Sunset - Larnaca

Sunset - Larnaca

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Eucharist in the Early Church

Κυριακόν Δείπνον - The Lord’s Meal (1 Cor 11:20)
Αναμνησεις - Memorial (Mark 14:22-25) and Synoptic parallels
Ευχαριστία - Thanksgiving/to give thanks - 1 Cor 10:6, 1 Cor 11:24

Αγάπη - Feast of Love - 1 Cor 11:17, Jude 12
Κοινωνία - Communion - 1 Cor 10:16

Pliny to Trajan ( non-Christian account)  : It is meal that Christians have together. They assemble as Christians, make an oath not to break their word, not to commit a crime or do any wrong,  and promise to keep the commandments before they partake of the meal.  ( this is probably because of the context, as Christians were being accused of a number of crimes such as canabilism, and other sexual acts, so they make an oath, stating that they do not harm anyone) This account also speaks of the Liturgy of the Word, and the eating of 'harmless food' on a separate occasion, being the Liturgy and celebration of the Eucharist.

Ignatius of Antioch: Letter to the Romans 7
St Ignatius' theology certainly matches the theology of Irenaeus, telling us that as followers of Christ, we drink Christ’s incorruptible blood,  and partake in the meal of Love.  
‘I take no pleasure in corruptible food or the pleasures of this life. I want the bread of God, which is the flesh of Christ who is the seed of David; and for drink I want his blood, which is incorruptible love.’

Justin Martyr - First Apology 65-67

Justin describes the Liturgical life of the Church - consisting of preaching ( a sermon which was quite often morally based ), intercessory prayers, the kiss of peace (reconciling each others mistakes, before approaching the Holy Gifts on the Altar) and he uses the phrase ‘the one Presiding’ - probably to explain the role of the clergyman to non-Christians. 
  • Justin puts an emphasis on having to keep the commandments, in order to partake of the Eucharist
  • He also stresses the importance of ‘Amen’ during the Eucharistic Liturgy
  • While the consecrated bread and wine is distributed, a collection takes place for the orphans and so on, and then the deacons would distribute the Holy gifts out to the faithful who are unable to attend the Liturgy.
  • Justin says that it is indeed the flesh and blood of Christ, and should not be shared with non-Christians.
  • The Eucharist unfolds everything that God does and keeps doing for us, and of course links Heaven with earth.

Irenaeus - Against the Heresies 4.17.5
The Eucharist gives back the fruits of the Creation to God, as we receive back the fruits of the new creation, in other words Christ.

Christ dwells among us, and in this continual exchange we return the gifts back to God, and He sends down His life-giving gifts. St Irenaeus of Lyon highlights that Holy Communion is a pure sacrifice of thanksgiving, without blood. Irenaeus draws many sources  of his time regarding the Eucharist together, concluding that it is a sacrifice of salvation, a memorial of the things that have not yet happened - in other words a foretaste of the very Kingdom of God, awaiting the eternal feast with Christ.

Hippolytus describes meetings which involve people celebrating the meal of the Lord in a very controversial and unorthodox way - with the basis of the meeting to show off who has the money and means to bring the best of food and wine ( and this is why we read St Paul complaining about this non-Eucharistic Lord’s supper that is going on within some communities)  This of course created problems, as there was no sharing taking place, it was simply a competitive feast - far from the truth of the Eucharist. This is why Bishops had to emphasise that without their blessing, the Lord’s supper is not valid. Church order was, and is essential, because people were losing site of the truth of the Eucharist. A Eucharist which points out distinctions of rich and poor and does not bring the community together has something very much wrong with it.

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