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Sharing a Life – from ancient Greece to Christian communities












Nathan Nithyananda in a letter to Ellopos says, “It has been quoted that community owes its origin to Greek philosophy of Koinonia. St Paul uses the term many times to instill this communitarian life style of Early Christianity. Are there specific areas, e.g. marriage, business relations, etc. and the reasons where this koinonia can be clearly identified in Greek culture before Christianity?”

Hi Nathan,

As you may know the first Christian communities were speaking Greek even in Palestine. It was the ancient Greeks that accepted the new faith and spread the New Testament to East and West, transforming the Roman empire, so that an understanding of Christianity without knowing essential elements of the ancient Greek life is impossible.

Since we are talking about the Christian life as both referring to a faith and to the consequences of this faith to all sides of a people’s life, ancient Greek thinking has to be explored within the same reference – from religion to the whole life of a city – if we are to understand the links between the two phases of the history of Greek people.

Some modern thinkers, such as Cornelius Castoriadis, insist on the democratic element of the ancient Greek Polis (City), emphasizing the self-government of a people who manage city affairs in a way that would secure anyone’s pleasure with respect to each other’s needs and wishes.

We can call this a ‘secular’ and at any rate narrow view of the ancient Greek polis, although even thus the democratic substance of the Christian church itself, at least in the Greek East (Byzantium), becomes evident.

The word itself (Koinonia) can be traced back to the Lyric poetry (Archilochus), but the reality is already present in Homer, in the communication of Gods and men in the earth as their common habitation.

Starting with the societies/cities appearing in Homer, the Greek koinonia is in its core the sharing of a godly existence, mirrored also in the customs of the polis, honouring together the heroes of a polis in a way that resembles our veneration of the saints, i.e. persons that manifest in their life godly properties and qualities.

Greek koinonia did not arrive to a communist/socialist sense as we know it from recent times, since the main concern of the people was not to distribute their property in justice, but to share the higher sense and meaning of their life with God. In and above anything else, Greek Polis is a sacred thing.

Even before Paul came to Greece and baptised her, through Greece bringing into Christianity the whole of what we now call “West” and potentially all the peoples of the world, Greek thinking had formed a perception of the whole world as a common body that belongs to men and to God, preparing an even greater koinonia or relationship between God and men.

Please note that the very word which in Greek means “creation”, i.e. Demiourghia (Δημιουργία), does not signify just the making of something (out of nothing, or not), but specifically the making of a communion of people (demos).

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3 Comments

  1. Nithyananda Nathan

    Thanks Ellopos for your answer. It still does not fully address my question: what was the motivating factor or factors or philosophy that engendered the Greeks to share their life with one another and not be individualistic. I am keen to learn more about the source of this rich cultural term Koinonia which St Paul transformed into a religious phenomenon.

  2. Are you sure you’re asking the right question? Speaking about the ancient Greek polis I tried to emphasize precisely this, that the factor is the polis itself. Do not search for external reasons: people create philosophy and religion, not the opposite, which is the reason why the same religion fails to give the same results in the life of different peoples.

  3. Irene

    Dear Ellopos,
    Thank God for the Greeks and Greek culture. And thank God for the Jews and Jewish culture. Saint Paul the Apostle thought that these and other nationalities were not so important as being what he called “a new Creation”.
    Please excuse me to point out something that seems to me not correct in you initial answer:
    “It was the ancient Greeks that accepted the new faith and spread the New Testament to East and West, transforming the Roman empire, so that an understanding of Christianity without knowing essential elements of the ancient Greek life is impossible.”

    Yes there were the Greeks but there were also many Hebrews who accepted and spread the new faith as is obvious from the New Testament. May we see a renewed cooperation between people from different nations to do all that is good and pleasing.

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Three Millennia of Greek Literature