Monday, July 6, 2009

Gleanings from the Didache

I just finished reading through the Didache again – twice. It is a very brief, but interesting read. Even a slow reader should be able to read through it in less than a half-hour.

The Didache, which means “teaching,” is an early document that is believed to be a compilation of some of the main teachings of the twelve Apostles. Three of the major themes I see in its pages are: general instructions about the Christian life, instructions about the sacraments of water baptism and the Eucharist, and instructions concerning Church government (with a good number of verses addressing the office of the prophet.) What makes this most intriguing to me is the very strong probability that this was written during the same time period that a number of the New Testament books were still being written, perhaps around 65 a.d. This is what the “New Testament Church” believed and practiced before there was what we know as the New Testament.

What follows are a few things I found particularly interesting.

1. Because the hypocrites [Pharisees] fasted on Mondays and Thursdays, Wednesdays and Fridays were to be the designated fast days for Christians.

2. The Lord's Prayer was to be prayed three times per day. You may have heard it said that the Lord's Prayer is an “outline for prayer.” The early Church knew it to be an actual prayer.

3. Only baptized believers were to partake of the Eucharist.

4. Water baptism seemed to take place after some instructions about the Christian life and was done using the trinitarian formula, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” This baptism was to take place “in running water,” but if that wasn't available then “in some other water.” The water was to be “cold” but if unavailable, “do so in warm.” And if there wasn't enough water for immersion then “pour water on the head three times.” (interesting point for immersionists)
The one baptizing, the one being baptized, “as well as any others who were able” were to fast a day or two before the baptism took place.

5. Prayer for Holy Communion (Eucharist)
Concerning the cup:
"We give you thanks, our Father,
For the holy vine of David your servant,
which you have made known to us
through Jesus, your servant
to you be the glory forever."

Concerning the broken bread:
"We give you thanks, our Father,
for the life and knowledge
which you have made known to us
through Jesus you servant;
to you be the glory forever.
Just as the bread was scattered
upon the mountains and then was
gathered together and became one,
so may your church be gathered together
from the ends of the earth into your kingdom;
for your is the glory and the power
through Jesus Christ forever."

Post-Communion prayer:
"We give you thanks, Holy Father,
for your holy name which you
have caused to dwell in our hearts,
and for the knowledge and faith and immortality
which you have made known to us
through Jesus your servant;
to you be the glory forever.
You, almighty Master, created all things for
your name's sake,
and gave food and drink to men to enjoy,
that they might give you thanks;
but to us you have graciously given
spiritual food and drink,
and eternal life through your servant.[Jesus]
Above all we give thanks because you are mighty;
to you be the glory forever.
Remember your church, Lord,
to deliver it from all evil
and to make it perfect in your love;
and gather it, the one that has been sanctified,
from the four winds into your kingdom,
which you have prepared for it;
for yours is the power and the glory forever.
May grace come, and may this world pass away.
Hosanna to the God of David.
If anyone is holy, let him come;
if anyone is not, let him repent.
Maranatha! Amen."

Good stuff from the very early Church!