by Fr. Basil Biberdorf
And they continued in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers… So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. (Acts 2:42, 46-47)
This is how Luke describes the earliest Christian gatherings, as described to him by the people who actually attended them. The earliest Christians still self-identified as Jews. As a result, they regularly attended services at the Temple in Jerusalem, thereafter adjourning to private homes of the followers of Christ, perhaps in rotation based on “from house to house,” in order to partake of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist (breaking of bread) celebrated there according to a specific order of service (“the prayers”). Thus, the earliest Christian communities were defined by their practice of Holy Communion performed according to a specific liturgical rite.
However, this gathering didn’t really end there, because there was a further eating of “their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.” In other words, the meal did not end with the Body and Blood, but progressed to the physical food needed by the created bodies of the men and women gathering together. It was for koinonia (Greek for communion, pronounced “kih-noh-NEE-ah”) not only with Christ but with each other. It was already a service for the wealthier members of the community to offer their homes for the celebration of the Eucharist, as not many people had “homes” with rooms such as could accommodate a gathering. It was also the opportunity for the group to care for the poorer members, particularly widows and orphans, by providing them a much-needed meal.
Just as importantly, these gatherings punctured the walls separating the social classes of the Roman world. The eating of a meal was intimate. Those dining came together in close quarters, and hosts didn’t dine with just anyone. (Consider the indignation of Christ’s enemies in Luke 15:2 and Mark 2:16.) This meal was different. The rich host not only gave food to the poor, but invited them into the home, along with the merchants (which were not terribly respected), butchers, weavers, and other believers. They came together not in some kind of Christian “commune,” but because they were “in one body,” in recognition of their humanity regardless of whether they were slaves or free men, Jews or not (1 Cor. 12:12-13).
This was a time to be together regardless of the way of life each of them experienced in other times. Indeed, without such a gathering, how would any of them have any perspective on the lives as lived by their Christian brethren? We know it is true for us in our own time as well.
In short, the koinonia of those first century believers was nothing but the expression of what it meant to be Christians. Which brings us to our current situation, where, following the Divine Liturgy, we are often rather focused on returning to our daily activities, even on Sunday. In so doing, we often break the fullness of our koinonia too quickly.
Those of us familiar with our Chapel practice are aware of the potluck meal that follows our Sunday gatherings. Some may even find it odd, wondering, “You do that every Sunday?” Well, yes, and it is a highlight for most who come. It is an opportunity to sit down for a few minutes to break more bread and to rejoice in the “horizontal” communion we have with each other, having received the “vertical” Communion that comes from Christ. It is an opportunity to hear of the joys and sorrows of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can hear news directly, without risk of gossip.
Each of you is encouraged to pray with us at the Chapel, and to join us afterward for our meal. I also extend a special invitation to you to join us on July 7 for our annual “Close to Independence Day” gathering. After the Divine Liturgy that Sunday, we will be going to the Tall Timbers natural area near Troxelville (from State Route 235, take Timber Road and Swift Run Roads into the park), for a nice afternoon among trees and streams, and with plenty of food and fellowship. We are also organizing a short hike this year. It’s cool under the trees, even on a hot day.
Bring a change of attire, plus shoes for hiking (if you want to join in), and “getting wet clothes” (including water shoes or flip-flops) for wading. Bring some folding chairs, too, as you’ll want to sit, relax, and enjoy the summer afternoon.