We observed His Star in the East

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity — Jan 18 - 25, 2022

Jan 14, 2022

Domes of St Michael the Archangel Ukrainian Catholic Church in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo/Bohemian Baltimore)

     Invitation to pray together for unity and renewal

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (WPCU) is an annual celebration which is traditionally held every year between January 18 (the Feast of the Confession of St Peter) and January 25 (the feast of the Confession of St Paul). But churches in the global south may move the observance to an appropriate week during the year, relevant to their respective contexts. During the WPCU, Christians from all the different Churches are invited to engage with each other to pray for the unity of all Christians, to reflect on Scripture on a particular theme, and to participate in ecumenical worship and fellowship. The year 2022 theme, We observed his star in the East (Mt 2:2) was developed by the Middle East Council of Churches based in Beirut, Lebanon. Today, more than ever, the world, and especially the Middle East, needs a heavenly light to accompany people to a renewed future. As it is stated in one of the meditations prepared by the ecumenical group in Beirut; the image of the star guiding the Magi can be an enduring symbol of hope, of a light shining even when all is dark. In the midst of humanity’s darkness, the star from the East shone…Throughout the ages, and ever since the star first appeared, the world has come to know, through the lives of Christ’s followers, the hope that is inspired by the Holy Spirit… Despite the vicissitudes of history and the changing of circumstances, the Risen One continues to shine, moving within the flow of history like a beacon, guiding all into this perfect light and overcoming the darkness which separates us from one another. The desire to overcome the darkness that separates us compels us to pray and work for Christian unity. Faced with the current COVID-19 pandemic situation, Christians here would most probably be observing the WPCU in different cities and states via a virtual platform. The dates and times of the WPCU event will be made known through the different media platforms used by the respective churches. As we contemplate the wise men who came to pay homage to the Christ-child and opened their treasures to offer Him gifts, we are likewise challenged, in our day and time, to be Christ’s instruments of unity and reconciliation, offering each other the treasures of our spiritual traditions, without losing sight that there is one Lord and Saviour, who call us into the one body, which is His Church. Let us then prepare to join together in ecumenical solidarity, to move from the sin that divides us and, in common obedience, turn to Christ, our Redeemer. Such obedience revives, heals and reconciles everything that is broken or wounded in us, around us, and among us as Christians. With the blessing of Christ, who calls into unity in the one body, may the 2022 WPCU inspire and motivate us to work together to renew the earth, led by the Spirit, and to ensure life in its fullness for all of God’s children now and for the coming generations. Follow the light Christ has planted in your hearts and let it shine with faith, hope and love to all people and communities around us. Yours ecumenically in- Christ, Rev Dr Hermen Shastri

Key dates in the history of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

c. 1740 In Scotland a Pentecostal movement arose, with North American links, whose revivalist message included prayers for and with all churches.

1820 The Rev James Haldane Stewart publishes “Hints for the General Union of Christians for the Outpouring of the Spirit”.

1840 The Rev Ignatius Spencer, a convert to Roman Catholicism, suggests a “Union of Prayer for Unity”.

1867 The First Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops emphasizes prayer for unity in the Preamble to its Resolutions.

1894 Pope Leo XIII encourages the practice of a Prayer Octave for Unity in the context of Pentecost.

1908 First observance of the “Church Unity Octave” initiated by the Rev Paul Wattson.

1926 The Faith and Order movement begins publishing “Suggestions for an Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity”.

1935 Abbé Paul Couturier of France advocates the “Universal Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” on the inclusive basis of prayer for “the unity Christ wills by the means he wills”.

1958 Unité Chrétienne (Lyon, France) and the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches begin co-operative preparation of materials for the Week of Prayer.

1964 In Jerusalem, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I prayed together Jesus’ prayer “that they all may be one” (John 17).

1964 The Decree on Ecumenism of Vatican II emphasises that prayer is the soul of the ecumenical movement and encourages observance of the Week of Prayer.

1966 The Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches and the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity [now known as the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity] begin official joint preparation of the Week of Prayer material.

1968 First official use of Week of Prayer material prepared jointly by Faith and Order and the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity.

1975 First use of Week of Prayer material based on a draft text prepared by a local ecumenical group. An Australian group was the first to take up this plan in preparing the 1975 initial draft.

1988 Week of Prayer materials were used in the inaugural worship for The Christian Federation of Malaysia, which links the major Christian groupings in that country.

1994 International group preparing text for 1996 included representatives from YMCA and YWCA.

2004 Agreement reached that resources for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity be jointly published and produced in the same format by Faith and Order (WCC) and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (Catholic Church).

2008 Commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. (Its predecessor, the Church Unity Octave, was first observed in 1908).

2017 Marking the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the materials for the Week of Prayer in 2017 were prepared by Christians in Germany.

         Important lessons from the Eastern Christian Churches

“We saw the star in the East, and we came
to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2)

For Christians following the Byzantine lectionary, these words from the Gospel of Matthew are read on Christmas day. Indeed, for us Eastern Catholics who follow the Julian calendar, we heard those words just last week! While most of our neighbours have already finished their Christmas celebrations and moved past Epiphany, for some of us, the party is just getting started. The accounting of the journey of the wise men provides lessons for us Christians: we see how Herod and the religious establishment wanted to harm the newborn King of Kings, while those who worshipped stars were among the first to recognise the coming of the Christ.

This year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (January 18-25) has taken these same words from the Gospel of Matthew as its theme. It is a reminder for us in the West to look towards the ancestral Churches of the East in solidarity. Many of the faithful of these Churches today experience political, economic and social turmoil in their everyday lives. Unity is needed more than ever. The Churches of the Christian East also offer lessons for us. Currently, the Catholic Church is preparing for the Sixteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, commonly called the “synod on synodality”. In many of our dioceses, we are embarking on local conversations to discuss synodality and how it impacts our lives as Church. Synodality comes from the Greek word synodos – journeying together on the way. It is a form of Church governance that is different from the monarchism which has, at times, characterised the Church of the West.

Even in the Catholic Church, we have synodal forms of governance. The most perfect form of synodal governance comes in the ecumenical council: when the Church of Christ gathers in its episcopate and makes decisions as a body for the entire Church. But synodal forms of governance happen more frequently, especially in the Churches of the Catholic East. The Eastern Catholic Churches try to live the Eastern Christian Faith in the communion of the Catholic Church. While they are Orthodox in their worship and their style of living, they are Catholic in their communion with the successor of St Peter. They live in this special way, anticipating the union of the Churches and providing a voice for the Christian East within the Catholic Communion. In fact, the Second Vatican Council tasked the Eastern Catholic Churches with a “special duty of promoting the unity of all Christians, especially Eastern Christians” (Orientalium Ecclesiarium, no 24).

Each of the ancient patriarchal Churches of the Catholic East is governed by a Synod of Bishops which has true decision-making power: they possess legislative, executive and judicial powers of governance. They elect their own bishops. They establish their own dioceses. They promulgate their own particular laws. They serve as courts of appeal at the local level, without needing to send the cases to the tribunals of the Holy Father in Rome. Already in the Catholic Church, we have a very different model of living our life as Christians. It is fidelity to these ancestral traditions of bishops making decisions in common which provides an important example to the Church of the West: this style of common governance can be done, and it can be Catholic. This witness offers lessons to us as a universal Church engaging in a discussion about synodality: What is its place in the Church and what can it offer? What lessons about how to live our faith can we, as Catholics, learn from the Churches of the East, including those that are not Catholic?

As we approach another week of prayer for Christian unity, we find ourselves looking East. We search for the lessons we can learn from the Christians of the East, but we also see the opportunities to be a people of solidarity with these Churches which, in many cases, are struggling to survive as they abandon their ancestral homelands in search of peace and safety in the West. We, too, are called to journey together with them (synodality!) and embrace their challenges, making them our own: after all, we are One Body. --By Fr Alexander Laschuk, SL media

--Fr Alexander Laschuk is a priest of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Toronto and a canon lawyer. He is Executive Director of the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies in the Faculty of Theology of the University of St Michael’s College in the University of Toronto. He is a member of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation.

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