If we look back at the early days of the Church, we are astonished at its power, especially that of the newly founded Churches. In spite of the fact the people were simple and ignorant of the Bible—for manuscripts were only rarely possessed by individuals—and in spite of the newness of their faith in Christ and the deep influence of their old pagan customs, their spiritual life and their demonstrations of faith, love, and zeal were fine examples of a powerful life lived according to the precepts of the Gospel, a model for practical understanding of the meaning of eternal life, the Kingdom of God, living by faith, dying to the world, faithfulness to Christ, expectation of His second coming, and faith in the resurrection. Even up to the present time, we still draw on their faith and tradition, and understand only with difficulty the letters that were written to them, which they understood and easily lived out.
The secret of this is they lived what they heard. Every commandment fell on faithful hearts prepared to act sincerely. All the words of Christ entered deeply into the fabric of daily life. The Gospel was translated into work and life.
Those simple people understood the Gospel. They understood that it was a life to be lived, not principles to be discussed, and they refused to understand it on a purely academic level. Up to this day the faithful followers of Christ still draw life for themselves from the living spring of the understanding of those early Christians.
These early communities, burning with love for Christ, had no creeds, no patrology, no expositions of Scripture, but the few words of Christ which reached their ears immediately became their creed, needing no explanations or teaching, or interpretation, but needing as they saw it, to be experienced and lived. Through experience they would discover the power of the words and bring to light the mysteries they contained. And so their zeal and love and faith in Christ and the Gospel would grow.
When the heard "Blessed are the poor in spirit," they sold everything and laid their money at the feet of the Apostles.
When they heard "Blessed are those who mourn now," they despised all suffering and weariness in the service of the Lord.
When they heard, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake," they bore the cruelest humiliations and insults and attacks.
When they heard, "watch and pray," they met in the catacombs to watch and pray all night.
When they heard, "love your enemies," history recorded no resistance put up by the Christians, whether positive or negative, against their persecutors. And they bowed their necks to the sword in humility and obedience to honor the words of Christ.
This was for them the meaning of reading the Gospel and understanding it. There was born in them a hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God, and this is why the Holy Spirit was at His most active in working with them. He would give power to the word, strengthen their hearts, support them in weakness, lead them in darkness, comfort them in distress, and accompany them along the way till they gave up their spirit into the hand of the Creator with great glory.
|The Communion of Love|
|Matthew the Poor|
|St Vladimir's Seminary Press 1984|