OUR CHRISTIAN ROOTS – Part I, section 1

by Fr. Emmanuel Hatzidakis | August 1, 2019

OUR CHRISTIAN ROOTS - Introduction

What happened to the Church after the death of the Apostles? In what form did it survive? How did it develop? What was its structure? What was its doctrine and beliefs? What form of worship did it have? What was its life like?

These and other similar questions will be addressed in the course of this series of presentations. Perhaps we may ask some even more profound and radical questions, like,

  • What is the Church?
  • What is faith in Christ?
  • What is truth?
  • What does it mean to belong to the Church?
  • Where is the Church to be found?

Many more questions may surface, as we read the ancient texts and try to understand them, like,

  • What was the belief of early Christians about Eucharist? about Baptism?
  • Did they baptize infants?
  • What kind of church leadership did they have?
  • Did they call them pastor, priest, reverend, brother?
  • Did they use an altar or did they use a table for their eucharistic meal?
  • Did they believe that they had to do something to be saved?
  • Did they pray to Saints?
  • Did they pray for the dead?
  • Did they think that the Virgin Mary was the Mother of God, that she was ever-virgin?
  • Did they have images in their place of worship?
  • Did they believe in Purgatory?
  • Did they believe that the Pope was the ruler of the Church?

Besides increasing our knowledge about the Church, its beliefs, etc., we will be addressing the very nature of our understanding over the self-knowledge of the Church. We will ponder upon such other questions as,

  • What is the place of Holy Scripture in the Church?
  • What is the Tradition of the Church?
  • Is there a development in the doctrine of the Church?
  • Are the interpretations of the Fathers private opinions or are they of a more binding nature?

There might be other questions that will be raised, such as,

  • What is the highest authority in the Church, or even,
  • Is there an “authority” in the Church?
  • Is the Church hierarchical?
  • Does the Church have a creed? What is it?

Finally, another question may surface during this study: Are we trying to “steer” you in any given direction? Yes! and, No! No, in the sense that we do not intend to impose on you any biases, subjective opinions and preconceived notions; yes, in the sense that the truth is bound to emerge out of these documents, to any unbiased reader and searcher of the truth.

We will review the most important documents of the period under consideration (roughly the first three centuries after the public appearance of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ), and we will let the texts speak for themselves (for the most part...) It is hoped that out of this historic journey we will acquire a deeper understanding, and gain a keener insight of the Church and, more importantly, of our place in it.

We should emphasise the fact that this is not a course in Patrology or Apologetics of Christianity. Neither is it a course on the early history of the Church, or again an anthology of the extant texts, though what we will be doing will be a combination of the disciplines mentioned. These discussions assume that you have a belief in Christ, that you believe in the teachings of the holy Scripture and that you desire to be saved.

By offering to you the texts themselves on which historians base their histories and dogmaticians support and defend their dogmas, you can decide for yourself... Decide what? After studying first hand what the early Christians believed, how they practiced their beliefs, how they understood and interpreted the Scripture, and how they applied them in their lives you may look at your own beliefs, life, ideas, convictions, and life and ask yourself: Am I on the right track?

Study plan

The study plan is very simple: After giving an adequate introduction to the author and the document itself, we will do the appropriate key reading(s), following which we will address questions and generate a discussion among ourselves.

The readings are not done according to subject, but roughly by author in chronological order. Therefore it will be beneficial to keep track of the points raised in any given reading and form an index of subjects, for prompt reference and review. Keep paper and pencil or note app handy. Also keep in mind that the “whole picture” may not emerge until after a number of readings and a number of authors are reviewed.

We have carefully avoided to call these presentations and discussions lectures. Not because the term would scare people off, but because they were not intended to be “lectures.” They were supposed to be precisely what we have publicized them to be: readings and discussions. So before we are called liars let us turn to our readings.

May the Lord through His Holy Spirit illumine our minds and hearts to the understanding of His truth and guide our wills to do what pleases Him. Amen.

The Biblical Texts

Before we begin the review of our texts, it would be beneficial if we first reviewed the biblical texts themselves, and, through selective readings, glimpse at the life of the Church in the New Testament era. After all, we all agree on the proposition that the foundations of the Church are entrenched in the New Testament, and that the Church is founded on the Apostles. Before we proceed, a word about the name itself “Church.”

The name “CHURCH”

In the Old Testament

The term “Church” derives from the Greek word ἐκκλησία, which comes from the verb καλέω, to call and the preposition ἐκ, out or forth, thus to summon forth. Therefore ἐκκλησία is the assembly of the ἔκκλητοι, those who are called out. Although the name “Church” is Greek in origin, it assumed its specific meaning from the Hebrew word kahal: “a convocation of the people of God,” a gathering of people called together by God. Thus in the New Testament it acquired the meaning of a congregation of people in the name of Christ, a community of believers, whose mission is to gather the entire humanity together.

Following are the references from the Old Testament:

  • Deut. 23:1-3.8
  • 2 Esdras 13:1
  • Lam. 1:10
  • Ps. 21:23.26, 39:10, 88:6, 106:32, 149:1
  • Eccles. 15:5, 44:15
  • 1 Maccabees. 3:13
  • Joel 2:16

In the New Testament

In the New Testament the term “church” is used to designate particular homes, like those of Prisca and Aquila (Rom.16:3) and Nympha (Col. 4:15); a particular community in a city, like those of Jerusalem (Acts 8:1. 11:22. 15:4), of Antioch (Acts 13:1. 14:26. 15:3), of Ephesus (Acts 20:17), of Galatia (Gal. 1:2. 22), of Corinth (Rom. 16:1), of Asia (1 Cor. 16:19), of Macedonia (2 Cor. 8:1), etc.; but for the most part the term ἐκκλησία designates the entire Church of God on earth (Mt. 16:18; Acts 5:11, 8:1.3, 9:31, 12:1.5, 20:28), especially in St. Paul (1 Cor. 10:32, 11:16, 14:4, 15:9, Gal. 1:13, Eph. 1:22, 5:23.29, Col. 1:18, 1 Tim. 3:15).

Definitions of the Church are generally avoided because of the deep and mystical meaning the word has acquired in the New Testament writings. The character and reality of the Church is contained in numerous images and metaphors employed by the Lord and the New Testament writers. After such expressions are reviewed there will be no doubt that the Church is the conductive wire of Christ’s entire messianic ministry.

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