The Edict of Milan, proclaimed by Constantine the Great and Licinius in the year 313 A.D. decreed freedom of worship in throughout the Roman Empire, thus concluding a time of religious persecution, particularly against Christians. As of that time, expressions of faith by the followers of Jesus were to become gradually stronger until February 27 of the year 380 when Emperor Theodosius proclaimed the Edict of Thessalonica under which Nicene Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.
But what happened during those first 280 years? What was life like for the followers of the Way? How did they celebrate? What language did they use? Where did they gather? So many questions to be considered. For the sake of brevity, I will limit my comments to some aspects of the last question.
I would like to begin by citing Acts of the Apostles 2: 46, where we are told:
They worshiped together regularly at the Temple each day, met in small groups in homes for Communion, and shared their meals with great joy and thankfulness.
Those first disciples had their “Liturgy of the Word” at the Synagogue, which means they went there to recite psalms and listen to the Torah. Then they met at family homes, particularly those of community to share the Lord’s Supper. In our words, to celebrate the Eucharist.
The ever-increasing differentiation of those first Christians from Judaism and the successive persecutions they suffered contributed to a steady strengthening of what was known as the Domus ecclesiae, a latin expression meaning House of Meeting. Houses of Meeting summoned to “assemble” and celebrate together the central mystery of faith: the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I would like to emphasize here that for about 280 years, almost three centuries, the place where believers’ faith in Jesus was developed was people’s homes; it was not until later that preaching came to be done in public places.
Though we may well imagine these were Communities where several people gathered to listen to the teachings and ‘break bread’, this testimony of our forefathers may brighten and illuminate the way we approach Holy Week. In other words, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, these disciples of Jesus began and developed their experience of faith in homes, either their own or homes specially prepared for community use.
On the other hand, it is also worth noting that one of the reasons for writing the Book of Common Prayer during the Reformation in England was that people should have the liturgy on hand for their personal devotions. The Book of Common Prayer provides an excellent path for celebrating Holy Week at home, as a family or individually. You can download the BCP here.
We shall to some extent be returning to that initial experience: a domestic encounter and celebration of the mysteries of faith.
Unlike those early centuries our Social Networks provide us with options which, if used correctly and with discernment, can be most significant in this time. A variety of services are offered on these platforms and serve as a link to the Community at large.
It is my prayer that this we may find in this Holy Week at Home an opportunity to delve deeper into our discipleship so that, when we come together again, something new and better shall have been sparked within us.
May you have a Blessed Holy Week at home!
By The Revd. Ariel Irrazábal
Translation: Elizabeth Birks