The above caption is the theme of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress which was held in Dublin from the 10 th of June to 17th of June. Communion is a very important aspect of the Eucharistic theology. It is a deeper and intrinsic reality where people of God enter into union with God. The physical union is the gathering of the people for the Eucharistic assembly. The world of today is torn apart by divisions, war and hatred. It has lost the harmony which was at the beginning when God created the world. God wants to be in comunion with His people through His love. Communion with God is the ultimate end of all human beings. So let us see what communion means and then situate it in the context in Eucharistic context
What is the meaning of Koinonia?
The essential meaning of the koinonia embraces concepts conveyed in the English terms community, communion, joint participation, sharing and intimacy. Koinonia can therefore refer in some contexts to a jointly contributed giftThe word appears 19 times in most editions of the Greek New Testament. In the New American Standard Bible, it is translated “fellowship” twelve times, “sharing” three times, and “participation” and “contribution” twice each.
In the New Testament, the basis of communion begins with a joining of Jesus with the community of the faithful. This union is also experienced in practical daily life. The same bonds that link the individual to Jesus also link him or her with other faithful. The New Testament letters describe those bonds as so vital and genuine that a deep level of intimacy can be experienced among the members of a local Church
The first usage of koinonia in the Greek New Testament is found in Acts 2:42-47, where we read a striking description of the common life shared by the early Christian believers in Jerusalem:
“ They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the communion, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need…They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. ”
Communion itself was the breaking of bread and the form of worship and prayer. It was in the breaking of the bread that the Apostles “recognized” Christ and it was in the breaking of bread, called Communion, that they celebrated Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection in obedience to his Last Supper instruction: “Do this in memory of me.”
A special New Testament application of the word koinonia is to describe the Communion that existed at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper or sacrament of the Eucharist. For example, 1 Corinthians 10:16 (KJV) use the English word “communion” to represent the Greek word koinonia. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” Any common meal certainly could represent a “sharing.” The koinonia is viewed as much deeper, however, when the meal is associated with a spiritual purpose. Joining in the Lord’s Supper is uniting oneself with other believers in the objective reality of Christ’s death.
The spiritual meaning of koinonia
The word has such a multitude of meanings that no single English word is adequate to express its depth and richness. It is a derivative of koinos, the word for common. Koinonia is a complex, rich, and thoroughly fascinating Greek approach to building community or teamwork.
Koinonia embraced a strong commitment to Kalos k’agathos meaning “good and good”, an inner goodness toward virtue, and an outer goodness toward social relationships. In the context of outer goodness, translated into English, the meaning of koinonia holds the idea of joint participation in something with someone, such as in a community, or team or an alliance or joint venture. Those who have studied the word find there is always an implication of action included in its meaning. The word is meaning-rich too, since it is used in a variety of related contexts.
Koinonos means ‘a sharer’ as in to share with one another in a possession held in common. It implies the spirit of generous sharing or the act of giving as contrasted with selfish getting. When koinonia is present, the spirit of sharing and giving becomes tangible. In most contexts, generosity is not an abstract ideal, but a demonstrable action resulting in a tangible and realistic expression of giving.
In classical Greek, koinonein means “to have a share in a thing,” as when two or more people hold something, or even all things, in common. It can mean “going shares” with others, thereby having “business dealings,” such as joint ownership of a ship. It can also imply “sharing an opinion” with someone, and therefore agreeing with him, or disagreeing in a congenial way. Only participation as a contributive member allows one to share in what others have. What is shared, received or given becomes the common ground through which Koinonia becomes real.
Koinonos in classical Greek means a companion, a partner or a joint-owner. Therefore, koinonia can imply an association, common effort, or a partnership in common.” The common ground by which the two parties are joined together creates an aligned relationship, such as a “fellowship” or “partnership”. In a papyrus announcement a man speaks of his brother “with whom I have no koinonia”, meaning no business connection or common interest. In the New Testament, (Luke 5:10) James, John, and Simon are called “partners” (koinonia). The joint participation was a shared fishing business.
Two people may enter into marriage in order to have “koinonia of life”, that is to say, to live together a life in which everything is shared. Koinonia was used to refer to the marriage bond, and it suggested a powerful common interest that could hold two or more persons together.
The term can also relate to a spiritual relationship. In this sense, the meaning something that is held and shared jointly with others for God, speaking to man’s “relationship with God”. Epictetus talks of religion as ‘aiming to have koinonia with Zeus”. The early Christian community saw this as a relationship with the Holy Spirit. In this context, koinonia highlights a higher purpose or mission that benefits the greater good of the members as a whole. The term “enthusiasm” is connected to this meaning of koinonia for it signifies “to be imbued with the Spirit of God in Us.”
To create a bond between comrades is the meaning of koinonia when people are recognized, share their joy and pains together, and are united because of their common experiences, interests and goals. Fellowship creates a mutual bond which overrides each individual’s pride, vanity, and individualism, fulfilling the human yearning with fraternity, belonging, and companionship. This meaning of koinonia accounts for the ease by which sharing and generosity flow. When combined with the spiritual implications of koinonia, fellowship provides a joint participation in God’s graces and denotes that common possession of spiritual values.
Thus early Greco-Roman Christians had a fellowship God, sharing the common experience of joys, fears, tears, and divine glory. In this manner, those who shared believed their true wealth lay not in what they had, but in what they gave to others. Fellowship is never passive in the meaning of koinonia, it is always linked to action, not just being together, but also doing together. With fellowship comes a close and intimate relationship embracing ideas, communication, and frankness, as in a true, blessed interdependent friendship among multiple group members.
The idea of community denotes a “common unity” of purpose and interests. By engaging in this united relationship a new level of consciousness and conscience emerges that spurs the group to higher order thinking and action, thus empowering and encouraging its members to exist in a mutually beneficial relationship. Thus community and family become closely intertwined, because aiming at a common unity strives to overcome brokenness, divisiveness, and, ultimately gaining wholeness with each of the members, with their environment, and with their God. By giving mutual support, friendship and family merge.
Both fellowship and community imply an inner and outer unity. Nowhere in the framework of community is there implied a hierarchy of command and control. While there is leadership, the leader’s task is to focus energy, and align interests, not impose control. Koinonia creates a brethren bond which builds trust and, especially when combined with the values of Wisdom, Virtue and Honor, overcomes two of humanity’s deepest fears and insecurities: being betrayed and being demeaned. Whether working collectively or individually, the innovators of ancient Greece worked for the greater good of the whole to propel their community forward, to share their understanding with others so that all ships would rise on a rising tide. Thus loftier goals and dreams are more easily manifested in the mind and achieved in reality. The team’s sense of purpose became manifest in their communitarian efforts.
The Eucharistic meaning of “ koinonia”
The Eucharist is the sacrament of communion with one another in the one body of Christ. This was the full meaning of eucharistic koinonia in the early Church. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “the Eucharist is the sacrament of the unity of the Church, which results from the fact that many are one in Christ”. The climax of the Eucharistic celebration is the Commuion with Jesus Christ and with ane another. How do we understand this deeper reality? The gathering of the people of God inspired by the Holy Spirit itself is the communion with God and one another. It si a not a physical gathering, but rather it is an invitation initiated by Jesus Christ to partake in His Body and Blood. So it is not a ritual or a worship alone giving thanks to our heavenly Father for all His gifts and specially the Gift of His Son rather joining ourselves with Jesus Christ in His self-gift of Himself to the Father ina sacramental setting. This understanding of the Eucharist can only give meaning to communin with God and with one another .
The Eucharistic communion is a movement towards the other for action. As we have seen before in the meaning of koinonia it involves sharing, relationships and seeking the common good of the community in which we live. Every Christian community has to become an Eucharistic community as every Eucharistic Celebration has to become an transformative experience of healing the divisions and a moment of receiving the grace of forgiveness whereby we extend our hands towards others out of Christ’s love. So the Eucharistic Celebration becomes ad intra experience of Christ’s sacrificial love for humanity as well as ad extra in withnessing that love in serving our neighbours. Eucharist as a sacrificial meal tends to communicate to the participants the love that has inspired the sacrifice, alove that spared nothing in order to secure the happiness of others and reached the pinnacle of heroism. The union with Christ what we experience in the Eucharist is the slefless gift of Christ who died for whole humanity. This uniohn has to be understood in a proper sense since it moves the person for furthe raction in relation towars his fellow beings rather maing this union mrely a pious one. We have to remember we receive the risen Lord in the Eucharist which was the high source of energy which made them to share their good with others and bear witness to the Risen Lord. The Communion is not a mere ideal or concept rather an experience of intrinsic relationship with others and an experience of developing a Eucharistic mind. It is also an experience of assimilating the mind of Christ though we have a spiritual union with Christ in the Eucharist.
Rev. Dr. Stany Antony OMI