The history of the Christian Church begins, with the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles at Jerusalem during the feast of Pentecost, the first White Sunday. On that same day through the preaching of St Peter three thousand men and women were baptized, and the first Christian community at Jerusalem was formed.
Before long the members of the Jerusalem Church were scattered by the persecution which followed the stoning of St. Stephen. “Go forth therefore,”; Christ had said, “and make all nations My disciples”; (Matthew xxviii, 19). Obedient to this command they preached wherever they went, at first to Jews, but before long to Gentiles also. Some stories of these apostolic journeys are recorded by St Luke in the book of Acts; others are preserved in the tradition of the Church. Within an astonishingly short time small Christian communities had sprung up in all the main centers of the Roman Empire and even in places beyond the Roman frontiers.
The Church as a Eucharistic Community
The Empire through which these first Christian missionaries traveled was, particularly in its eastern part, an empire of cities. This determined the administrative structure of the primitive Church. The basic unit was the community in each city, governed by its own bishop; to assist the bishop there were presbyters or priests, and deacons. The surrounding countryside depended on the Church of the city. This pattern, with the threefold ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons, was already established in some places by the end of the first century. We can see it in the seven short letters which St Ignatius, the Bishop of Antioch, wrote about the year 107 as he traveled to Rome to be martyred.
Ignatius laid emphasis upon two things in particular, the bishop and the Eucharist; he saw the Church as both hierarchical and sacramental. “The bishop in each Church,” he wrote, “presides in place of God. Let no one do any of the things which concern the Church without the bishop … Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be, just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” ” And it is the bishop” primary and distinctive task to celebrate the Eucharist, “the medicine of immortality.”