Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: the Anglican Perspective

2014. január 22., szerda

The eighteenth of January marks in our church calendars the Festival Day of the Confession of Saint Peter and -- with it -- the beginning of each year's annual observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. By the way, "confession" in this context refers to Peter's acknowledgement, as recorded in Gospel of Matthew, that Jesus was indeed "the Messiah, the Son of the living God."

Not familiar with the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity?

Well, the Week – sometimes referred to as an "Octave" in church parlance – is a yearly ecumenical event dating back to the early part of the twentieth century, a time when many Christians zealously hoped and prayed for healing and oneness among the churches. Paul Wattson, an Episcopal priest – that is, an Anglican priest in the United States -- hit upon the brilliant idea of promoting an entire week of the church year as a time of prayer for Christian unity.

And, he appropriately chose the week in mid-January which falls between the festival days of the two great Apostles, Peter and Paul, for this new observance. The festival day of the Conversion of Saint Paul, in case you are wondering, falls on January 25. The Apostle Peter has traditionally been seen as representative of the Roman Catholic Church for fairly obvious reasons; while Paul, with his emphasis on Scripture and faith, has become emblematic of the churches of the Reformation.

In any event, Father Wattson's concept caught on, and the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is nowadays commemorated in many and diverse denominations across Christendom, including the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and Reformed communities. Church unity is very dear to Anglicans. Ours has become a kind of "bridge" church, neither Protestant nor Roman Catholic nor yet Orthodox, but distinct in its embrace of Scripture as well as sacrament and the ancient rites and traditions of the Church. Almost as if to underscore the point of unity and oneness among Christians, Father Wattson himself later in life became a Roman Catholic, but continued to work for unity among Christians of all backgrounds.

Sadly however, unity among Christians remains as elusive a goal today as it was a century ago in Father Wattson's time. The rifts among Christians run deep. Indeed, some might contend that the churches of the early twenty-first century are, like great spiritual tectonic plates, drifting farther apart than ever before. The reasons for this are probably as varied as the divisions among the churches themselves. Like the apostles Peter and Paul, who often did not see eye to eye, the followers of Christ today continue to squabble -- sometimes over essentials of faith -- but just as often over details of practice and custom.

It is sometimes a sad spectacle, but all churches are after all a reflection of the broken and sinful world of which we are a part. The Anglican Communion itself has not been immune from controversy and schism over the years. While some see scandal in this, others realize that the Spirit works through the medium of human history and, yes, even disagreement. It was so in the time of the Apostles. It remains the case today.

What is the bottom line for Anglicans...?

Already a century ago, Anglican bishops defined four principles at the heart of our Anglican identity: Scripture, the ancient Creeds, the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, and the apostolic succession of bishops from ancient times to this day. From the perspective of most Anglicans, a hundred years ago as well as today, all other issues are secondary and open for discussion. We pray that this year's commemoration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity will bring all Christians one small step closer to our Lord's fond hope – ut unum sint – that all may be one.

The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs is priest-in-charge at Saint Margaret's Anglican Episcopal Church in Budapest, Hungary, a parish of the Church of England's Diocese in Europe. Please visit www.anglicanbudapest.com and remember to "like" us.

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