'Mighty Acts' sets tone for Christian unity week

The theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity this year is "Called to Proclaim the Mighty Acts of the Lord (1 Peter 2:9)."

The week is celebrated Jan. 18-25. An ecumenical prayer service and reception will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 24, at St. Justin Martyr Church, 11910 Eddie and Park Road in Sunset Hills. The speaker will be Father Michael Arbanas of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in St. Louis.

The event will include participation from the Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant faiths. It will highlight the 50th anniversary of the joint Catholic-Orthodox declaration, approved by Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople. The declaration concerns the Catholic-Orthodox exchange of excommunications in 1054, stating that they "regret the offensive words, the reproaches without foundation, and the reprehensible gestures which, on both sides, have marked or accompanied the sad events of this period." The declaration also removed the sentences of excommunication which followed these events.

James Comninellis of the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs explained that the theme is significant because a mighty act of the Lord is Christians standing in unity after so much violence and tension in the region. The prayer service, he noted, is a visual display of racial diversity and unity. "By encouraging the body of Christ to unite across Christian traditions, we grow in our understanding of Christ," Comninellis said.

Participants will include Rev. Roderick Burton, pastor of New Northside Missionary Baptist Church. His church was one of the half dozen damaged by arson in north St. Louis and north St. Louis County in October. A candle-lighting ceremony will be held as "a way of spreading the fire of the Spirit and a way of Christians standing together instead of the negative use of fire," Comninellis said.

The initial work on the theme for this year's Week of Prayer material was prepared by a group of representatives from different parts of Latvia. They explain that the relationship between baptism and proclamation and the calling shared by all the baptized to proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord was inspired by the two verses from the First Letter of St Peter.

St. Peter, the ecumenical group states, tells the early Church that in their search for meaning prior to encountering the Gospel, they were not a people. "But through hearing the call to be God's chosen race and receiving the power of God's salvation in Jesus Christ, they have become God's people. Baptism opens up an exciting new journey of faith, uniting each new Christian with God's people throughout the ages. As Christians seeking the unity of the Body of Christ we are all called to recognize the mighty acts of God in our own lives and the life of the Church."

The Church Unity Octave, a forerunner of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, was developed by Father Paul Wattson, SA, at Graymoor in Garrison, N.Y., and was first observed at Graymoor from Jan. 18-25, 1908.

For information, call (314) 792-7162 or email jamescomninellis@archstl.org

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