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The Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity

Saturday, January 20, 2007
The week of the 18th to the 25th of January is the octave of prayer for Christian unity. A group of Dominican students attended a celebration of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom at the Orthodox Parish of the Annunciation, Oxford. Each year the parish celebrates a special liturgy to mark the octave, to which members of other Churches and denominations are invited. In his homily the celebrant, Bishop Kallistos Ware, spoke of the pain caused by divisions amongst Christians. He stressed the need for courage and patience in the search for true unity.

In the encyclical Ut unum sint, the late Pope John Paul II, reminds us that ‘the unity of all divided humanity is the will of God… On the eve of his sacrifice on the Cross, Jesus himself prayed to the Father for his disciples and for all those who believe in him, that they might be one, a living communion. This is the basis not only of the duty, but also of the responsibility before God and his plan, which falls to those who through Baptism become members of the Body of Christ, a Body in which the fullness of reconciliation and communion must be made present’ (UUS, 6).

The encyclical reminds us of the importance of prayer in the work of bringing about the unity to which we are called: ‘When brothers and sisters who are not in perfect communion with one another come together to pray, the Second Vatican Council defines their prayer as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement. This prayer is a very effective means of petitioning for the grace of unity, a genuine expression of the ties which even now bind Catholics to their separated brethren. When Christians pray together, the goal of unity seems closer… If Christians, despite their divisions, can grow ever more united in common prayer around Christ, they will grow in the awareness of how little divides them in comparison to what unites them' (UUS, 21-22).

Here is a prayer for Christian unity written by the Orthodox priest and theologian, Fr. Sergei Bulgakov (1871 – 1944):

O Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, thou didst promise to abide with us always. Thou dost call all Christians to draw near and partake of Thy Body and Blood. But our sin has divided us and we have no power to partake of Thy Holy Eucharist together. We confess this our sin and we pray Thee, forgive us and help us to serve the ways of reconciliation, according to Thy Will. Kindle our hearts with the fire of the Holy Spirit. Give us the spirit of Wisdom and faith, of daring and of patience, of humility and firmness, of love and of repentance, through the prayers of the most blessed Mother of God and of all the saints. Amen.

Robert Gay OP


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