Ben Marston, who frequently reads and comments on this blog, sent me the following excerpt from Matthew the Poor’s book The Communion of Love. Matthew the Poor, also known as Matta El Meskeen, was an Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Monk and in the follow is a reflection on the simplicity of the earliest Christians as they followed Jesus.
Those simple people understood the Gospel. They 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, 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 that 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 they 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 cruellest 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 word 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 the darkness, comfort them in distress, and accompany them along the way till they gave up their spirit into the hand of its Creator with great glory.