Program for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2004
Program for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2004
18-25 January 2004
WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY 2004
My peace I give to you (Jn 14: 23-31)
To those organizing the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
Adapting the text
This material is offered with the understanding that, whenever possible, it will be adapted for use at the local level. In doing this, account must be taken of local liturgical and devotional practice, and of the whole social and cultural context. Such adaptation should normally take place ecumenically.
In some places ecumenical structures are already set up for adapting the material. In other places, we hope that the need to adapt it will be a stimulus to creating such structures.
Using the Week of Prayer material
For churches and Christian communities which observe the week of prayer together through a single common service, an order for an ecumenical worship service is provided.
Churches and Christian communities may also incorporate material from the week of prayer into their own services. Prayers from the ecumenical worship service, the "eight days", and the selection of additional prayers can be used as appropriate in their own setting.
Communities which observe the week of prayer in their worship for each day during the week may draw material for these services from the "eight days".
Those wishing to do Bible studies on the week of prayer theme can use as a basis the biblical texts and reflections given in the "eight days". Each day the discussions can lead to a closing period of intercessory prayer.
Those who wish to pray privately may find the material helpful for focusing their prayer intentions. They can be mindful that they are in communion with others praying all around the world for the greater visible unity of Christ's church.
The search for unity: throughout the year
The traditional date for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is 18-25 January. Those dates were proposed in 1908 by Paul Watson to cover the days between the feast of St Peter and the feast of St Paul, and therefore have a symbolic meaning. In the southern hemisphere where January is a vacation time churches often find other days to celebrate the week of prayer, for example around Pentecost (which was suggested by the Faith and Order movement in 1926), which is also a symbolic date for the unity of the church.
But the search for Christian unity is not limited to one week each year. We encourage you therefore not only to be flexible concerning the date but also to understand the material presented here as an invitation to find opportunities throughout the whole year to express the degree of communion which the churches have already received, and to pray together for that full unity which is Christ's will.
Biblical Text for 2004
My peace I give to you (Jn 14: 23-31)
Jesus answered him, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
"I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
You heard me say to you, 'I am going away, and I am coming to you.' If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us be on our way."
(New Revised Standard Version)
Theological and Pastoral Introduction
My peace I give to you (Jn 14: 23-31)
We seldom pray for that which does not involve us; and we pray most fervently for that which concerns us deeply, that which touches upon the people and the world we know. And yet prayer also expands the human heart. Saint Isaac the Syrian speaks of the merciful heart as one which burns with great compassion for all people, for every created thing. Gripped by a "strong and vehement mercy", a compassion "without measure in the likeness of God", such a heart offers up prayer from the midst of all suffering, offers up prayer even for those who do one harm, for "enemies of the truth" (Homily 81).Today's world needs such expansive merciful hearts, such prayer rising from the midst of the groans of humanity, of the whole created world.
The quest for peace in the Middle East, a quest shared by many other peoples in other parts of the world, forms the particular backdrop of the celebration and meditations for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity for 2004. As peace in our world remains elusive and is obstructed at every turn, the search for peace, and the profound hopes which are entwined in that search, form a vital part of the prayer which rises from our hearts to the merciful heart of God in our day.
We all want peace. It is human to find fulfilment in it and long for it from the depths of our hearts. Yet the path which leads to peace is not so self-evident, nor is it well-trod. Our hope is that the third millennium will be a millennium of peace, a millennium of return to faith in God. The Arabic word for peace is salaam; the Hebrew word, from the same Semitic lineage, is shalom. In the Middle East, as in all contexts where the adherents of different religions live side by side, constructive relationships between religious traditions - built on dialogue and a common pursuit of peace and justice, rooted in a shared recognition of the dignity of every human person - are an essential pre-requisite if we are to be blessed with the gift of peace. In turn, a spirit of reconciliation and common mission among Christians and Christian communities is foundational to the pursuit of peace. Our common concern for the establishment of peace should serve to draw us more closely into communion with one another.
The biblical concept of peace is richly expressive and multi-faceted, suggesting wholeness and well-being, happiness and security, integrity and justice. Our Christian faith tells us that true peace is given us only if we follow God's ways, as set forth in scripture, and if we take up the path to peace proclaimed and lived by Jesus Christ. "He is our peace" (Eph 2: 14), and as his disciples, our unity must be a reconciliation in him. The witness to peace of a fragmented Christian community is fraught with ambiguities; an inner contradiction weakens our ability to spread Christ's peace. By contrast, unity among the churches gives power and credibility to our witness, setting convincingly before the world the vision of a universal reconciliation in Christ. Reconciliation among the churches is a way to peace and gives integrity to its proclamation. We all share in the responsibility of seeking the unity which will bear authentic witness to Jesus' peace; just as we all are called, in diverse ways but inspired and encouraged by the same Spirit, to be artisans of his peace and reconciliation in the world.
The Eastern churches have lived through unique and difficult historical circumstances. These ancient churches, and the countries that are the birthplace of Christianity, have often been deprived of peace. They have longed for it through the generations, and have persistently prayed to obtain it. Their present situation leaves these churches longing for peace more than ever before, and their patrimony and heritage, traditions and rites urge them to ask fervently for that peace in their prayers. That is why they have chosen the theme of peace for this year's Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
For the churches of the Middle East today, living side by side as a minority within their culture, with their multiplicity and their many mixed marriages, the work of ecumenism is not an abstract ideal but a vital need. Only through fostering an ecumenical spirit are they able to exist meaningfully. Unity and peace are their most heartfelt concerns, their paramount and all-pervasive dream. A common struggle has brought them together and a vision of the future serves to unite them. Peace is their daily worry, their abiding hope.
In the early days of Christianity the Christian community was one, and while incarnating that unity has never been easy, the early church stands through the centuries as the primary model of a community that could live in peace and proclaim that peace effectively. It is not so today: we are not yet fully united, and our witness to peace is compromised accordingly. Those who wish peace would do well to pray and strive for unity. Mindful of this relationship, the church is called to pray for peace in unity and for unity in peace.
The choice of this year's theme also results from the conviction of the churches of the Middle East that Christians throughout the world, by undertaking this prayer ecumenically, would be standing in solidarity with the hopes and sufferings of the people of this region. Their request is reminiscent of the apostle Paul, travelling about, collecting gifts for the mother church of Jerusalem; today the gift being sought is the prayer and spiritual support of sisters and brothers united in a common desire for peace.
Peace means putting things back in their natural and God-given order. It touches on all relationships and all manner of relationships. Paradise has often been depicted as a peaceful life between God and God's people, between each person and his or her neighbour, between the human race and the created world. Peace exists only where there is justice. By contrast, sin is that which causes a breach in these relationships. Sin disperses, justice unifies. Our daily actions and the choices we make have repercussions, for good or evil; through them we inevitably draw nearer to or distance ourselves from God and our neighbour; we obtain and spread peace, or dissipate and rupture it. In the East, people greet each other by wishing them peace, because that is the best one could wish another, the best relationship one could entertain with one's neighbour, the human right one strives most to protect.
God the Father is the God of peace, who reconciled us by the blood of his only Son (2 Cor 13:11).In the eucharistic anaphoras of the Oriental churches, the people proclaim "a mercy of peace, a sacrifice of praise", thus remembering the mercy of God shown forth in his self-revelation and self-gift in Christ, who lifts us up to share in the peace which only God can give. Jesus came to build his peace on earth and to give it to us (Jn 14:27), and he calls his church to be leaven for a new paradise, universalizing that true peace which he so desires to give to the world. Liturgical rites, worship and adoration, in their variety of forms, all search for the reconciliation of human beings with God, with one another, with the universe and within ourselves. As such, prayer for peace includes a strong interior dimension: calling forth the conversion and opening of our hearts, that we might bear within us Christ's mercy; fostering the childlike trust that God is bringing forth for and within us what we cannot create for ourselves; bearing fruit in charitable works carried out in thanksgiving to God and in order to foster reconciliation and a peaceful life with our neighbours far and near; inviting perseverance in asceticism and inner purification; and, as already suggested, necessarily linked to the longing and striving for unity in all spheres of human life.
Prayer for peace also prepares us, as individual Christians and as church, to undertake the prophetic mission which belongs intrinsically to the body of Christ: to be instruments and artisans of peace and justice, of a new humanity, in our broken and war-riddled world. Active commitment to the pursuit of peace and justice is the fruit of the Holy Spirit working within us. This is not a human project, but the work of God; and as the scriptures are quick to relate, God's peace is not the world's peace. The prophets Isaiah (2:4) and Micah (4:3) speak of a time when nations "shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks". This vision of turning instruments of war into those which build up the community continues to inspire Christians to be skilled in the tools of dialogue and non-violent resolution of conflict in the pursuit of peace with justice, using means which fully cohere with the end we seek, as Jesus himself did. Micah and Jeremiah also give witness to a prophetic tradition of crying out against hypocrisy and a false rhetoric of peace, railing against those "saying 'peace, peace' when there is no peace" (Jer. 6:14), those "who cry 'Peace'" when their own needs are met, but declare war against those who put "nothing into their mouths" (Mic. 3:5).Many Christians and Christian communities in our day have entered into public discourse about the means to bring about peace, at times challenging political and ideological platforms and policies of "peace" which are built upon violence, injustice, oppression of others. In some parts of the world, the prophetic witness of confronting narrow or false definitions of peace with the biblical vision is not possible, or comes at great personal and communal cost. These places occupy a special place in our prayer for peace.
In the year 2004, Christians throughout the world once again have a common date for the celebration of Easter. The paschal mystery is the source of our hope, the wellspring of our mission, the promise that peace is possible. We are reminded that while violence, injustice and hatred may thrive for a time, it is God's power to transform death into life, to bring reconciliation from all that seems to undermine it, which will ultimately prevail. As we celebrate Easter on the same date this year throughout the Christian world, may our celebrations throughout this holy season be an incentive to share more deeply the hope and joy, as well as the mission, which rises out of the tomb with the Risen Lord. The year 2004 also falls within the World Council of Churches' Decade to Overcome Violence, an initiative which invites our prayer and calls for our commitment to work for peace.
Through the worship service and the biblical texts and meditations for the eight days, the biblical vision of peace will be set forward and reflected upon from diverse perspectives, with the hope of drawing Christians together in opening up the rich treasures of our heritage in order to be better instruments of Christ's transforming peace in the world. The gospel text for the worship service is John 14: 23-31, part of Jesus' farewell discourse to his disciples before he is put to death. In this paschal context, Jesus assures his followers that if they keep his word, he and the Father will make a home in them. He offers them the gift and promise of peace: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you". In taking leave of his disciples, Jesus tells them something of how they are to be bearers of that peace for all the world, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
This same Johannine text provides a starting point for the reflections of the eight days, unfolding and reflecting on the implications of the Christian understanding of peace. All peace, within the church and in the world, has its foundations in God's creative and life-giving love for us (day 1). In revealing the Father's love to us, Jesus promises to bring his disciples an interior peace and serenity even amidst turmoil (day 2). Those who hear Jesus' words and take them to heart become bearers of his peace (day 3). This is the work of the Holy Spirit, bringing peace and forgiveness, and enlivening us to place our minds and hearts at the service of a world longing for peace (day 4). While the world seeks peace and security through strength and the exercise of power, Christ's peace comes through humility and service, seeking to overcome evil with good (day 5). To walk the path of discipleship is to live increasingly free from fear and anxiety, ever mindful that God's love is greater than anything which opposes us (day 6). Trusting in Christ's resurrection and awaiting his coming again in glory, Christian life is to be lived against a horizon of hope, while standing in solidarity with those whose lives are scarred by doubt, fear and sorrow (day 7). Authentic peace, the peace which God longs to give us, brings joy, but it also obliges us to pour ourselves out for others, so that all might share in that peace (day 8).
Preparation of the material for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2004
The initial draft of this material has come to us from Christians who live and make their witness in the ancient city of Aleppo, Syria.
We offer sincere thanks to those who worked on behalf of the churches in Aleppo (Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant) to prepare these texts in their initial form: Mgr Gregorios Youhanna Ibrahim (Metropolitan, Syrian Orthodox Church), Mgr Boulos Yazdji (Metropolitan, Greek Orthodox Church), Mgr Antoine Odo (Bishop, Chaldean Church), and Mgr Boutros Marayati (Archbishop, Armenian Catholic Church; coordinator of the local group and representative to the international preparatory group).
The material reached its present form at a meeting of an international preparatory group named by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity of the Catholic Church, and the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches. The group met at the Pastoral Secretariat in the headquarters of the Episcopal Conference of Sicily. We wish to thank Mgr Carlo Di Vita and his entire staff for their warm welcome and friendly support of our work.
The group was grateful for the opportunity to visit the "Centro Paolo Borsellino" in Palermo, Sicily and to receive an explanation of its important social and educational work.
Ecumenical Worship Service
My peace I give to you (Jn 14: 23-31)
The theme of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity for 2004 and for this ecumenical worship service have been proposed by the Christian churches of the city of Aleppo in Syria. Ecumenical relations there are very much alive and occasions for celebrating together are frequent.
This celebration intentionally takes up the model of ecumenical celebration regularly used by the Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant churches of Aleppo, and is characterized by a doxology of praise at the beginning, prayer of repentance, an importance given to biblical teaching, sung intercessory prayers and invocation of the Holy Spirit.
The prayers which make up this worship and those proposed in 'Additional Prayers' have come from different liturgical traditions of these Oriental churches. Most of the prayers used in the order of worship come from the Syriac liturgical tradition.
It would be an act of spiritual ecumenism to use only the prayers proposed without seeking to modify them, to enter into the movement of this celebration, following its order and keeping its essential liturgical elements. It could also be an occasion, if that is possible within the local ecumenical situation, to invite representatives from the Orthodox and Oriental churches to participate in the worship and to reflect together on how to adapt these proposals.
But some communities will certainly experience some difficulty in making all the prayers and certain expressions their own. We therefore propose - as an alternative - rather than rewriting the oriental prayers, that they should either be shortened, or that others be chosen from the additional prayers offered, or that prayers from a more familiar tradition be used. Whatever the choice made, if the structure, the order and each element from the worship are maintained, the essence of the celebration will be discernible and the spiritual goal achieved: not of imposing the prayers of one liturgical tradition, but of permitting the assembly to enter with faith into the spiritual experience of our sisters and brothers of the East. The spiritual unity of all Christians who wish to prayer for peace in the world in this year 2004 and for their communion in faith in the Risen Christ, who is its source, will be clearly evident.
This is the order of the worship with notes on the relation of its diverse elements with the theme:
The congregation sings a hymn of thanksgiving to the Lord and prepares with a prayer of repentance to listen to the word of God. To our hearts this prayer brings inner peace, fruit of God's mercy, and attentiveness to his word.
The liturgy of the word is the largest part. It is a proclamation of peace as God's gift to humanity, as a promise from Jesus to his own disciples becomes reality in the mystery of his cross and resurrection and is consummated by the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church. According to the teaching of Paul to the Ephesians, and following the example of his pastoral care as an apostle towards the members of the newly established local churches, we are called upon to love each other in the communion of the Holy Spirit. This mutual love between Christians and between churches, of which ecumenism is an essential part, lends credibility to our witness and our specific engagement as Christians in seeking peace in the world.
The sign of peace, placed in the middle of the worship - between bible readings and the creed followed by intercessions - should be given particular emphasis as well as the renewal of commitment from all present "to keep the unity of the spirit by the ties of peace, in order to become one body...".Several proposals are made to express and encourage the members of the congregation to make this sincere, renewed commitment to fostering peace and the reconciliation of Christians.
A symbol of peace could be incorporated, for instance palm branches, a dove, or the lighting of candles; but a rainbow is to be preferred. This symbol could be emphasised from the beginning of the worship. It could be referred to in the sermon, made a central part of the celebration and taken up again in the dismissal.
It is also an idea to invite people to testify as to how they are active or have been active in the service of peace. The positive ecumenical situation in Aleppo itself is a testimony to be heard in the course of the worship.
Opened with thanksgiving to the God of peace the worship closes with a prayer to the Holy Spirit, precious treasure and source of peace.
The ministers present from the local churches, whether or not they have actively participated in the worship could give the final blessing together. The dismissal could, among other things, emphasize the fact that common prayer finds its fulfilment at the very hea
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