Widow's House Meal
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32. Widow's House Meal

Apostolic Tradition

Hippolytus IconOne charitable aspect of the agape meal appears in the writing of Hippolytus of Rome (170-235 AD), called "Apostolic Tradition." Hippolytus was considered one of the most influential theologians of his time and renowned for his preaching, eloquence, and learning. The "Apostolic Tradition" was described as "voluminous writings" and revealed that the church practiced charitable activity. Just after discussing the Lord's Supper, there is a brief treatment of the widow's house meal. It is legislative and deals only with two specific points. First, anyone who wishes to hold a dinner for widows should observe propriety by sending them home before the evening is too advanced. Hippolytus of Rome also urges that when they want to feed the widows but cannot because of other responsibilities, they should give them a portion of food to take home and eat there. Usually, patrons regularly issue a small basket of food to clients who were not fortunate enough to be invited to the dinner itself. The text seems to indicate that more widows would arrive, perhaps uninvited, at the house than could be fed, like clients expecting a handout. In Hippolytus' church, widows who need support or extra nourishment still came to private homes for dinner and food gifts. Though later losing the authority to the bishop's centralized power, the patron still held charitable meals to feed widows.

Scripture Reading

Lord's SupperScripture reading and preaching in the household of faith developed into the thanksgiving Eucharist in the Early Church. "Eucharistia" was the Greek word for "thanksgiving" in the Early Church. The celebrant began as Christ began, according to 1 Corinthians 11.24, by giving thanks. Saint Paul wrote, "and when he (Jesus) had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.'" Justin Martyr (100-160 AD), in about 155 AD, described the Eucharist after the service of Scripture, reading, preaching, and prayers, as "the crown of the Sunday worship." John Foster describes this in "The First Advance - Church History 1: AD 29-500," "The President brought bread and wine mixed with water. He says a prayer of thanksgiving, as well as he is able, and the congregation say "Amen," which is Hebrew for 'May it be so.'" "The deacons give the bread and wine to all present and take it to those absent. Those who are well off and who want to do so give to the collection. The President takes care of orphans, widows, those ill or otherwise in need, those in prison, and strangers staying here. He becomes the helper of all who are in need." We note with interest today that he gives all the gifts away and sets nothing aside to maintain buildings or pay salaries!

"Widow's House Meal"
by Ron Meacock © 2021

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