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99th Annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Metropolitan MYKHAYIL's Reflection for the Faithful

"Open our ears and loosen our tongues." This is the theme, taken from Mark 7: 31-37, for the occasion observed by Christians throughout the world known as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This annual opportunity for Jesus' disciples to focus on prayer to heal the divisions among ourselves was inspired by the great "high priestly prayer" of Our Lord himself, on the night before his Passion: "Father, may they all be one, that the world may believe . . . (Jn. 17: 21).

This year, I had the privilege to begin this important time in the very place in which it was initiated 99 years ago, in the historic Chapel of Our Lady of the Angels, located within the Sisters' convent at the Graymoor Monastery in Garrison, NY. In that serene place, almost a century ago and while still members of the Anglican Communion, Father Paul Watson and Mother Laurena White, co-founders of the Franciscan Society of the Atonement, gathered their then small group of monastics and prayed that Christians might realize the unity that Jesus himself asked for his followers. The Society of the Atonement is now a worldwide religious order dedicated to promoting the cause of the unity of Christians. In the same way, the idea of Fr. Paul, to hold this annual time of prayer (originally known as the "Chair of Unity Octave), quickly caught on in other churches and communities. Today it is one of the times most widely observed by Christians everywhere.

The theme for this year's "Week of Prayer" is taken from the above mentioned passage from Mark's Gospel, in which Jesus heals a man who was both blind and mute. Upon seeing the man freed from his infirmities, those present were amazed and began to proclaim to everyone they met, the wonderful deeds that God was doing in Jesus.

We have all experienced the marvelous works of God in our lives. To be truly grateful for these blessings, we must not only give thanks for that which we have received, but share the news of our joy with others. To live a life of gratitude for God's gifts means that "our lips should not only be filled with his praise" (cf. Divine Liturgy), but that they should be open, and we should speak out loudly in affirming the principles of Jesus, "so that we may live according to his truth" (ibid), in proclaiming God's reign.

God's reign - the Christian life is one that breaks down the barriers of diversity, oppression and marginalization, to reflect that unity of God's saving presence among us. With Christ in our midst - among us and between us, there is no room for division, prejudice or alienation of one to another. There is no place in God, for exclusion, self-righteousness or judgment of our neighbor. In Jesus' presence, there is only to be peace, acceptance, tranquility and solidarity among those who claim to be his disciples.

As we pray and reflect during this 99th. Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, let us focus on making our lives, our homes, our communities and our churches to be places where "love can dwell and all may safely live." I end this reflection with these and the following words of a hymn that reflects the unity, openness and welcoming spirit that the church is meant to have if it is to be an image and reality of God's reign.

Let us build a house where love can dwell
And all may safely live,
A place where saints and children tell
How hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions
Rock of faith and vault of grace;
Here the love of Christ shall end divisions:
All are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where prophets speak,
And words are strong and true,
Where all God's children dare to seek
To dream God's reign anew.
Here the cross shall stand as witness
And as symbol of God's grace;
Here as one we claim the love of Jesus:
All are welcome in the place

Let us build a house where love is found
In water wine and wheat:
A banquet hall on holy ground,
Where peace and justice meet.
Here the love of God through Jesus,
Is revealed in time and space;
As we share in Christ the feast that frees us:
All are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where hands will reach
Beyond the wood and stone
To heal and strengthen, serve and teach,
And live the Word they've known.
Here the outcast and the stranger
Bear the image of God's face;
Let us bring an end to fear and danger:
All are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where all are named,
Their songs and visions heard
And loved and treasured, taught and claimed
As words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter.
Prayers of faith and songs of grace,
Let this house proclaim from roof to rafter:
All are welcome in the place.
(Text: "All are Welcome" - Marty Haugen, 1994)

May the peace and blessing of Almighty God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, descend upon all of you, your families and loved ones, and remain with you forever! Let us pray together for unity and peace and all those intentions within our hearts.

January, 2007