Alex Poulos is a Ph.D. Student in the Department of Greek and Latin at Catholic University of America.

"Christmas and Easter" Christians in 3rd c. Palestine

"Christmas and Easter" Christians in 3rd c. Palestine

We have a tendency to valorize the early church.  Even if most persecution was local in nature and actual violence was irregular, pre-Constantinian Christians lived under a persistent threat of violence, as do many today.  That tendency to valorize is right and appropriate– this is after all the Church of the Martyrs! 

No doubt you’re expecting a “however”, and I shan’t dissapoint.  You might think that something so banal as “Christmas and Easter Christians” didn’t exist in so rigorous a setting. And you’d be right, but only because Christmas was not yet a high feast day.  Origen does in fact complain about “Pascha Christians,” those who only come to receive the elements at Easter:  

(For Context: Origen has described the rigorous training Olympic athletes undertake to compete.)

Σὺ δὲ ἀθλῶν οὐ θέλεις ὑπομεῖναι τὰς πληγάς, ἃς προσάγει σοι ὁ ἀθλητὴν ἐθέλων ποιῆσαί <σε> διὰ τῶν μαστίγων θεός. Οὐ θέλεις σαυτὸν ἐνδοῦναι τῇ τροφῇ τῇ ἀθλητικῇ, ἀλλὰ πολλάκις παρέρχεται ἡμέρα μία ἀτρόφου σου ὄντος τῇ ψυχῇ. Καὶ τί λέγω μία; ἀλλὰ γὰρ καὶ δευτέρα καὶ τρίτη καὶ τετάρτη· καὶ οὐκ ἀρκεῖ ἀλλὰ πολλάκις παρέρχονταί σοι ἡμέραι ἓξ καὶ ἑπτά, ἵνα μίαν τραφῇς. Ἐὰν ἄρα δυνηθῇς ἐλθὼν εἰς κυριακόν, λαβών σου τὴν τροφὴν τὴν πνευματικήν, καὶ προτραπῆναι εἰς σωτηρίαν, ἀλλὰ οὐ δὲ διὰ ἑπτὰ ἡμερῶν, ἀλλὰ διὰ πλειόνων κυριακῶν! Ἤδη μέν τινες καταφρονοῦσι καὶ ὅλῳ τῷ ἐνιαυτῷ ἄτροφοι μένουσιν· ἔρχονται δὲ ἐπ’ ὀλίγας τὰς τοῦ πάσχα λεγομένας <ἡμέρας> ἐν αὐταῖς τραφησόμενοι. Οἴεσθε ὅτι ἐκεῖνοι δύνανται ἀθλῆσαι, δύνανται ἀγωνίσασθαι πρὸς τὰ πνευματικὰ τῆς πονηρίας, οὕτως ἀμελοῦντες τῶν ἑαυτῶν τροφῶν; Οὐ δύνανται ἰσχὺν ἔχειν, τὰς ἰσχυροποιούσας μὴ λαμβάνοντες τροφάς.
But you are unwilling in your own contest to bear the blows that God, through these scourges, brings upon you in his desire to make you an athlete. You’re unwilling to entrust yourself to a training diet, but instead a whole day passes by without any food for your soul. And why should I limit myself to a single day?  There goes the second, the third, and the fourth!  Not even that’s enough: often six or seven days go by before one day of food.  Even if you can come on Sunday, take your spiritual food, and be exhorted to pursue salvation, surely you can’t go weeks or even months without this?  Some already do despise coming together and remain without food for the entire year.  They come to be fed on those few days named for the Pascha. Do you think that they can truly vie and compete with the spiritual powers of wickedness when they’re so careless with their own food? It’s impossible for them to have strength, because they don’t take in the food that would give them strength. 

From Origen, Homily 4 on the Psalm 77, section 4. The Greek text comes from Perrone's 2015 edition.  The translation is my own.  

Thoughts on the Didache

Thoughts on the Didache

Textual Criticism and Biblical Authority in Origen's Homily on Ps. 77

Textual Criticism and Biblical Authority in Origen's Homily on Ps. 77