based on the Translation by Charles H. Hoole
by Mitran Victor MAR MICHAEL, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Antiochian Catholic Church in America
Didache, a Greek word meaning the teaching, is short for The Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles Through the Twelve Apostles. Although there remains some debate among scholars as to the source and date, most will point to Syria around 90 A.D., approximately the same as that of The Odes of Solomon. Its true authorship is unknown, but while it can be said with certainty that it was not penned by any of the Apostles personally, there is no reason to doubt that it contains authentic apostolic teaching as transmitted to their successors. Church historian Eusebius [4th c.] placed it among writings that were considered to be orthodox in doctrine but not to be included in the Canon proper.
The Didache is a manual of basic Christian instruction on matters of morality, worship, and church discipline, the earliest known writing of its type. Chapters 1 – 6, written for pre baptismal catechesis, have for their theme the Two Ways, the Way of Death, and the Way of Life. Chapters 7 – 10 include instructions regarding Baptism, fasting, and the Eucharist; and Chapters 11-15 which deal with matters of church discipline and order. Chapter 16 is an exhortation to remain faithful until the Parousia.
The Two Ways seems to draw upon the Sermon on the Mount [St Matt 5-7], but there are also strong parallels with elements of the Manual of Discipline from the “Dead Sea Scrolls” of the Qumran sect. Baptism by immersion in flowing (“living”) water is preferred, by immersion in still water if flowing water is not available, or by a three-fold pouring (triple affusion) if a sizable body of water is not nearby. Fasting is prescribed on Wednesdays and Fridays. The Lord’s Prayer is to be recited daily.
As a manual of church order the Didache is far from exhaustive; it represents a Church still standing in close proximity to her Jewish roots, still developing her own distinctive identity and institutions. In the first part of the 3rd century, when the Church was “crystallising,” it would be expanded upon in the Syriac book of order entitled (in its better known Greek rescension) H Didaskalia twn Apostolwn, or The Catholic Teaching of the Twelve Apostles and Holy Disciples of Our Saviour. This in turn was expanded upon in the late 4th century in the Syrian Apostolic Constitutions, which in this form then became the model of all church legislation for centuries to come.
by the Commentator, Avva Andreas
It is my intent to write a commentary on the Didache as it applies to everyday life, a moral instruction that will act as a sort of Rule for the Laity and Clergy. I believe that the people hunger for such a thing, a way of life to which we can point and say, “This is what the Church, the Fathers, teach. This is what it is to be an Orthodox Christian within the Antiochian Catholic Church.”
The most important thing is the engendering of the Mind of Christ in the believer. The Church’s ancient Disciplines and Teachings are the safest and most dependable source for our formation into the Christ we must each become in order to heal His world and to share His Life in the World to Come.
The manuscript containing the Didache was made known to the West after they knew of the Apostolic Constitutions. It was introduced to the Western scholars by His Grace Philotheos (Bryennios), the former headmaster of the higher Greek school at Constantinople, and later the Metropolitan of Nicomedia.
It was from a collection of manuscripts in the library of the Jerusalem Monastery of the Most Holy Sepulchre at Constantinople. The collection was bound in one volume, and written by the same hand, who signed himself “Leon, notary and sinner,” and bears the date of A.D. 1056. There is no reason to doubt the age of the manuscripts.
The probable use of the Didache was the instruction of catechumens. For now, let it be remarked that the doctrines contained in it were those suitable for catechumens – scarcely touching upon the Holy Mysteries, but mostly moral and ethical instruction – and some notice also on the praxis of the Faith.
What we have before us, both in the Constitutions and in the Didache appear to be compilations of earlier materials. The oldest part of the Didache is that regarding the Two Ways. This would be an important witness to the moral excellence of the way of life espoused by the Church, and most appropriate to catechumens.
The rest of the Didache is given over to a brief exposition of Church Order in the earliest times. After all, at AD 120 some of those who had seen and heard the Apostles preach were still living. Would they brook any change in that which had been delivered to them from so convincing and august a source? One thinks not.
Moreover, the most important testimony to the authenticity of these teachings and disciplines is that they are still in use by the Oriental and other Orthodox Churches even until this day. In the Orthodox Church we do not merely preserve the Apostolic Faith, we live it. We have always, and shall until the Judgment, fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays. We have always prayed the Our Father thrice in the day. And, although we have not changed the Faith, it has grown in us and become clearer and better defined through the centuries of these two millennia. We are not a museum, but a living community of believers maintaining and cultivating the Deposit of Faith once delivered to us. The Apostles Kepha and Thuma and Addai and Mari, the bishops Yaqub bar Addai and Gregorius Parumala and Yulyus Alwares and Timotheus Vilatte are not merely history. This is a family story, and they are part of our family and part of us.
It is my intent to show you how important the Didache is as it applies to our everyday life, as a moral instruction that acts as a sort of Rule of Life for the Orthodox Faithful. I believe that the people hunger for such a thing, a way of life to which we can point and say, “This is what the Church, the Fathers, teach. This is what it is to be an Orthodox Christian.” To this end, I use the Didache for the instruction of catechumens in my own parish.
The most important job of the pastor, the shepherd of souls, is the engendering of the Mind of Christ in the believer. Along with and inseparable from the Sacraments, the Church’s ancient Disciplines and Teachings are the safest and most dependable source for our formation into the Christ we must each become in order to heal His world and to share His Life in the World to Come. This is how I teach them the Didache, and I beg your indulgence if it seems simple to you who are so old in the Faith. It is milk for babes, as the Blessed Apostle writes. Here is how to feed them.
1 There are two paths, one of life and one of death, and the difference is great between the two paths. 2 Now the path of life is this — first, thou shalt love the God who made thee, thy neighbor as thyself, and all things that thou wouldest not should be done unto thee, do not thou unto another. 3 And the doctrine of these maxims is as follows. Bless them that curse you, and pray for your enemies. Fast on behalf of those that persecute you; for what thank is there if ye love them that love you? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? But do ye love them that hate you, and ye will not have an enemy.
4 Abstain from fleshly and worldly lusts. If any one give thee a blow on thy right cheek, turn unto him the other also, and thou shalt be perfect; if any one compel thee to go a mile, go with him two; if a man take away thy cloak, give him thy coat also; if a man take from thee what is thine, ask not for it again, for neither art thou able to do so. 5 Give to every one that asketh of thee, and ask not again; for the Father wishes that from his own gifts there should be given to all. Blessed is he who giveth according to the commandment, for he is free from guilt; but woe unto him that receiveth. For if a man receive being in need, he shall be free from guilt; but he who receiveth when not in need, shall pay a penalty as to why he received and for what purpose; and when he is in tribulation he shall be examined concerning the things that he has done, and shall not depart thence until he has paid the last farthing. 6 For of a truth it has been said on these matters, let thy almsgiving abide in thy hands until thou knowest to whom thou hast given.
There is no way that leads to no destination. Even so, there is no action without consequence whether or not that consequence is immediately manifest to us. There is no random evil or good done by humanity, but each action is set in motion by forces within our own histories. We may recall some moment of pain or pleasure, some moment of glory or shame however brief or briefly that moves us to act as we do. And all sin in the world began with a single act of disobedience born from the lack of trust in God.
If we choose the Way of Life, for the Way of Death is chosen already for us by the disobedience of our First Parents, we must set foot to path. To talk is not the same as to walk. Firstly we must love God. How do we love God? the only way we know how to love! At first we love Him imperfectly, but with great fervor. We think constantly of Him, we speak often of Him and to Him. We associate with those we know to be His friends so that we, too, may be included in His circle. The imperfection arises when we imagine that we are made superior to others who do not love Him as we do. It is His love that heals us, not our love for Him. Our love for Him is merely the just response of one who has been brought to life by love given to us beyond anything that we merit, a love that is offered to all. So we are not superior to the person who does not love God as we do, but we must shed tears for them when we pray so that they will also be brought to the depth of this ecstasy and find therein their life. When we do this, we begin to love our neighbor as we ought. We think of him night and day, always praying to God for him and seeking his happiness even as much as we seek our own.
To accomplish this, to love perfectly, is to become Christ. As the Blessed Apostle has written: “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” [Galatians 3:27] Our baptism, the promise of eternal life to us, obligates to be Christ-where-we-are and to love as He loves. Even as He was dying for us on the Cross, He forgave His persecutors and the friends who had abandoned Him. Without this proffered forgiveness, His death becomes judgment and condemnation to us. But because He undertook to die to overcome death for us and to conquer the cycle of hatred and revenge, it becomes for us both healing and life everlasting. We may do no less and still be who we must. To break the cycle of evil, we must return good for evil done to us.
The desire of the flesh is to return like for like. We want to love them that love us and to hate them that hate us. We want to possess not only the love of others, but their goods also. But God, the Father who loves all is also the giver of all good things. What we have we do not own. It is given into our charge. To be like the Father, even as Christ is like Him, we must be giving as well as forgiving. Just as the Old Law forbids the charging of interest on loans to our brothers and sisters, so does the New Law forbid us to expect even repayment. All things are God’s and He delights in us when we give without seeking return. But poverty will be always with us, like a curse on them that bear it. Thus should we give carefully, to encourage the escape from poverty and not the enslavement to it. He that receives without giving in turn is bound to repay all that he has received when the Day of Judgment comes. Let us not compound his punishment by encouraging his sloth and greed, for even that will be required of us.
1 But the second commandment of the teaching is this. 2 Thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not corrupt youth; thou shalt not commit fornication; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not use soothsaying; thou shalt not practise sorcery; thou shalt not kill a child by abortion, neither shalt thou slay it when born; thou shalt not covet the goods of thy neighbor; 3 thou shalt not commit perjury; thou shalt not bear false witness; thou shalt not speak evil; thou shalt not bear malice; 4 thou shalt not be double minded or double tongued, for to be double tongued is the snare of death. 5 Thy speech shall not be false or empty, but concerned with action. 6 Thou shalt not be covetous, or rapacious, or hypocritical, or malicious, or proud; thou shalt not take up an evil design against thy neighbor; 7 thou shalt not hate any man, but some thou shalt confute, concerning some thou shalt pray, and some thou shalt love beyond thine own soul.
The second commandment involves sins against one’s neighbor. Some of these are obvious: murder, adultery, corruption of young people, fornication, theft, abortion and exposure of infants, covetousness, perjury or false witness, slander or perpetuation of ill repute even if true, maliciousness, false promising, and so forth. The list seems to repeat itself in some places, but this is to confound our own evasiveness.
The less obvious sins against one’s neighbor are divination and sorcery. Let this word suffice: If we say our trust is in Him that has made heaven and earth, and that we believe that “all things work together for the good of them that serve Him” [Romans 8:28], we are liars as soon as we resort to divination to find out the future or to advise us or as soon as we use sorcery to further our ends or those of our friends. God Himself is our advisor through His Holy Scriptures. God Himself orders the Universe for our benefit, in ways we cannot understand. The sin against our neighbor is cowardice in the face of adversity. We must instead show ourselves to be brave, trusting to God for the outcome of all things, so that they will embrace faith and courage as well.
Lastly we are commanded not to hate. This is the very beginning of the commandment to love our neighbor. Yet we are also commanded to confute those who spread error, to pray for those in sin (including ourselves, of course! sinners all), and some… our brothers and sisters in Christ… beyond our own souls, and not merely equal to them.
1 My child, fly from everything that is evil, and from everything that is like to it. 2 Be not wrathful, for wrath leadeth unto slaughter; be not jealous, or contentious, or quarrelsome, for from all these things slaughter ensues. 3 My child, be not lustful, for lust leadeth unto fornication; be not a filthy talker; be not a lifter up of the eye, for from all these things come adulteries.
4 My child, be not an observer of omens, since it leadeth to idolatry, nor a user of spells, nor an astrologer, nor a travelling purifier, nor wish to see these things, for from all these things idolatry ariseth. 5 My child, be not a liar, for lying leadeth unto theft; be not covetous or conceited, for from all these things thefts arise.
6 My child, be not a murmurer, since it leadeth unto blasphemy; be not self-willed or evil-minded, for from all these things blasphemies are produced; 7 but be thou meek, for the meek shall inherit the earth; 8 be thou long-suffering, and compassionate, and harmless, and peaceable, and good, and fearing alway the words that thou hast heard.
9 Thou shalt not exalt thyself, neither shalt thou put boldness into thy soul. Thy soul shall not be joined unto the lofty, but thou shalt walk with the just and humble. 10 Accept the things that happen to thee as good, knowing that without God nothing happens.
We are commanded not only to avoid evil, but even everything that is like evil. Anger is not itself evil, but it’s flower– slaughter– is. The same goes for jealousy and contrariness. Anger is not evil? No, or it would not be written by the Blessed Apostle: [Eph:4:26] “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” It is the continuation of anger that is evil. When we confront evil, we do well to be angry, to be stirred up to fight against it. But we must not let anger outlast its season, that is, the time for its reasonable use. We may not avoid anger in the face of moral struggle, but we may not harbor anger against our brothers and sisters. Even so, we may not avoid the right use of contentiousness or even of jealousy. We must contend for the right, first in ourselves and then in our world, and we must be jealous for the honor of God– that is, we must guard against what would rob God of the service and worship of which He is due. Jealousy (or zeal… it is the same word) for God’s honor guards that which is holy and avoids the filthy entertainments of the world that stir up the lusts not only for flesh but also for power and for blood. It is no better to pollute yourself with adultery or greed than it is to pollute yourself with slaughter.
Now, having considered the physical sort of adultery, know that we are also commanded against the spiritual forms of adultery. What does adultery mean but mixing? Indeed, we find in the Holy Scriptures, [De:32:16-17] “They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they him to anger. They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not.” Here we find God Himself being jealous for His people! Here we find Him angered by the abominations that they were practicing in the worship of these devils who were posing as gods. Do I say abominations on my own authority? Oh, no. It is elsewhere written that these things are an abomination to the Lord: Idolatry [De 7:25; 27:15; 32:16], Adultery [Le 18:20] and Sorcery and Necromancy [De 18:10,11]. Some other things are declared as abominations to the Lord, as well, but not even the most far gone of the heathen practice these as religion today. Those things are Sodomy, the Sacrifice of Children, and the Hire of a Prostitute or the Sacrifice of Dogs. These things seem to be practiced for their own merit in our world, without the taint of religion. We are commanded not to even want to see these things because they are a snare to souls. In the same verse we are commanded to eschew lying.
The sense of this is that the worship of devils is a lie also.
And we are commanded against murmuring, that is, whispering of our discontent against the Law of God to our brothers and sisters instead of obeying. This murmuring leads to the worst sort of all idolatries: self worship. The murmurer is so convinced of his own correctness after his whispers return to his ears from the lips of them he has infected that he turns from the instruction offered to him by the Church and breaks the unity of the Faith and sets himself up as another shepherd instead of the shepherd that God has set over him. This conceitedness then leads others away into what the Didache itself calls blasphemy. As the Prophet has written: [Isa:66:3:] “He that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine’s blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol. Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations.”
Instead, we are shown the better way: meekness so that we shall inherit the earth; long-suffering and compassion, so that we may be like God; harmlessness and peaceability and goodness, so that our Fall shall be restored. To avoid sin, and thus sorrow, we are commanded not to exalt ourselves, nor to keep proud company, but to walk with the just and humble. Humility, the key to happiness, overcomes pride and the sorceries of idolatry by teaching us to accept the things that happen to us as good by knowing that without God nothing happens.
1 My child, thou shalt remember both night and day him that speaketh unto thee the Word of God; thou shalt honour him as thou dost the Lord, for where the teaching of the Lord is given, there is the Lord; 2 thou shalt seek out day by day the favour of the saints, that thou mayest rest in their words; 3 thou shalt not desire schism, but shalt set at peace them that contend; thou shalt judge righteously; thou shalt not accept the person of any one to convict him of transgression; 4 thou shalt not doubt whether a thing shall be or not.
5 Be not a stretcher out of thy hand to receive, and a drawer of it back in giving. 6 If thou hast, give by means of thy hands a redemption for thy sins. 7 Thou shalt not doubt to give, neither shalt thou murmur when giving; for thou shouldest know who is the fair recompenser of the reward. 8 Thou shalt not turn away from him that is in need, but shalt share with thy brother in all things, and shalt not say that things are thine own; for if ye are partners in what is immortal, how much more in what is mortal?
9 Thou shalt not remove thine heart from thy son or from thy daughter, but from their youth shalt teach them the fear of God. 10 Thou shalt not command with bitterness thy servant or thy handmaid, who hope in the same God as thyself, lest they fear not in consequence the God who is over both; for he cometh not to call with respect of persons, but those whom the Spirit hath prepared. 11 And do ye servants submit yourselves to your masters with reverence and fear, as being the type of God.
12 Thou shalt hate all hypocrisy and everything that is not pleasing to God; 13 thou shalt not abandon the commandments of the Lord, but shalt guard that which thou hast received, neither adding thereto nor taking therefrom; 14 thou shalt confess thy transgressions in the Church, and shalt not come unto prayer with an evil conscience. This is the path of life.
In the last chapter we read of the dangers of murmuring and of schism. These proceed from the disrespect of those who are set over us by God to teach us His words. Now, that such persons are set over us by God should not be doubted if they speak the truth, for the truth is from God and those who speak the truth are speaking from God, Who sent them. It is He that has called the bishops and the presbyters and the deacons to serve His people; the bishops to teach and to govern, the presbyters to exhort, and the deacons to provide for the order of the congregations and the benefit of all, but each according to the direction of the bishop.
What better company for the children of the Holy Church is then to be found than that of the saints who live in obedience to the will of God? Are any of us so strong that we can fight against the enemies: the World, the Flesh, and the Devil; all of the time? No, indeed. So let us return to the company of the righteous for our refreshment, even as after the long day of our labor is ended by the return to the comfort of our homes and families. The Christian has no home in this world but in the Church, and no family but the brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. Let us not, as the Blessed Apostle has implored us, forsake the assembly of ourselves together. It is not for God’s benefit that we do this, but for our own. Indeed, among the company of the Church, we shall find those both holier and those less holy than ourselves. To forsake the assembly on account of our unworthiness is to lose the opportunity to be made more worthy. To forsake the assembly on account of their unworthiness is lunatic pride. Do not be swayed by gossip against the Church or her children nor even entertain thoughts against them for they are being saved, even as you are, by God’s grace and despite all their unworthiness.
If we have received the earnest of salvation from on high, so have we received all things. And if we would not stint to share this salvation, how shall we stint at sharing all things that Providence has given us for our good? These things are given for the good of the whole world, for us and for the many, and much of the good we get from things we get from giving them away. So are these things entrusted to us for our salvation.
Now if God has granted to us the favor of children after the flesh, so does he grant to us the favor of children after the spirit. From neither should we withhold any good thing. Neither should we give to them any hurtful, whether to their bodies or to their souls. And so it is with them that work for us in business, for an employer is a parent to the employed. So it is with the employed. Let them work hard to earn their wages, offering that work to God for the good of both body and soul.
To this end, let us hate that which is false in ourselves, that our offering may not be like that of Cain; for his offering was given from a cringing heart and without goodwill. If we offer our hand to receive the peace at the Eucharist, let us not withhold our heart also. To withhold your heart from your brother or sister in Christ is to offer nothing at all, and it is written: “You will not come to my altar empty-handed.” The whole commandment of the Lord is to Hear that the Lord our God is one and to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbor as our soul. If we come to the Eucharist without giving our heart’s love to our brothers and sisters we sin and our offering becomes an abomination. Instead let us confess our sin, and make restitution and come before the altar of the Lord with the offering of our love for one another in Him. This is life and the way of life.
1 But the path of death is this. First of all, it is evil, and full of cursing; there are found murders, adulteries, lusts, fornication, thefts, idolatries, soothsaying, sorceries, robberies, false witnessings, hypocrisies, double mindedness, craft, pride, malice, self-will, covetousness, filthy talking, jealousy, audacity, pride, arrogance; 2 there are they who persecute the good — lovers of a lie, not knowing the reward of righteousness, not cleaving to the good nor to righteous judgment, watching not for the good but for the bad, from whom meekness and patience are afar off, loving things that are vain, following after recompense, having no compassion on the needy, nor labouring for him that is in trouble, not knowing him that made them, murderers of children, corrupters of the image of God, who turn away from him that is in need, who oppress him that is in trouble, unjust judges of the poor, erring in all things. From all these, children, may ye be delivered.
Having shown us what is the Path of Life, the Didache now undertakes to show us what is the Path of Death. Life is goodness and blessing and death is the opposite of these things, just as death is the opposite of life. Now Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life” and if we are to have life in us, then we must have Jesus. He said also, “Who eats not my flesh and drinks not my blood has no life in him.” May His Body and Blood be life to us, and not judgment and condemnation! Evil and cursing are far from Christ, and all of the deeds of evil remove us from Him. If Christ is life, as
He says, and life is goodness and blessing, then evil and cursing lead us to death.
So also in the path of death are all those who curse and persecute them that are in the path of life. We cannot, in the name of goodwill and ecumenism, excuse them that kill Christians or that call Christianity a lie or a delusion. Do they look for the good in us as we seek it in them? No, but instead they seek every opportunity to defame Christ and His Church whether through their filthy entertainments and songs or through the defaming of His servants under the cover of news, and they seek to turn popular opinion against us at every turn.
Through the legitimate end of mutual understanding in ecumenism they seek to equivocate their error with our truth, to promote the Greek philosophical idea that human action alone is enough to save a soul that is in its own being immortal. Do not be deceived! Even as the Blessed Apostle has written, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ Our Lord.” If the soul were in its own right immortal, then it were cruel of God to damn it eternally. Why would He punish that which He would not correct? But no, the gracious gift of God is eternal life! What is it to an immortal to be granted an immortality he already has? But to us mortals it is the great grace beyond recompense.
What is the lie beloved of the wicked? That God will not repay them what they have spent here. If they have spent the coin of death; in hatred and murders, in adulteries physical and spiritual, in obeying the lusts of the body of death instead of the precepts of the Body of Christ, will they not be repaid in kind? But with God there is mercy! Even though we, ourselves, stand guilty of lapse we have, in Christ who forgives all that ask and will turn to Him from their sin, the forgiveness of our sins and the health of soul and body and the promise of the resurrection on the Last Day and the life in the World to Come.
Though the whole wicked world feed on blood and revenge, our mouths are kept clean of these things by the Blood of Him that saves us alive. What need has an immortal being for revenge on a mortal? How can an immortal not feel compassion and how can he not desire above all things the immortality of all? Just as in Christ’s resurrection we have all beheld our own, so have we in His death beheld our death. And as we have died with Him to sin and to this world to gain life in His righteousness and the World to Come, how can we not feel His pity for them that have not? But they that do not have Him must struggle to have pity. They must fight not to dispossess the poor and to devour each other. And though they make this good fight they are still enslaved until they come to Him that breaks every chain.
May we be delivered from these things, little children, and live sinless and good by His grace and our grateful effort to bring about His goodwill for us and for all.
1 See that no one make thee to err from this path of doctrine, since he who doeth so teacheth thee apart from God. 2 If thou art able to bear the whole yoke of the Lord, thou wilt be perfect; but if thou art not able, what thou art able, that do. 3 But concerning meat, bear that which thou art able to do. But keep with care from things sacrificed to idols, for it is the worship of the infernal deities.
Here we are warned as well as consoled and encouraged, for such is the mark of the Church. She not only consoles us with the forgiveness and healing from the propensity to do wrong that Christ offers all who call upon Him and who will turn from their sins, and the encouragement that the healing offers them that are crippled by sin to walk in righteousness, them blinded by the world to see the World to Come, them deaf to God’s will to hear and do it and them diseased and even dead with despair to rise up and live according to His grace, but warns us also of the pitfalls into which we might fall according to the will of the flesh and the snares that are laid for us by the adversary and the mirages of the world which would lead us astray.
Let us then be guided by these trustworthy precepts herein thus far given and reject any voice that would lead us away from them. There is a reward, or rather recompense, for false teaching and for false teachers who lead even the least of us away from the path of life. The disciplines of the soul given above are for our survival, not merely for our reading. We must embody Christ’s love for others before we can love Him properly ourselves, but let us begin where we are. Let them that are new give themselves to the discipline of fasting and prayer to show themselves loving to Him that loved them first, and thus grow in love for others. Let them that are at the middle of the path learn to see Christ in those all around them and learn to fast from malice and to regard service to one’s neighbor as prayer. Let them at the end of the path perfect themselves, so as to cross the line upright and unbent and to finish their race in victory, seeing the crown of life that is before them. This is bearing the whole yoke of the Lord and the doing of those things that we are able to do: to first hear of God’s unity, a unity that foreshadows His unity with us and ours with Him in Christ through the Holy Spirit, and to love God, and then to love our neighbor not merely in words but in deeds.
Again at the end we are consoled. Let us not fret if we cannot bear the fast, but let us abstain as we may. God desires not the death of any, as it is written, and them that are sick or doing heavy labor or too young are excused from the fasting from food. But none are excused from the fasting from malice or revenge or from self-will. None are excused from the duty of good deeds that fall within their power to do. The more we practice these small virtues we undertake at the beginning, the more we are able to practice the larger at the end, even to the laying down of our lives that we may take them up again on the Last Day. Obey, then, your bishop and them set over you as you would obey Christ, for it is He that has set them over us, calling and choosing them unto Himself even while they live. They do not live according to their own will, but according to the will of God made known to them by the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures and the teachings of the Holy Church throughout the ages.
And, at the very last, we are warned to keep with care from things offered to idols and from the worship of the infernal deities. In this unbelieving age, there is little opportunity for us to fall into the sin of eating food offered to idols. There is, however, the more subtle danger of falling into the spiritual eating of things offered to the infernal deities. Who are these? None other than the world, the flesh and the devil! These are the great infernal powers against which we do battle in this world. Are they deities? Certainly not in the sense in which God alone is God. But compared to us they are. They came long before us and will live long after we are gone, unless the glorious second coming of Our Lord prevent it. Each helps the other in his battles against the Kingdom of God.
Now, the service of the world is greed and revenge. The worship of the flesh is lust and gluttony and drunkenness. The way of the devil is pride and wrath. Their idolatry is the setting up of a false image of ourselves, not the image and likeness of God in us, but the image of the glamor of the world with its riches and its seeming beauty, the image of the glory of the flesh and the horrid corruption of innocence and the image of the devil in his princely bearing and his romantic and futile and hopeless rebellion against what he does not remember. If we eat the fruits offered to that idol; whether the piling up of earthly treasures or whether the heedless pursuit of fleshy pleasure or the filthy entertainments that excite us to lust or to wrath, or whether the destruction of them that anger us, then we eat of the fruit that perishes and thus perish and of the fruit that destroys and are thereby destroyed. It is truly said that the food of the world is blood, and it is the blood of the dead. But the food of the Church is the Living Blood and the Living Body of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. He is the Bread of Life! and who eats of His Flesh and drinks of His Blood has Christ’s life in him, a life that has conquered death and sin and hell. Such a person realizes in himself the image and likeness of his true Creator, the humble and yet almighty God that pours Himself out for our life and our salvation, to Whom be glory in both worlds unto the Aeon of aeons. Amen
1 But concerning baptism, thus baptize ye: having first recited all these precepts, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in running water; 2 but if thou hast not running water, baptize in some other water, and if thou canst not baptize in cold, in warm water; 3 but if thou hast neither, pour water three times on the head, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
4 But before the baptism, let him who baptizeth and him who is baptized fast previously, and any others who may be able. And thou shalt command him who is baptized to fast one or two days before.
The rule of baptism given herein has 3 steps: instruction, fasting and then baptism. The intellectual instruction is given first so that the convert may understand as fully as may be the consequences of baptism. Next follows the visceral instruction of fasting. Fasting is discipline, and without this beginning of discipline there is no flower of it in our morality. Thence follows baptism itself, immersion in water, thrice in the Name of the Holy Trinity.
Now, it must be emphasized that just as there is no salvation outside the Church, there is no Church outside the Community of the Saved with one another and thus with Christ. Salvation both is and is not an individual matter. Just as the sacraments are for the salvation of individuals, these individuals are by those same sacraments united to the Church and the Church thereby established in Christ and enlarged.
It is this synergy of believer and community that mirrors the synergy of human and divine in Christ and that is the salvific means and meaning of His Incarnation, of the sacraments and of the Church. Just as Jesus is completely human and individual, so is He completely divine and the Second Person of the community of the Holy Trinity. Just as the sacraments use common matter to accomplish the uncommon works of grace in us, so are these common things used by the Church to build its spiritual community. The one and the many are thus united. In the light of this synergy of human and divine, of believer and community, Tertullian remarks in the Fourth Chapter of his treatise On Baptism, “the spirit is corporally washed in the waters, and the flesh is in the same spiritually cleansed.”
1 But as for your fasts, let them not be with the hypocrites, for they fast on the second and fifth days of the week, but do ye fast on the fourth and sixth days. 2 Neither pray ye as the hypocrites, but as the Lord hath commanded in his gospel so pray ye: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done as in heaven so on earth. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debt, as we also forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil: for thine is the power, and the glory, for ever.
3 Thrice a day pray ye in this fashion.
Here the Didache enjoins regular fasting and prayer. We are to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays and to pray the Our Father, or Lord’s Prayer, thrice daily. A simple rule, this, and not so hard as to make Christianity inaccessible. This last is a very important idea.
Judaism failed to make the number of converts that Christianity did at least partly because of the proscriptions placed upon the convert. Indeed, the convert was not thought of as truly Jewish although his children would be accounted as such. No one, however, is born Christian. Christianity is not a tribe, not an ethnos, but a faith. Yet for all that and for all the other differences between these two monotheisms, there was and is a great deal of similarity. Indeed, Christianity sprang from the same roots as Rabbinical Judaism, the religion of ancient Israel. Orthodox Christianity, the Fathers insist, began with Abraham.
One of the practices of Judaism was fasting on Tuesdays and Thursdays. So it seemed only natural that Christians should fast as well. Since Christ was betrayed to the Jewish court by Judas on a Wednesday and delivered up to the Romans for crucifixion on a Friday it seemed fitting for us to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. And so we do even until this day, except within the period from Petzcha to Pentecost and on High Holy Days.
Another of the practices of Judaism is the pausing during the day and at its beginning and end for prayer. The prayers used by them are said to have been composed during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, during the building of the Second Temple. It is only natural, then, for us to emulate this practice but to use instead the prayer Our Lord teaches us in the Gospels.
One of the great shames that is upon the Church is the shame of anti Jewish feeling. We have been guilty of it as a body and individually as well. It is inexcusable to paint a whole people with the tar brush for the acts of a few. Moreover, I refer to this not as anti-Semitism because Arab and Syrian Christians and Muslims are Semites as well. And so, in a spiritual sense, is every Christian whether ethnically Semitic or not. Our religion is Semitic. When the writer of the Didache writes “hypocrites” it sounds as though he were writing against the Jews. Although anti Jewish polemic does exist in the body of Christian literature, this is not an example thereof. The real meaning of “hypocrite” here is that of a person who hides his true faith in the trappings of another.
During the persecutions it was very important whether one was one or the other of these. The Romans and the Persians took time about killing off both groups. Many early polemics, such as those of Mar Aphra`at, were written to encourage Christians to remain within the Church despite the persecutions. Thus the use of the word “hypocrite.” Christians are to remain identifiably Christian according to this teaching, no matter the consequence, and to offer this reasonable worship of regular prayer and fasting to God.
1 But concerning the Eucharist, after this fashion give ye thanks. 2 First, concerning the cup. We thank thee, our Father, for the holy vine, David thy Son, which thou hast made known unto us through Jesus Christ thy Son; to thee be the glory for ever. 3 And concerning the broken bread. We thank thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge which thou hast made known unto us through Jesus thy Son; to thee be the glory for ever. 4 As this broken bread was once scattered on the mountains, and after it had been brought together became one, so may thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth unto thy kingdom; for thine is the glory, and the power, through Jesus Christ, for ever.
5 And let none eat or drink of your Eucharist but such as have been baptized into the name of the Lord, for of a truth the Lord hath said concerning this, Give not that which is holy unto dogs.
The Didache divides its instruction on the Qurbana into two chapters. The first, this present chapter, deals with the prayers before Communion and the second with the prayers afterward. Of the manner of the reception of the Holy Mystery, the Didache remains silent. This is the ancient custom. One might recall the prayer of St John Chrysostom ending “I will not speak of Thy Mysteries to Thine enemies, neither will I give Thee a kiss as did Judas.” In those times, the times of violent persecution, anything that was written down might fall into the hands of those who wished us harm.
One might notice immediately that the blessing over the cup is recorded before the blessing over the bread. Thus even the usual order of these things is reversed. The order of first bread and then cup is that which is recorded in the Gospels. This is not unusual given the constraint of secrecy, but these things, as much as were written down, were more for the instruction of catechumens and not for use at the Altar by the bishop or his presbyters. The oldest recorded liturgies, those of St James and of SS Addai and Mari, make no reference to these prayers in the Didache at all. Given the deep conservatism in Christian liturgical practice we may assume that these were rather “model prayers” written for the purpose of instruction.
Two things become immediately evident in these prayers. Left unsaid are the Words of Institution: “This is my Body. This is my Blood.” Left out also are all the usual prayers of the Synaxis, or the beginning of the Qurbana. In the first case it is because of the discipline of secrecy and in the second because the Synaxis was open to the catechumens. Those prayers were already known to them. The second is the lesson of what is written down. The reference to Christ as the vine makes us recall that we are all His branches, and the scattered bread reunited into one oblation means that we are made one with each other by this Communion, not only one with Christ. There is, in this whole teaching, no room for “individual Christianity.” Christianity is found within the Church, the whole body of believers, and elsewhere not at all. The betrayer of the Church cuts himself off not only from the Church, whom his betrayal sent to the lions, but from Christ.
Lastly, let us re-emphasize the reason for the secrecy surrounding Early Christian liturgical practice. Because we say that we love one another, our ancient enemies imagined the most shameful and disgraceful things about us. These fables of theirs are too disgusting to repeat. We were also accused of ritual cannibalism, of eating babies. These murderers would blanch at no slander to stop the growth and even the existence of the Church. Let us not be surprised to learn that certain of our modern detractors have even had the temerity to say that our ancient Communion consisted of hallucinogens. It is not the most shameful thing they say of us, either, or of Our Lord. Be not dismayed by these things, but rather rejoice that they still regard us as so dangerous a foe.
1 But after it has been completed, so pray ye. 2 We thank thee, holy Father, for thy holy name, which thou hast caused to dwell in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality which thou hast made known unto us through Jesus thy Son; to thee be the glory for ever. 3 Thou, Almighty Master, didst create all things for the sake of thy name, and hast given both meat and drink, for men to enjoy, that we might give thanks unto thee, but to us thou hast given spiritual meat and drink, and life everlasting, through thy Son. 4 Above all, we thank thee that thou art able to save; to thee be the glory for ever. 5 Remember, Lord, thy Church, to redeem it from every evil, and to perfect it in thy love, and gather it together from the four winds, even that which has been sanctified for thy kingdom which thou hast prepared for it; for thine is the kingdom and the glory for ever. 6 Let grace come, and let this world pass away. Hosanna to the Son of David. If any one is holy let him come; if anyone is not, let him repent. Maranatha. Amen.
7 But charge the prophets to give thanks, so far as they are willing to do so.
The manner of giving thanks after the Communion outlines the process of Catechesis, Baptism and the Communion. This is, for the instruction of those about to undergo Baptism, as it should be. Both in this chapter and the one that precedes it lies the strongest evidence that the Didache was intended for the instruction of Catechumens.
It is grace that has called us out of the world. He has chosen us and loved us before we have chosen Him and loved Him, as the Blessed Apostle writes. Thus do we first thank Him for His holy name that He has caused to dwell in our hearts. The heart is the deepest part of us. If His holy name dwells therein, it is thus that depth calls unto depth, even as the Psalmist has written. We call to Him from our hearts because of His longing first for us. This is the coming to the Church for her instruction.
What is the Church’s instruction? The words of Jesus Christ, her Founder and her Bridegroom. These words are knowledge, and knowledge of Him leads to faith in Him and this faith in Him and in His resurrection are immortality to us mortals. This is the instruction that leads to Baptism.
Then the prayer, having given thanks for the revelation of these things, proclaims that God has created all things for the sake of His name. It gives thanks for meat and drink for all that is created according to the flesh, but it also gives thanks for the meat and drink afforded to them created anew according to the water and the Spirit, the body and blood of Christ. As Christ Himself has said, My flesh is meat indeed and my blood is drink indeed. Except ye eat my flesh and drink my blood ye have no life in ye. What is that life? It is none other than the life in the world to come. The communion of the body and blood of Christ is the earnest of the resurrection, and not of each Christian for himself but for the whole Church. We are never alone with Christ, but are included in Him with all that have put their trust in Him from the foundation of the world, even until its end. Except we have communion with the whole Church, we have no communion with Christ; and if not with Christ, then not with His Father. It is for this cause that they that are holy are called to communicate, for our holiness is in Him. It is for this same cause that they that are unholy are called to repentance, that they may be joined to Him that is all holy.
Lastly we read that each prophet is to give thanks as he will. This is because that, even though the main outline of the Eucharist is already established at this point by Apostolic Tradition, the words of the prayers of offering and thanksgiving were not yet established in their later crystallized forms.
Chapters Eleven and Twelve
1 Whosoever, therefore, shall come and teach you all these things aforesaid, him do ye receive; 2 but if the teacher himself turn and teach another doctrine with a view to subvert you, hearken not to him; but if he come to add to your righteousness, and the knowledge of the Lord, receive him as the Lord.
3 But concerning the apostles and prophets, thus do ye according to the doctrine of the Gospel. 4 Let every apostle who cometh unto you be received as the Lord. 5 He will remain one day, and if it be necessary, a second; but if he remain three days, he is a false prophet. 6 And let the apostle when departing take nothing but bread until he arrive at his resting-place; but if he ask for money, he is a false prophet.
7 And ye shall not tempt or dispute with any prophet who speaketh in the spirit; for every sin shall be forgiven, but this sin shall not be forgiven. 8 But not every one who speaketh in the spirit is a prophet, but he is so who hath the disposition of the Lord; by their dispositions they therefore shall be known, the false prophet and the prophet.
9 And every prophet who ordereth in the spirit that a table shall be laid, shall not eat of it himself, but if he do otherwise, he is a false prophet; 10 and every prophet who teacheth the truth, if he do not what he teacheth is a false prophet; 11 and every prophet who is approved and true, and ministering in the visible mystery of the Church, but who teacheth not others to do the things that he doth himself, shall not be judged of you, for with God lieth his judgment, for in this manner also did the ancient prophets. 12 But whoever shall say in the spirit, Give me money, or things of that kind, listen not to him; but if he tell you concerning others that are in need that ye should give unto them, let no one judge him.
1 Let every one that cometh in the name of the Lord be received, but afterwards ye shall examine him and know his character, for ye have knowledge
both of good and evil. 2 If the person who cometh be a wayfarer, assist him so far as ye are able; but he will not remain with you more than two or three days, unless there be a necessity. 3 But if he wish to settle with you, being a craftsman, let him work, and so eat; 4 but if he know not any craft, provide ye according to you own discretion, that a Christian may not live idle among you; but if he be not willing to do so, he is a trafficker in Christ. From such keep aloof.
Beloved in Christ, in this chapter we read of how we are to receive teachers from outside our own community. Let this apply also to sermons we hear on the television and the radio as well, and also the books we read for our own enlightenment and enjoyment. I do not speak here so much of those things we do for our entertainment and the refreshment and amusement of our souls, since we all know by now to avoid the traps set by our enemies in violent and filthy shows and books. Instead I mean that not every writer or speaker is to be received equally, and none should be accepted without scrutiny. Indeed, there is more heresy and outright apostasy noised about these days than there is of sound doctrine!
And by what criteria shall we judge these teachings? We are to judge them by the teachings that have already been revealed to us by the Church. If a thing disagrees with the Scriptures or with the Fathers, let us discard it outright. Moreover, let us warn the rest of the Church as well, by presenting it to the parish priest for inspection. The warnings of your shepherds you must not disregard, for they will answer for the care of your souls on the Last Day.
It is rare these days for us to receive the visits of travelling preachers. It seems that the day of their usefulness has passed and not yet come again, but should one come among you, you should exercise the same precaution. First, take this person to meet your pastor. Nothing should be decided without that. Let the pastor provide for hospitality, whether in his own home or in the home of a deacon or of a layman. Moreover, it is up to the bishop as to who will preach in any church in his diocese. A good rule is to feed and shelter for one day, or even for a few if the weather is bad, but let them ask for no money.
And do not argue with anyone who speaks in the Spirit. What do we mean by this? They that have the Holy Spirit know when someone else speaks according to the Spirit. The best rule to keep in mind is that God does not contradict Himself. If this person speaks what you know to be untrue or against the Scriptures or the Fathers, then he is not speaking in the Spirit. But if there be any doubt, watch his conduct. Our Savior has said, in the Seventh Chapter of St Matthew’s Gospel: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”
Lastly, if they ask for anything for themselves other than their keep for a short stay, let them be regarded as liars. If they ask that something be done for the poor, let it be done by the deacons at the direction of the pastor.
1 But every true prophet who is willing to dwell among you is worthy of his meat, 2 likewise a true teacher is himself worthy of his meat, even as is a labourer.
3 Thou shalt, therefore, take the firstfruits of every produce of the wine-press and threshing-floor, of oxen and sheep, and shalt give it to the prophets, for they are your chief priests; 4 but if ye have not a prophet, give it unto the poor. 5 If thou makest a feast, take and give the firstfruits according to the commandment; 6 in like manner when thou openest a jar of wine or of oil, take the firstfruits and give it to the prophets; 7 take also the firstfruits of money, of clothes, and of every possession, as it shall seem good unto thee, and give it according to the commandment.
The offering mentioned in this chapter is not the tithe, which should be paid to the Church for its maintenance and its work, but the offering of the firstfruits. This means that if any of us undertake to do something new we should make an offering to the Lord out of its first benefit to us, whether in cash or in kind.
Not all of these things are to be offered at the altar, however. Only wheat and grapes or wine and oil may be offered there as firstfruits. But let other offerings be received by the pastor in the Church and blessed outside the Altar, and let incense be offered at the Altar on behalf of the one who brings the offering. The prophet mentioned here is the bishop, who is priest and prophet and apostle.
In our Prayerbook is this prayer: “The Offering of Firstfruits. Let any that grow fruit from the earth bring an offering of the first harvest of them to the temple for a thank-offering to be blessed at the altar, but not to touch it or rest upon it, to be consumed by the priests and the faithful. After the blessing of the Bourktha in the Qurbana, let the Priest present these before the altar and, making the sign of the Cross with them in the air over the altar, say this: “O Lord our God, who commands an offering from each according to each for the glory of Thy Name and the maintenance of Thy people, sanctifier of every good gift, accept and sanctify and count for righteousness this offering offered before Thee according to Thy commandment. Grant to those who offer it peace and length of days and every gift good for the salvation of their souls; for Thou art our God and we are Thy people, † Father, Son and Holy Spirit, One God, in both worlds unto the Aeon of aeons. Amen.”
1 But on the Lord’s day, after that ye have assembled together, break bread and give thanks, having in addition confessed your sins, that your sacrifice may be pure. 2 But let not any one who hath a quarrel with his companion join with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be polluted, 3 for it is that which is spoken of by the Lord. In every place and time offer unto me a pure sacrifice, for I am a great King, saith the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the Gentiles.
All of this is the ancient discipline of the Church. We are not to stay away from the Qurbana without good excuse. It has been the custom in our congregation for those who must be away to notify the Church ahead of time, so that they will be remembered in our prayers and so that we will not delay the time of our worship awaiting their arrival. Would we not do the same for any gathering? How then, and even more so, should we not for the gathering of the Church when she calls upon the Lord of All?
Moreover, we are enjoined to receive the Holy Communion, and not to abstain from it. The only reason to abstain from the Holy Mysteries is if one is under penance. Otherwise the Church is scandalized. What person, invited to the banquet of a king, would refuse to eat and expect not to offend him?
But we must come to this banquet clean, without the dirt of hatred on our hands. For this cause we are commanded by the Lord to be at peace with our brother before we make our offering. We cannot be at one with Christ if we are not at one with His Church and with each of her members, because they are each of them being made Christ as well.
1 Elect, therefore, for yourselves bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men who are meek and not covetous, and true and approved, for they perform for you the service of prophets and teachers. 2 Do not, therefore, despise them, for they are those who are honoured among you, together with the prophets and teachers.
3 Rebuke one another, not in wrath but peaceably, as ye have commandment in the Gospel; and, but let no one speak to anyone who walketh disorderly with regard to his neighbor, neither let him be heard by you until he repent. 4 But your prayers and your alms givings and all your deeds so do, as ye have commandment in the Gospel of our Lord.
This chapter tells how to treat the bishops and presbyters and deacons with respect, because they have been elected from among you, the faithful. Let no one be chosen for these duties that is proud or greedy. Nor let any one be chosen who is untried, or a new Christian. Remember that even St Paul studied for ten years in Arabia before he began his preaching.
We are also to encourage each other in the works of excellence, first by deed and then by word. We are not to be condemning of each other; for only the Lord is our judge, although we shall judge the unbelievers and even the angels on the day of our final triumph. But to encourage goodness among us, let no one of us encourage the sin of another, but pray instead for his repentance. Let no new Christian associate with sinners, lest they fall again into sin.
The best teaching regarding this for those who have dwelt longer in the Faith is to be found in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, wherein is recorded: “A brother in Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which Avva Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to him, saying, ‘Come, for everyone is waiting for you.’ So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug and filled it with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him and said, “What is this, Father?” The old man said to them, ‘My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.’ When they heard that, they said no more to the brother but forgave him.” This is the perfect way.
1 Watch concerning your life; let not your lamps be quenched or your loins be loosed, but be ye ready, for ye know not the hour at which our Lord cometh. 2 But be ye gathered together frequently, seeking what is suitable for your souls; for the whole time of your faith shall profit you not, unless ye be found perfect in the last time.
3 For in the last days false prophets and seducers shall be multiplied, and the sheep shall be turned into wolves, and love shall be turned into hate; 4 and because iniquity aboundeth they shall hate each other, and persecute each other, and deliver each other up; and then shall the Deceiver of the world appear as the Son of God, and shall do signs and wonders, and the earth shall be delivered into his hands; and he shall do unlawful things, such as have never happened since the beginning of the world. 5 Then shall the creation of man come to the fiery trial of proof, and many shall be offended and shall perish; but they who remain in their faith shall be saved by the rock of offence itself.
6 And then shall appear the signs of the truth; first the sign of the appearance in heaven, then the sign of the sound of the trumpet, and thirdly the resurrection of the dead 7 — not of all, but as it has been said, The Lord shall come and all his saints with him; 8 then shall the world behold the Lord coming on the clouds of heaven.
And now, beloved in Christ, we come to the end of the Didache. Humanity is the seed of God’s will, planted in this life to inherit the life in the World to Come. This chapter teaches of the time of its harvest.
Let us look carefully at what is written here. “For in the last days false prophets and seducers shall be multiplied, and the sheep shall be turned into wolves, and love shall be turned into hate; and because iniquity aboundeth they shall hate each other, and persecute each other, and deliver each other up…”. Now the time until the end is struggle. Not only must the Church struggle with her enemies without, but also with those enemies who will and have already infiltrated her. Regarding the Last Days, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers says this: “The holy Fathers were making predictions about the last generation. They said ‘What have we ourselves done?’ One of them, the great Avva Ischyrion replied, ‘We ourselves have fulfilled the commandments of God.’ The others replied, ‘And those who come after us, what will they do?’ He said, ‘They will struggle to achieve half our works.’ They said, ‘And to those who come after them, what will happen?’ He said, ‘The men of that generation will not accomplish any works at all and temptation will come upon them; and those who will be approved in that day will be greater than either us or our fathers.’ “
Then the Didache continues, “and then shall the Deceiver of the world appear as the Son of God, and shall do signs and wonders, and the earth shall be delivered into his hands; and he shall do unlawful things, such as have never happened since the beginning of the world.” There is no mention of the so-called Rapture. That is not an Orthodox doctrine, nor is the Millennial Kingdom. Both are late inventions of the hyper-dispensationalism that came out of Western thinking.
The Didache then goes on to say, “Then shall the creation of man come to the fiery trial of proof, and many shall be offended and shall perish; but they who remain in their faith shall be saved by the rock of offence itself.” This leads us to Mar Ephrem, who says that the image of God in us is our freewill and that His likeness in us is the power of language. This image was impaired by our fall, as it says in the Anaphora of St James. We lost the complete freedom of our will, becoming enslaved to the impulse to do evil, even as St Paul testifies: “That which I would not do, that do I do.” Since Christ came to restore in us that image, we shall be judged according to our deeds, even as the Holy Scriptures say in Romans 2:6. What is judged in us is the extent to which Christ has been able to divinize us. In First Corinthians 3:13-15 we read: “Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.”
This leads us to consider the uncomfortable idea that since the wicked are not raised from the dead, it is the righteous for whom the fiery trial is designed. It may discomfort us, but it is the plain sense of Scripture. This trial is called in Aramaic Nahar d’Nur, the River of Fire. In Psalm 97 we read, “2 Clouds and darkness are round about him: righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne. 3 A fire goeth before him, and burneth up his enemies round about.” About it Mar Yaqub of Serugh writes: “Let me pass through the sea of fire in a boat of water. May Baptism cover me from the burning fire and spread its wings over the fire. May the fountain of living water accompany me.” We shall all pass through it and the Christ in us, the Christ with Whom we have clothed ourselves in Baptism, will survive that purification.
Lastly come the last things of all. “And then shall appear the signs of the truth; first the sign of the appearance in heaven, then the sign of the sound of the trumpet, and thirdly the resurrection of the dead — not of all, but as it has been said, The Lord shall come and all his saints with him; then shall the world behold the Lord coming on the clouds of heaven.” The sign is the Cross, of course, appearing in the sky from east to west like a bolt of lightning. Then comes the sound of the trumpet, to gather all of the sons and daughters of Adam who are yet living. And then comes Christ in majesty and the Judgment. The wicked who are living will be sent into the Nahar d’Nur never to emerge, but the righteous will come through it safely and be transformed, as the Beloved Disciple writes. “For we know that when He shall appear we shall be made like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Therefore every man that hath this hope in him keepeth himself pure even as He is pure.” Thus does the beginning of this final chapter begin with these words: “Watch concerning your life; let not your lamps be quenched or your loins be loosed, but be ye ready, for ye know not the hour at which our Lord cometh. But be ye gathered together frequently, seeking what is suitable for your souls; for the whole time of your faith shall profit you not, unless ye be found perfect in the last time.”
Now finally, beloved in Christ, I thank you for your kind attention and I thank God, most of all, for bringing us to this day and to this place where we may bless the Holy Name of the † Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God, and so may the Holy Trinity bless us in both worlds and unto the Aeon of aeons. Amen.
The Publications of the Antiochian Catholic Church in America (ACCA)
The uncopyrighted translation of the original text was made available to The St. Pachomius Orthodox Library by courtesy of the Athenaeum of Christian Antiquity, and was edited for the St. Pachomius Library by Friar Martin Fontenot Gonzalez. ACCA Publications renders its thanks to each.
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Have mercy, O Lord, upon Thy servants the translator Charles, the editor Martin, the scribe Bill and the commentators MAR MICHAEL and Avva Andreas.
This Text was originally published in the ACCA Electric Bulletin, and later delivered as a paper at the Convocation of the Mar Thoma Orthodox Eparchy of Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley in Fresno, California, (now the Archdiocese of the Malankara Independent Syrian Church in America) in March of 2000. The present edition contains an abbreviated Foreword.