Love feasts for the indigent

About 1,700 years ago, Roman Emperor Julian gained eternal infamy as “the Apostate” for his renewed attack in Christendom which had become “mainstream” during the reign of his uncle, Constantine I, widely viewed as the first Christian Emperor.

Julian the Apostate was a man of letters, and transcripts exist of his rants against the Christians whom he referred to as the ‘Galilean Sect’. The ineffectiveness of widespread persecution of Christians was still within living memory and for the most part Julian did not set out to destroy Christianity but to drive the religion out of “the governing classes of the empire”. 

He was effective in removing Christians from public office, and countered their liturgy with that of his preferred Neoplatonic paganism. However, it seems the largest bur in the saddle of his quest was the effectiveness of the ‘Galilean sect’ in living a winsome lifestyle that undermined his efforts to marginalise them. Call it a charm offensive as guerrilla warfare. His writing reflects his frustration at his failure to counter the natural spirituality of the Galileans and the attraction it held to the main in the street. He knew that he could not just eradicate Christianity without dealing with the things that made it attractive. But what was it that made it attractive?

It seems the key strategy of the ‘Galileans’ in those times was to practice the gift of hospitality.

“It is shameful that the Hellenes should want, when there is not a single beggar amongst the Jews, and when the godless Galileans feed their own people and ours as well” he huffed. ‘They begin like people who entice people with sweet meats; they begin with hospitality and acts of mercy, with invitations to their love-feasts which they call Agape and little by little inveigling those who trust them into their godless communities.”

It’s interesting to note what it was that drawing people into the community of Christian faith – hospitality, acts of mercy and love feasts. It proved an effective counter to what Julian was attempting to entice them with – Hellenic liturgy and positions of influence and power.

The power of food and hospitality is obvious.  It’s the fuel of life and many cherished human memories are made around the dinner table.  In camping it is a fantastic privilege to cater to people, to exercise hospitality and allow people to relax around a good meal without having to worry about the dishes afterwards.

Sometimes us Westerners are at risk of slipping into the habit of seeing hospitality and charity as the obvious acts of feeding the poor on a global scale or perhaps to the obviously marginalized closer to home.

However, the Galileans were very effective at hosting organic “love feasts” – extravagant acts of celebration amongst their local communities, for the benefits of friends and neighbours, and it was this that was establishing their attractive winsomeness that Julian struggled to counter.

‘Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity, and by a display of false compassion have established and given effect to their pernicious errors. See their love-feasts, and their tables spread for the indigent. Such practice is common among them, and causes a contempt for our gods.

The definition of indigent (one who is poor) does not need to be applied only to material wealth.  What about the poor of spirit?  In times of genuine introspection I think people honest with themselves admit that in Western suburbia even the most successful of people fit the definition of hurting, hopeless etc.  Most if not all people have their times of quiet desperation, though the successful rarely let others into their world to realise it.  But I’d be surprised if someone pro-active about getting to know their street community wouldn’t find the many, perhaps even a majority, of the people in their street have times in their life littered with challenges, heartache and fear.

It makes me ask, what would our local suburban communities look like if entire congregations made a regular habit of firing up the barbeque and hosting lavish street parties?  Why should this be the domain of fund-raisers and political parties?  Or Master Chef……

After fifteen years of living in mission communities in rural NSW, Andrew Grant has recently commenced as the Director of Camping for Queensland Conference and Camping Centres, a ministry of Queensland Baptists.  He is publishing the development and growth of the QCCC camping ministry on his blog at