Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Unity -- the heart of the ecumenical movement

The Heart of the Matter: Unity

Worship:  Fire and wind – ways toward unity

The symbol used today was the icon of Pentecost. In the Eastern tradition icons are written by the artist who had entered into a spiritual retreat in order to open eyes onto the heavenly reality.  We never say an icon is beautiful but rather it is true.  This means that those who use the icon for their spiritual enrichment find in its beauty,  divine truth.

“Suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind. (...)
Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.”  

        The One Spirit creates a unity manifested as a koinonia of spiritual diversities. Even though St. Luke and St. Paul were not physically present on the day of Pentecost, the portrayal of their presence with the Apostles in an open circle demonstrates that the unity God seeks through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is an open process with eschatological significance. The king at the bottom of the icon represents the cosmos, which speaks to the fact that the descent of the Holy Spirit is constantly implementing God’s will for the unity and restoration of the whole of creation.

Both fire and wind remind us how important it is to develop a discerning Christian witness, and to develop it together - in the perspective of the eschatological hope we all share as Christians.

The prayer concluded with these words:

Triune One who makes us one
make our unity visible 
and bring healing to the world.

Bible study: Being and Becoming Church
The Bible study explored several dimensions of the Pentecost event.   First of these was the element of staying together.  Luke mentioned that “they were all together in one place”.  The disciples had experienced several traumatic events: betrayal by one of their, death of their master, news of the empty tomb, and after Jesus’ ascension the disarray of what they were to do now.  Their response, their choice was to stay together and to pray. They gathered there as a bewildered community, not with the expectation of being endowed with mystical or supernatural powers but to celebrate together their hope in God amidst fears, anxieties and uncertainties.

The Pentecost event was the reversal of the Babel curse (Gen. 11:1-9) where humans lost the possibility of communication and reciprocal comprehension due to diverse languages.  Because they became a Spirit-filled community, the possibility of mutual understanding was restored.  All now spoke one language, the Gospel, and each heard and understood the message in his or her own language.

With fear conquered, the disciples became the instruments of the Holy Spirit. They not only went out with great zeal to proclaim the wonders of God done in Jesus Christ but they ‘gathered in’, forming a community with the purpose of welcoming diversity.  The church was not so much a closed and self-sufficient institution as it was a new creation (2 Cor 5:17).  What sustains unity is a common vision of the Spirit-led community.

The Bible study invited the participants of the Assembly to take the next step and relate it to the church today by asking what would it be like to be gathered again in one place and what would make the church today an authentic ‘Pentecost-church’? How can we understand the Pentecost event from a unity perspective that can bring new insight, dynamism, and power to the ecumenical movement? The role of the Spirit is unity in diversity, as well as the relationship of Pentecost to justice and peace, are interesting to explore in today’s changing landscapes.

The Bible study had time to discuss and share everyone's insights in small groups.

The Unity plenary

This plenary was a little different than the previous ones.  It was presented in a prayerful atmosphere beginning with a reflection on the icon of the Trinity and concluding with a form of the Taizé prayer for unity.
Mary Tanner led the plenary whose purpose was to present the Unity Statement of the WCC.  The Statement contains a line very close to the opening of the Vatican II document, Lumen gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: “Unity of the Church, the unity of the human community and the unity of the whole creation belong together”.  She added that “Our unity is not of our own making” since it is grounded in the communion of love that flows through the Holy Trinity.

          Metropolitan Nifon of Targoviste, Romanian Orthodox Church described the situation within the WCC where some of the constituencies speak out against the ecumenical movement for fear of losing their traditions.  Encouragement in the face of fear needs to be taken from the very life of the Trinity itself in whose image the Church is created.  He made an appeal not to forget the two Orthodox bishops who have been abducted in Syria and for whom we have no news.

Rev. Dr Neville Callam, general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, offered reflections on the “Journey of fellowship: hopes and challenges on the way”.  He especially lifted up the work of the Faith and Order Commission, especially on the recently released document One Baptism: Toward Mutual Recognition and The Church: Towards a Common Vision.  In spite the progress made on the ecclesiological front other obstacles to unity include conflicts on moral issues, weak promotion of unity among young adults and racism, including that within the church.
Rev. Neville Callam
Alice Fabian, the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa who served as a member of the unity statement drafting group, and Bishop Mark MacDonald shared reflections on the “Journey of fellowship: God’s gift and calling”. The plenary closed with an invitation to recommit to the search for unity in faith.

To conclude the plenary, Tanner asked the participants to write their own prayers for unity that were collected during the plenary and formed part of the closing mid-day prayer led by two brothers from Taizé with young people from different parts of the world.

Ecumenical conversations

Today was the last of the sessions on the conversations so everyone was busy preparing the statements that would be brought to the Assembly.  The conversation that I followed was on the Church.  The task was to formulate affirmations of the text and challenges that are presented by the text.  Finally recommendations were offered to the WCC for action in the next seven years.
This text on the Church was very positively received in our group.  The greatest difficulty forseen is how this text can speak to the new ‘non-denominational. Churches that are being formed and are growing rapidly especially in what is called the ‘global south’ (although this includes Asia as well).  All of this material now goes to the floor for the consensus process and then to the program committee who hands it over to the new Central committee for action during the next seven years.

Catholic evening prayer
         This very long day came to a beautiful close with a form of evening praise offered by the Catholics present at the Assembly.

         Members of the Vatican delegation and elements from the local Catholic church took part in the modified vespers.  Many cultural elements were included in the sing of evening song.
          As in traditional Korean prayer the assembly was called to prayer by the ring of the gong.

As a meditation following the reading, traditional dancers interpreted the piece of scripture.

The prayers were presided over by Archbishop Kim and Bishop Farrell with Sr, Cecilia as leader.
During the singing of the Magnificat, traditional dance prayerfully and graciously brought to life the words of this hymn of praise of Mary.

A small musical ensemble accompanied the singing and the psalm was sung to the music of a harp.
As the prayer began with the gong so it concluded to send the worshippers to a peaceful evening rest.

Group of traditional dancers together with the Bishops

Pilgrimage of peace
     I want to share with you some brief reflections from Fra. Roberto Giraldo, ofm who went to the DMZ on a prilgrimage of peace and unity.

Peace and all good.

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