Saint Paul University began the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Jan 23 to 27, 2006) with an ecumenical celebration in the main chapel on January 23, 2006 at noon. Sheptytsky Institute Professor John Jillions gave the homily. It is re-printed below.
Readings for the Celebration: Exodus 40:1-4, 34-38; Psalm 78:1-8; Matthew 18:15-22
This is the week of prayer for Christian unity, but there is a problem with seeking Christian unity directly. It leads to asking why there is disunity in the first place. It leads to blame about who is responsible for disunity. Likewise, there is a problem with forgiveness, even forgiveness “seventy-seven times”. What are we forgiving? And for what are we asking forgiveness? Prejudice, ill-will, caricatures, abuse are obvious candidates. But I remember one ecumenical service where we prayed to be forgiven our attachment to our tradition and for spending too much time in church.
A friend of mine teaches patristics at a US university, where the inclusive language policy applies to language about God as well as human beings. She has to apologize to her class for using Father, Son and Holy Spirit instead of Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Her excuse is that this is the language that the Fathers used in the fourth century. So you can see that even forgiveness can lead to fractious disputes.
In this week of prayer for Christian unity it is better to put our focus directly on God, as today’s Psalm does. Trust in God. Loyalty to God. Faithfulness to God. The first Orthodox saint in North America, St Herman of Alaska once said, “From this day forth, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all.” Charles Wesley had the same idea in the hymn that will end our prayers.
Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling;
All thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
Pure unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation;
Enter every trembling heart.
There is an image the Greek Fathers liked to use, of a wheel with spokes. The more one moves along one of the spokes toward the center, the closer one comes at the same time to each of the other spokes as well. The more we each seek to draw close to God, the more we will also find ourselves growing closer to each other.