Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”
Listen Now. We will now be including the daily reading of Epistle and Gospel with The Prayer Team.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I send you.” John 20:21
The Book of Acts and the Early Ecclesia—Part Six
The Centrality of the Eucharist
And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. Acts 2: 46-47
Good morning Prayer Team!
The most important thing we do as Christians is to partake of the Eucharist, to partake of Christ. It is the most important thing that we do as an Ecclesia. It is the most important thing that happens in the life of a parish. The most important “ministry” in the church is the liturgical ministry. It is the central act of the ecclesia and the central act of the Christian life. As Christians we do not exist apart from Christ or from the Eucharist.
From the earliest days of Christianity, the Eucharist, known then as “breaking bread” or “breaking of the bread” was occurring daily, in homes, any place that the ecclesia gathered. The early Christians had an eagerness to share in the Eucharist.
In the earliest days of the Church, there was no Divine Liturgy, nor formal Eucharistic service. The “breaking of bread” took place around a dinner table, like the Last Supper. The Didache is an account of the early Church written about the church of the Apostles around 50 A.D. It describes in very rudimentary terms the first “service”, held on “The Lord’s Day” when people would “gather together and break bread and give thanks, having first confessed yoru sins so that your sacrifice may be pure.” (From the Didache, section 14) This is the first mention of the Eucharist as “sacrifice.” However, unlike the sacrifices of the Old Testament, this one is done without shedding of blood.
By the year 70 A.D., only forty years after the Resurrection and Pentecost, St. James, the first Bishop of Jerusalem, had authored a Divine Liturgy that bears his name, a formal Eucharist service presided over by an ordained bishop or presbyter, and held as its own event, not in the context of a meal. The Eucharist was also moved from the evening hours to the morning hours, so that the first thing people would do in the morning was to pray, worship and receive the Eucharist.
There were times in the early years of the church when people used to take the Eucharist home and other times when the Eucharist was celebrated daily. The Eucharist service is now called the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy of St. James was edited by St. Basil in the fourth century and later edited by St. John Chrysostom also in the fourth century. We celebrate the Divine Liturgy of St. James on his feastday, October 23. The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil is celebrated ten times a year—The five Sundays of Great Lent, the Eve of Nativity, the Eve of Theophany, the Feast of St. Basil (January 1), Holy Thursday morning and Holy Saturday morning. The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is celebrated on all the other occasions when the Divine Liturgy is celebrated. (During Great Lent, on the weekdays, the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy is offered).
The Divine Liturgy in most parishes is not celebrated on a daily basis. It is always celebrated on Sundays, the day of the Lord. It is also celebrated on feastdays that are prescribed by the Church to be honored with a Divine Liturgy. Thus, in most churches, the Divine Liturgy is celebrated every Sunday and on approximately fifty other occasions during the year. It is the thing that is done the most often in every ecclesia.
Today’s Scripture verse affirms that there was no Christian life apart from the temple and breaking bread. Daily worship and daily receiving of the Eucharist were central to the life not only of an ecclesia (the gathering of the people) but to each member of the ecclesia. The idea that some practice today of attending worship only a couple of times a year would have been preposterous in the early years of the church.
I can say from personal experience that I am a better Christian when I receive the Eucharist more often? Why is that? Because I have a respect for receiving the Eucharist. I’m more focused on Christian behavior on the days I receive the Eucharist, the days before and the days after. When I don’t receive the Eucharist for many days, I become more complacent. Every year during Holy Week, when the Eucharist is offered for many days in a row and I have a chance to partake of it for many days in a row, I feel a great sense of joy and focus. This what it must have been like in the early church, as people partook of Christ on a daily basis through the Eucharist. Imagine the inspiration and focus they must have had.
While this is not the current reality, we certainly have the opportunity to partake of the Eucharist at least once per week in every Orthodox Church community. With preparation, anticipation and gratitude, this central act of our Christian lives should push us to a greater sense of purpose and inspiration.
O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to Him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In His hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are His also. The sea is His, for He made it; for His hands formed the dry land. O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel for the Lord, our Maker! For He is our God, and we are the people His pasture, and the sheep of His hand. O that today you would hearken to His voice! Psalm 95:1-7
Partake of the Eucharist often, it is the central act of being a Christian!
With Roger Hunt providing today’s Daily Reading: Listen Now
These readings are under copyright and is used by permission. All rights reserved. These works may not be further reproduced, in print or on other websites or in any other form, without the prior written authorization of the copyright holder: Reading © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA, Apolytikion of Abbot Marcellus © Narthex Press, Kontakion of Abbot Marcellus © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
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