the Ecumenical Movement for the reunion of Christendom lies the generally recognized fact that there is an interplay between theology and society, which may lead to a dogmatic formulation and become the cause of doctrinal differences.
Within the Roman Empire doctrinal conflicts took place usually among Roman citizens in a atmosphere of religious and philosophical pluralism. With the official recognition of Orthodox Christianity, we witness the beginning of the use of doctrinal differences in support of nationalistic movements of separate identity and secession from Roman rule, both political and ecclesiastical. Both Nestorianism and so-called Monophysitism, although initially promoted by Roman nationals, were finally supported by separatist tendencies among such ethnic groups as Syrians, Copts, and Armenians. Indeed, both Persians and Arabs took care to keep Christians separated.
By the eighth century, we meet for the first time the beginning of a split in Christianity which, from the start, took on ethnic names instead of names designating the heresy itself or its leader. Thus in West European sources we find a separation between a Greek East and a Latin West. In Roman sources this same separation constitutes a schism between Franks and Romans.
One detects in both terminologies an ethnic or racial basis for the schism which may be more profound and important for descriptive analysis than the doctrinal claims of either side. Doctrine here may very well be part of a political, military, and ethnic struggle and, therefore, intelligible only when put in proper perspective. The interplay between doctrine and ethnic or racial struggle may be such that the two can be distinguished, but not separated.
The schism between Eastern and Western Christianity was not between East and West Romans. In actuality, it was a split between East Romans and the conquerors of the West Romans.
The Roman Empire was conquered in three stages: 1st by Germanic tribes who became known as Latin Christianity, 2nd by Muslim Arabs, and finally, by Muslim Turks. In contrast to this, the ecclesiastical administration of the Roman Empire disappeared in stages from West European Romania (the Western part of the Roman nation), but has survived up to modern times in the Roman Orthodox Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem.
The reason for this is that the conquerors of the West Romans used the Church to suppress the Roman nation, whereas under Islam the Roman nation survived by means of the Church. In each instance of conquest, the bishops became the ethnarchs of the conquered Romans and administered Roman law on behalf of the emperor in Constantinople. As long as the bishops were Roman, the unity of the Roman Church was preserved, in spite of theological conflicts. The same was true when Romanized Franks became bishops during Merovingian times and shared with Roman bishops church administration.
During the seventh century, however, the seeds of schism appear. The Visigoths in Spain had abandoned their Arian heresy and had become nominally Orthodox. But they preserved their Arian customs of church administration, which became that of the Carolingian Franks, and finally, of the Normans. The Visigoths began subjugating the Spanish Romans by replacing Roman bishops with Goths and by 654, had abolished Roman law.
During this same century, especially after 683, the Franks also had appointed Frankish bishops en masse and had rid their government administration of Roman officials.
Earlier, during the sixth and early seventh century, rebellions of leaders in Francia were joint conspiracies of Franks and Romans. By 673, however, the rebellions had become purely Frankish. “ ~From the Introduction to “Franks, Romans, Feudalism, and Doctrine; An Interplay Between Theology and Society“
Richard C. Leonard – holds a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University (1972) and has taught at the college and graduate level. Below, Dr. Leonard discusses Christian worship in the first two centuries of the church with information from primary sources of the time.
Worship in the New Testament Church
The New Testament church was a minority movement within a hostile religious environment. The earliest followers of Jesus could not conduct public Christian worship of the type we are accustomed to in the Western world. For this reason, the New Testament does not offer detailed instructions for the order and leadership of worship. However, from its pages we are able to glean some indication of what worship looked like in the church’s earliest days.
The Christian assembly usually met in private homes for worship and instruction (Acts 2:46; 16:40; 18:7; Philem. 1:2). It appears that, in commemoration of the resurrection, the congregation assembled on the “Lord’s Day,” the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). Writing to the church in Corinth, Paul describes two types of Christian gathering. One is the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 10:16-17; 11:20-29) or ceremonial community meal, over which Jesus had presided on the night of his arrest and which he had asked his followers to continue. Paul goes on to describe a second type of gathering, the prophetic assembly, which includes both singing and thanksgiving in unknown languages, with interpretation, and prophecy (14:1-33). Perhaps these were two aspects of the same gathering.
Elsewhere the New Testament suggests that Christian worship incorporated singing of hymns and psalms (Eph. 5:19), prayer (1 Cor. 11:4-5), vocal thanksgiving (Eph. 5:20; Heb. 13:15), and instruction (1 Cor. 14:26; Col. 3:16). The Gospel of Luke and the Revelation to John preserve hymns that may have been used in the worship of the early church. The New Testament does not specify who is to officiate in worship, or to administer the Lord’s Supper, although prophets clearly had a role in corporate worship (1 Cor. 14:23-33). Paul’s words indicate that unbelievers occasionally attended the prophetic assembly (1 Cor. 14:22-25), although it would not have been appropriate for them to take part in the Lord’s Supper.
Jesus himself instituted the Lord’s Supper as part of his last Passover celebration with his disciples (Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-22.) His words on that occasion (“This is my body . . . ,” “this is my blood . . . ,” “do this in remembrance of me”) suggest a close identification between the elements of bread and wine and the continuing presence of Jesus with his church. Though it is clear that the risen Christ was recognized by his followers “in the breaking of bread” (Luke 24:13-35), the New Testament does not define this relationship as precisely as later theologians might have wished. As the ceremony passed into the practice of the church, it appears that the aspect of blessing and thanksgiving became predominant in a celebration of the oneness of Christ with his followers (1 Cor. 10:16-17). Indeed, the Greek word for giving thanks (eucharisteo) associated with Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper has given us one of the ceremony’s historic names, Eucharist.
Two other sacramental actions established by Jesus were baptism and foot washing. The Gospel of John records that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples on the night of his arrest, as a symbol of the loving servanthood they were to show toward one another (John 13:1-15). However, the rite is not specifically mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament.
Regarding baptism, Jesus himself had been baptized by John the Baptizer as a sign of his role as the Messiah or Son of God (Mark 1:9-11). As practiced by Jesus’ followers after his resurrection, baptism is an act through which a person repents, or turns away from the existing cultural and religious establishment to identify with the new order God has initiated in the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 2:38-39). Such repentance involves acknowledging Jesus as Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:36). Paul gives baptism further theological significance as an act through which one dies to sin and shares in Christ’s resurrection (Rom. 6:3-9). But its basic function as a ceremony is to initiate the new convert into the Christian faith. Jesus had commanded its use for this very purpose, as part of “making disciples” of people from all ethnic groups (Matt. 28:19-20). Since baptism was a rite of initiation, it was not practiced in the setting of a service of worship. Although the symbolism of baptism is best preserved when the new convert is completely immersed in water, the New Testament records several occasions of baptism where that method would have been impractical (such as the 3,000 baptized on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, which has no river), and perhaps water was simply poured over the convert’s head.
For more extended discussion of worship in the New Testament, see The Biblical Foundations of Christian Worship, Volume I of The Complete Library of Christian Worship.
The Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles
The Didache (pronounced “dee-dah-khay’”) or “Teaching” is a manual of church order and Christian living from the late first or early second century. The Greek title is “Teaching of the Lord through the Twelve Apostles.” The Didache was apparently compiled from earlier sources, including material now included in the Gospels. It was rediscovered in 1875. Its importance for Christian worship lies in the fact that it contains the earliest description of the Eucharist outside the New Testament.
The document recommends praying the Lord’s Prayer three times daily. It describes how Christians come together on the Lord’s Day “to break bread and give thanks,” first confessing their sins and being reconciled with their neighbors for a pure sacrifice to the Lord. Only baptized Christians are to partake.
The service of the Eucharist begins with thanksgiving over the cup and the loaf. In offering the cup, the leader gives thanks for “the holy vine of David,” apparently a reference to the Messianic community (Psa. 80:8). A doxology, or expression of praise to God, follows: “To you be glory forever.” Then the leader gives thanks over the broken bread, thanking God “for the life and knowledge you have revealed through Jesus, your child [servant],” concluding with a doxology. Then follows a prayer comparing the bread to the gathering of the church into the kingdom, again ending with a doxology. The community meal, which comes next, is not described.
After the meal, the leader again offers thanksgivings for the Lord’s holy name dwelling within his people, and for God’s creative activity and his provision of food and drink for all people. He then prays that the Lord would deliver the church from evil, perfect it in love, and gather it into his kingdom. Each of these acts concludes with a doxology. The service concludes with responses ending with Maranatha! Amen, and extemporaneous thanksgivings by the church prophets, who are to be allowed to give thanks (eucharist) in their own way, following no particular text.
The order of worship in the Didache follows Jewish forms for “grace” before and after meals. The leader’s prayer does not refer to the body and blood of Jesus; instead, the emphasis is on the gathering of the church body (see 1 Cor. 10:17). It is noteworthy that the prayer and thanksgiving are interlaced with doxologies; the event is a praise-celebration of the congregation of God’s people. The role of prophets is significant; the Didache calls them the church’s “high priests,” and gives instructions on how to welcome prophets and discern true from false. The document does not specify what sort of church official is to preside at the Eucharist.
The Letter of Pliny the Younger
Pliny the Younger (Gaius Plinius Caecelius Secundus, circa 61-113) was a Roman administrator whom the Emperor Trajan had sent to Bithynia, in Asia Minor, to reform the region’s finances and court system. Around AD 112 he wrote to Trajan reporting how he had dealt with Christians in his jurisdiction, and requesting the Emperor’s further advice. The Christian movement had become strong in the region, for the pagan temples were virtually deserted. But the fact that Christians worshiped in secret gatherings had aroused public suspicion. They were being accused of killing infants, eating human flesh, and having incestuous relations, and were considered atheists because they refused to honor the pagan gods.
Pliny was not sure whether Christians should be condemned for specific crimes, or simply because they professed to be followers of Christ. His first tactic was to ask the accused if they were Christians, and then if they persisted in their Christian confession he had them executed because of their obstinacy. But he changed his policy after large numbers of people began to be accused. When a person was charged with being Christian, Pliny gave them the chance to worship pagan divinities and make offerings to their images, including that of the Emperor, and to curse Christ. Using this procedure, Pliny found many people who admitted to having once been Christians but claimed to have renounced the faith. From them he learned what little he knew about Christian worship.
According to these people, “on an appointed day they had been accustomed to meet before daybreak, and to recite a hymn antiphonally to Christ, as to a god.” Then they would take an oath (Latin sacramentum) “to abstain from theft, robbery, adultery, and breach of faith.” After this ceremony they left, but reassembled later on to eat together.
Although Pliny’s knowledge of Christian worship was gained second-hand from people who had abandoned the faith, the general outline is consistent with our other sources and supplements them. We find the Christian community assembling early on the Lord’s day, and then gathering to share a meal. One may assume the meal included the Lord’s Supper, but Pliny reported he was unable to get much more information about the ceremony even after torturing two deaconesses. The word sacramentum referred to an oath taken by Roman soldiers, and its use to describe an act of Christian worship reminds us that worship is basically a pledge of loyalty to the God of the covenant. Finally, Pliny’s account is the only one of our sources that specifically mentions hymns as part of Christian worship. However, since worship in both Old and New Testaments emphasizes “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” we must assume that some kind of singing or chanting — in this case an antiphonal or responsive hymn — was a standard component of worship during the earliest Christian centuries.
The First Apology of Justin Martyr
Justin was a seeker after truth who, after a long flirtation with various pagan philosophies, finally embraced the Christian faith. He composed his First Apology in Rome about AD 155. This document is addressed to the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius (reign AD 137-161), defending the Christian faith against attacks on legal and moral grounds. Justin was later put to death for his faith (about AD 165), and is therefore known to history as Justin Martyr.
In his First Apology, Justin describes both a post-baptismal Eucharist and a Sunday assembly. The first event follows the baptism, or “washing,” of one who has become convinced and confessed Christ. The new Christian is then led to the assembly of “brethren.” Only those who accept the Christian faith and have “received the washing” for forgiveness of sins and for rebirth, and who live by Christ’s principles, are allowed to partake of the Eucharist.
The Eucharist begins with common prayers for the assembly: for themselves, for the new convert, and for others. Then the worshipers greet one another with a kiss. (We should probably understand that men and women were in separate parts of the congregation, so that this greeting was not “coeducational.”) Bread, wine and water are then brought to the president, who offers the eucharistic prayer. The prayer begins by ascribing glory to the Father in the name of the Son and Spirit, and continues with thanksgiving that worshipers have been judged worthy to receive the bread and wine. At the end, the congregation says the Amen.
Deacons then give to those present a portion of the bread, wine and water that have been “eucharistized” (offered thanks over). Justin’s account adds, “For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate by God’s word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the word of prayer which comes from him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus.” Justin then repeats Jesus’ words in delivering the bread and cup at the Last Supper. At the conclusion of the service, the Eucharist is also taken to those members of the Christian community who were absent. Justin goes on to mention the ongoing common life of the Christian community, in which “those who have more come to the aid of those who lack,” and God is blessed for his gifts.
The other event Justin describes is the Sunday assembly “in one place.” He explains that the community gathers on Sunday, or the first day, both because it was the first day of creation and because on it Jesus rose from the dead.
The service begins with readings from the “memoirs of the apostles” (the Gospels) or writings of the prophets, as long as time allows. Then the president teaches from the Scriptures. The speaker was probably seated while the people stood, as was the custom in ancient times (see Matt. 5:1). Prayers and the celebration of the Eucharist follow, as described above. At the end, those who have prospered voluntarily bring their gifts to the president, who will distribute them to those in need.
The worship Justin describes reveals a further development of Christian liturgy beyond the ceremony described in the Didache. There is a formal offertory for the elements of bread and wine, which are now associated with the body and blood of Christ. They do not here signify the gathering of the church, although the corporate solidarity of the community is evident in the setting for the Eucharist. The Sunday assembly combines the service of the Word, or reading and teaching from Scripture, with the Eucharist or service of the Lord’s table; this was to become the historic sequence of Christian worship. There is a greater role and responsibility for the president and deacons, while the prophets of the Didache are not mentioned. The description of the post-baptismal Eucharist makes it clear that the unbaptized were not present for the Eucharist. If during the Sunday gathering they were present for the readings and the president’s discourse, they would have been dismissed before the prayers.
The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus
Around AD 200 Hippolytus, a Roman clergyman, composed a manual of church order and worship known as the Apostolic Tradition. In this document, Hippolytus describes a Eucharist in two settings: one following the consecration of a bishop, and one following baptism and confirmation.
The Eucharist at the consecration of a bishop begins with the greeting or kiss of peace. Deacons then bring the elements to the bishop, who with other presbyters (elders) lays his hands on them. Introductory responses, still used in many liturgies, are then spoken:
The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.
Lift up your hearts.
We have them with the Lord.
Let us give thanks unto the Lord.
It is fitting and right.
The eucharistic prayer is longer than in the previous examples. It begins with thanksgiving for the coming of Jesus, the incarnate Word. It proceeds through the narrative of Christ’s sufferings through which he abolished death, to the words of Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper and the anamnesis (recollection) of Christ’s death and resurrection. The prayer concludes with the invocation of the Holy Spirit upon the assembly, and a doxology.
Hippolytus then indicates that if oil is offered as a gift, it is then blessed, symbolic of the anointing of kings, priests and prophets. A doxology concludes the ceremony. If cheese and olives are offered, they are similarly blessed as symbolic of charity and of the free flow from the tree of life, with a concluding doxology.
In Hippolytus’ second example, the Eucharist after baptism and confirmation, the ceremony begins with the offering by the deacons of bread, wine, milk, honey and water. During the prayer that follows, which Hippolytus does not quote, the bread is to be eucharistized into the “flesh of Christ” and the cup of wine into his blood. The mixed milk and honey, symbolic of the promised land and the nourishment of Christ, is blessed, and also the water, symbolic of cleansing. The bread, and cups of water, milk and wine are then distributed by the presbyters. The cups are served to each worshiper three times, with the following dialogue:
In God the Father Almighty. Amen.
And in the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
And in the Holy Spirit in the Holy Church. Amen.
In the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, we note that the elements of the Eucharist are viewed as the representation of the flesh and blood of Christ, having taken on this property through the eucharistic prayer. There is now an invocation of the Holy Spirit (epiklesis), but it is upon the people rather than upon the elements of the Eucharist as in later practice. The church hierarchy shows a greater differentiation; the president is now a consecrated bishop, elevated above other presbyters. There is more elaborate use of symbolism suitable to the different occasions on which the Eucharist is celebrated, but the service of the Word is not mentioned in these examples.
Already by the second century, Christian worship had developed beyond what is described in the New Testament. There is a tendency to invent new symbolism not directly present in Scripture. In some cases it is hard to establish a clear linkage between early Christian liturgies and the practice of the New Testament church.
On one important point, however, the second-century sources agree with the witness of the New Testament: Christian worship centered in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist, accompanied by the proclamation of the Word of God. In the case of the second-century church, the Word took the form of the reading and interpretation of Scripture, while in the New Testament period the Word came partly through the activity of prophets. In this twofold structure we see the kernel of the historic fourfold sequence of Christian worship: Entrance, Service of the Word, Service of the Lord’s Table, and Dismissal.
The church was moving from Hebraic culture into Graeco-Roman culture and was undergoing a philosophical transition. The emphasis was shifting from being the people of God to explaining issues of Christian theology. This begins to appear in the writings of the early “fathers” of the church and in early doctrinal disputes, and is reflected in the development of the liturgy. There is a growing tendency to define the way in which the bread and wine are identified with the body and blood of Christ, although the New Testament sources do not.
Understanding early Christian worship is an important aspect of the renewal of Christian worship today. In our efforts to restore Christian worship based on primitive models, however, we must always evaluate what we do in the light of worship as described in Scripture.
Most English bible translators have interpreted the Greek word “ekklesia” as “church”, but “ekklesia” has nothing to do with the word “church”! Every word study and reference available agree that the word “church” does not come from the original Koine Greek word “ekklesia”, but comes from a different, late Greek word, which has a totally different meaning!
“Ekklesia” means an assembly of the “called out”, or “gathered apart”. In Scripture, it refers to a “convocation, assembly, or congregation”. “Ekklesia” clearly refers to people.
However, the word “church”, as you will learn, is defined as a place (physical building and its associated institutional infrastructure), and not as a people. That is the difference. Now, a group of believers, the Ekklesia, may go to a “church” building to worship God, but the “church” building and its supporting infrastructue is not the Ekklesia.
The English word “church” is derived from the Greek word kyrios, meaning ruler or lord. Specifically, it comes into English in the context of, “kyriake oikia”, “Lord’s house”, which by the 4th century was shortened to the adjective “kyriakon”, “of the Lord”, and was used to denote houses of Christian worship. Neither “kyriake oikia” nor “kyriakon” ever appear in the Greek New Testament referring to a congregation of worshippers or as a place of worship. This association did not occur until about AD 300, 270 years after Jesus’ Crucifixion. Regardless, this is the late Greek word that was first translated into Old English as “cirice”. It was then translated into Middle English as “chirche“, from which we get the modern English word “church”.
The Wycliffe Bible (1385), the first Bible printed in vernacular English, was a translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible (Jerome used “Ecclesiam”), and Wycliffe used the Middle English words “chirche”, “chirches”, and “chirchis” some 111 times in the New Testament.
On the other hand, if you look at William Tyndale’s Bible (1526), which was the first English Bible translated directly from Hebrew and Greek texts, he correctly translated “ekklesia” as “congregation”.
The first recorded use of the Modern English word “church” in a Bible was in 1556 by a Presbyterian follower of John Calvin, Theodore Beza. The following year the New Testament of the Geneva Bible (the Bible of the America’s Pilgrims) was published by Beza’s friend, William Wittingham, and he also used the word “church”. And of course, the later King James Bible of 1611 also uses the term “church”.
The word “ekklesia” is used 115 times in the Greek New Testament, and in most English bibles, it is always incorrectly translated as “church” with the exception of three instances (Acts 19:32,39,41) where it is properly translated as “assembly”.
By the Protestant Reformation, after some 1,200 years of institutional cathedrals, clergy, liturgy, ritual, doctrine and dogma, Jesus’s New Testament concept of “ekklesia” had become so obscured that Protestants, long preceded by Roman Catholic and Orthodox churchmen, considered the Greek word “ekklesia” virtually synonymous with “church”! We continue that convenient institutional rationalization and error today.
“Church” is not found in the original Greek New Testament in either word or concept. It is an afterthought and convenient rationalization of post-apostolic institutional men.
Kyriacos C. Markides (born November 19, 1942) is a professor of sociology at the University of Maine. He has written several books on Christian mysticism including Mountain of Silence, Gifts of the Desert, and Inner River. The following excerpt is from the book Gifts of the Desert, and gives what I consider an enlightened interpretation of John 14:6b. The context of the excerpt below is a QA session following a lecture on Eastern Orthodox spirituality.
“Just as I was about to thank the participants for their attentiveness and end the workshop, a woman who had earlier identified herself as a “born again Christian” raised her hand with marked intensity.
‘Christ taught that only through him can one go to the Father. How should we understand this statement?’ Given my audience, it was the most challenging question I faced.
I had the feeling that she needed affirmation for her beliefs and consciously or unconsciously wished to prompt me into declaring that only Christians will inherit heaven. Feeling somewhat uneasy, I reflected for a few seconds. I knew that, whatever answer I could possibly come up with, someone might feel offended or excluded. ‘Furthermore,’ I added, ‘I am not a biblical scholar who can offer an authoritative exegesis of scripture. I am certainly not a theologian.’ Inwardly, I asked for guidance as I placed my left hand in my pocket and fiddled with a komboschini [a string of black knots made out of wool that the Athonite monks use for ceaseless prayer]. Father Maximos had given it to me after pulling it off his own hand. It offered me a sense of security at that moment.
‘Look,’ I replied finally. ‘There are two possible ways to answer your question. The first is to interpret that passage in the New Testament literally, the way many Christians today would interpret it. In this sense, nobody who is not a baptized Christian can be saved. Some denominations would even make the claim that only through their specific community can a human being find salvation. This is, let us say, an ‘exoteric’ belief shared widely among fundamentalist Christians. It is a belief, however, that divides people, raising serious questions about God’s fairness and love for all his creatures. The typical objection is this: Does it mean that the billions of people who are not born Christians and who may have never heard of Christ will be lost for eternity? From a more esoteric, ‘inner Christian’ perspective such a conclusion seems misguided, to put it mildly. It denies the possibility of salvation to the overwhelming majority of the human race. Surely this could not have been Christ’s intention when he made that statement.’
I was encouraged by the facial expressions of the participants and continued. ‘Why then don’t we make an attempt to interpret that statement in a more inclusive way? Why don’t we try to look at it in terms of its possible inner meaning? I believe the Gospel of John offers us guidelines to answer questions like yours. Christ, according to the Gospel, is ‘the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world’ [John 1:9]. Do you agree?’ After she nodded I continued. ‘Well, that says it all. Every human being has the Christ within his or her very nature. Furthermore, we are told that Christ is total and unconditional Love. Is it not, therefore, reasonable to conclude that whoever wishes to go to the Father, i.e., God, must attain the state of absolute and selfless love that Jesus embodied? If Christ is Love, then anyone who reaches the state of purification reaches the Father. No one can go to the Father, therefore, outside of total and selfless love. This is, I believe, the true spirit of the Christian message and this is what I understand the great saints of Christianity have taught either explicitly or implicitly.”
St. Porphyrios (Bairaktaris) (1906-1991) – was an Athonite hieromonk known for his gifts of spiritual discernment. He was officially recognized as a saint by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in 2013.
“It is a great art to succeed in having your soul sanctified. A person can become a saint anywhere. He can become a saint in Omonia Square, if he wants. At your work, whatever it may be, you can become a saint through meekness, patience, and love. Make a new start every day, with new resolution, with enthusiasm and love, prayer and silence — not with anxiety so that you get a pain in the chest.” ~ St. Porphyrios
D.B. Hart: “For my money, if Origen was not a saint and church father, then no one has any claim to those titles.”
“For my money, if Origen was not a saint and church father, then no one has any claim to those titles. And the contrary claims made by a brutish imbecile Emperor are of no consequence.” – D.B. Hart, from a blog post 11 May 2015.
“It seems to me, and I am personally convinced, that the Church must never speak from a position of strength…It ought not to be one of the forces influencing this or that state. The Church ought to be, if you will, just as powerless as God himself, which does not coerce but which calls and unveils the beauty and the truth of things without imposing them. As soon as the Church begins to exercise power, it loses its most profound characteristic which is divine love [i.e.] the understanding of those it is called to save and not to smash…”
– Metropolitan Anthony Bloom
Christos Yannaras (1935 – ) was Professor of Philosophy at Pantion University of Social and Political Sciences, Athens. His books include Freedom of Morality and Person and Eros. His essay first appeared in French in Contacts, No. 179 (1997), pp. 202-206.
“I dream of an ecumenism which will begin with a confession of sins on the part of each Church. If we begin with this confession of our historic sins, perhaps we can manage to give ourselves to each other in the end. We are full of faults, full of weaknesses which distort our human nature. But Saint Paul says that from our weakness can be born a life which will triumph over death. I dream of an ecumenism that begins with the voluntary acceptance of that weakness.” ~ Christos Yannaras