01/07/2011, 00.00
ISRAEL - PALESTINE

Churches of the Holy Land pray for Christian unity

Arieh Cohen
Celebrations scheduled for January 23 to 30, later than in rest of the world because of the Armenian Orthodox feast of Epiphany. The Christians of Jerusalem invited to discover a "true ecumenism". But the Greek-orthodox churches will not hold common services and other evangelical communities will not participate in the celebrations.

Tel Aviv (AsiaNews) - The programme has been published of the celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in Jerusalem. It will take place later than elsewhere, from 23 to 30 January, out of consideration for the Armenian Orthodox feast of the Epiphany (which, following the most ancient practice of the Church, includes also the celebration of the Birth of Christ - “Christmas” - in accordance with the Julian calendar. Ecumenical prayer services will be held, in the following order; in the Greek Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Lutheran, Latin Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and Anglican churches. The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land will host a service in the Cenacle, the Room of the Last Supper, as well as the service in the Latin-rite parish church, which is the conventual church of its principal seat nowadays, St. Saviour’s.

The Greek Orthodox churches in Jerusalem avoids hosting specifically ecumenical prayer services. To overcome that, Catholics and Protestants will simply be present at the regular celebration of “Apodeipnon” (Compline) by the Greek Orthodox monks on Mount Calvary, within the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre – which the Greeks significantly call the Anastasis, the Resurrection - on Saturday, 22 January. Absent from the list are also houses of worship of significant Evangelical communities (except for the Anglicans and the Lutherans), notably the Baptists.

To make the celebration of the Week of Unity specific to Jerusalem, the participating churches have chosen as its theme: “One in the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer” (cf. Acts 2:42).  They explain that their purpose is to “call all Christians to rediscover the values that bound together the early Christian community in Jerusalem.” Thus they mean to say that, “the Christians of Jerusalem call upon their brothers and sisters to make this week of prayer an occasion for a renewed commitment to work for a genuine ecumenism, grounded in the experience of the early Church.” In the light of that, these Jerusalem churches ask of Christians throughout the world to “ remember them in their precarious situation and to pray for justice that will bring peace in the Holy Land.”

In the Holy Land, in effect, Christian unity is an existential, not only a theological, imperative. The occasional fights between Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox monks at the Holy Sepulchre are a recurring source of scandal worldwide, and a cause of great distress to the Catholics who are never involved, are not allowed to intervene, and are reduced to watching helplessly until the police restore order. On a wider scale, the effort to secure the tiny Christian presence in the Holy Land as a whole can only be rendered that much more difficult by divisions and disunion. “That they may all be one” is therefore a prayer and a task that in this Land have a special urgency.

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