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Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
Each year at this time, the worldwide observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity takes place. This practice was begun in the Episcopal Church at Graymoor in New York’s Hudson Valley by Father Paul James Wattson who co-founded the Franciscan religious congregations comprising the Society of the Atonement with Lurana Mary White.
One of Wattson’s supporters, Reverend Spencer Jones, a rector of the Church of England, had suggested that a day of prayer for Christian unity be observed every year on the feast of St. Peter (June 29); instead, Wattson proposed the idea of a “Church Unity Week” beginning with the Feast of the Chair of Peter (at that time January 18) and ending on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul (January 25).
First observed in 1908, Church Unity Week was eventually called “Church Unity Octave.” since there were eight days between the two feasts. In the 1930's, the name was changed to the “Chair of Unity Octave” to emphasize the role of the papacy in the union of the Christian churches.
With the Second Vatican Council, 1962-65, an increasing number of Roman Catholics joined with their fellow Christians, and continue each January in common prayer for unity. By 1991, an observance called Ecumenical Sunday had become integrated into the week now known as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
The theme for the 2018 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, "Your Right Hand, O Lord, Glorious in Power," is taken from the book of Exodus 15:6.
Fr. Thomas Orians, SA, Associate Director of the Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute explained the theme on their website this way:
“Throughout the Biblical narrative of salvation, an unmistakable motif is the unrelenting determination of the Lord to form a people whom He could call His own. The formation of such a people, united in a sacred covenant with God, is integral to the Lord's plan of salvation and to the glorification of His name. The prophets repeatedly remind Israel that their covenant demanded that relationships among its various social groups should be characterized by justice, compassion and mercy. Reconciliation often demands repentance, reparation and healing of memories.
“As Jesus prepared to seal the new covenant in His own blood, His earnest prayer to the Father was that those given to Him by the Father would be one, just as He and the Father were one. When Christians discover their unity in Jesus, they participate in Christ's glorification in the presence of the Father, with the same glory that He had lived in the Father's presence before the world existed. Therefore, God's covenanted people must always strive to be a reconciled community that serves as an effective sign of how to live in justice and peace for all the people of the earth.
“Today, the Bible continues to be a source of consolation and liberation, inspiring Christians to address the conditions that currently undermine the Body of Christ. The Church, like Israel, is called to be a sign and an active agent of reconciliation.”
For more information and materials for observing the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity click on these links: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute.