The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins today, the Feast of the Chair of St Peter, January 25th 2017. Begun in 1908 as the “Octave of Christian Unity”, and focused on prayer for church unity, the dates for the week were proposed by Father Paul Wattson, cofounder of the Graymoor Franciscan Friars. He conceived of the week beginning on the ancient Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter (the Confession of Peter, the Protestant variant) on 18 January, and concluding with the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul on 25 January.
This year’s theme on the occasion of the 500th anniversary year of the beginnings of the Reformation, the theme: “Reconciliation – The Love of Christ Compels Us” (2 Corinthians 5:14-20) has been chosen. The materials for the 2017 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity has two accents: reflection upon the main concerns of the churches marked by Martin Luther’s Reformation and secondly recognizing the pain of the subsequent deep divisions which afflicted the unity of the Church. In selecting this theme, it is viewed as an opportunity to take steps toward reconciliation.
For 2017, it should be noted that this biblical text emphasizes that reconciliation is a gift from God, intended for the entire creation. “God was reconciling the world (kosmos) to God’s self in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation” (v.19). As a result of God´s action, those who have been reconciled in Christ are called in turn to proclaim this reconciliation in word and deed: “The love of Christ compels us”.
The 2017 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity CBTI (Churches Together in Britain & Ireland) material is dedicated to the memories of the Revd Stephen Brown who passed away in February 2016 and the Revd Canon Gwynn ap Gwilym in July 2016 (with whom, Metropolitan Jerome of Selsey studied biblical Hebrew at Aberystwyth University). Both had served as dedicated members of the CTBI Writers Group for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity for many years, making enormous contributions through their creativity and colleagueship which will be greatly missed but never forgotten.
Archbishop Mathew who ensured the continuance of the Old Roman Catholic Church at the beginning of the 20C, understood that it was necessary for the unifying of Christ’s Church on the basis of the original tenets of the Christian Faith as it was once believed by all Christians everywhere, to have complete cooperation with Christians of the Eastern Churches. Thus he was able to affect in 1912 a union between our western Latin Church with those of the Byzantine East, namely the Apostolic Sees of Antioch and Alexandria. It has been the constant goal of the Old Roman Catholic Church to affect this unity with the See of Rome expressed in the following prayer composed by Archbishop Mathew. It is still a prayer of current Old Roman Catholic hierarchs to realise this intention for Our Lord Jesus Christ “ut unum sint” (Latin: ‘That they may be one’ cf John 17:21).
Archbishop Mathew’s Prayer for Christian Unity
Almighty and everlasting God, Whose only begotten Son, Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd, has said, “Other sheep I have that are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd”; let Thy rich and abundant blessing rest upon the Old Roman Catholic Church, to the end that it may serve Thy purpose by gathering in the lost and straying sheep. Enlighten, sanctify, and quicken it by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, that suspicions and prejudices may be disarmed, and the other sheep being brought to hear and to know the voice of their true Shepherd thereby, all may be brought into full and perfect unity in the one fold of Thy Holy Catholic Church, under the wise and loving keeping of Thy Vicar, through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who with Thee and the Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth God, world without end. Amen.