By STEPHEN O’KANE, Staff Writer | Published May 14, 2009
Greek Orthodox clergy dressed in long black vestments walked side by side with Roman Catholic priests in white cassocks in a visible sign of friendship as the two churches came together in prayer.
The “Evening of Prayer and Unity” service was held at the Cathedral of Christ the King on May 6 in honor of the Jubilee Year of St. Paul.
The prayer service blended together Eastern and Western traditions with song, prayer and words of wisdom from shepherds of each of the churches.
“Our Orthodox brothers and sisters represent a fraternity in the Lord that we cherish and long to strengthen in the Holy Spirit,” Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory told those gathered.
“The clergy and faithful of the Archdiocese of Atlanta are honored and privileged to welcome you to this cathedral church and to assure you an unassailable place within our hearts,” he continued.
The evening began with song. After Archbishop Gregory’s greeting, an opening prayer was spoken and sung by Metropolitan Alexios, the Greek Orthodox bishop of the Metropolis of Atlanta.
Many of the Greek Orthodox faithful prayed and sang as Metropolitan Alexios passionately recited the prayer.
He then sat at the right side of the altar, facing the Atlanta archbishop, as the first of two Scripture passages were read.
Archbishop Gregory addressed the crowd following the reading, keeping St. Paul at the forefront of the evening.
“If the great and intrepid apostle Paul were actually present in the midst of this assembly of Orthodox and Catholic faithful this evening, what do you imagine he would say to us?” the archbishop began.
“Paul would remind us as he did the Corinthians in our first reading this evening that our self-importance and arrogance must surrender to God’s will and design. … He would remind us that all of us are among those who God selected because we are so weak, so frequently foolish, and of such little standing before the world—all so that God might use our littleness to give a stage to his greatness and power.”
Members of the Choir of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in Atlanta and the Chanters of the Cathedral of the Annunciation then sang “Phos Hilaron,” also known as “O Gladsome Light,” an ancient Christian hymn originally written in New Testament Greek.
The Cathedral Choir of Christ the King also sang the hymn, this time in English, again linking the two traditions together in Christ.
Metropolitan Alexios spoke to the assembly after a second reading from the Gospel of John. He also called for unity and graciously accepted the invitation from Archbishop Gregory to pray together.
“Thank you for taking the initiative (to call for this service),” Metropolitan Alexios told the archbishop.
“The spirit of St. Paul is with us this evening,” he continued.
He thanked the clergy and laity present and said the event was an important step in bringing the communities together.
“The thing that has separated us is not the faith,” he said, indicating that the reason was a political issue and a weak moment in the history of the two churches.
But all of these things that are happening now, he said, are signs that the two churches have to do something together.
“I pray for a unity … to let the spirit of understanding, the spirit of the Lord prevail,” he concluded.
The choirs and the assembly sang the Magnificat in unison, while Archbishop Gregory incensed the altar and Metropolitan Alexios in a sign of reverence.
Father Paul Burke, parochial vicar at Holy Spirit Church, Atlanta, led the assembly in a litany of intercessions based on the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, calling for peace and unity in the world and the churches.
“Remembering our most holy, pure, blessed and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary, with St. Andrew, St. Peter and St. Paul, let us commit ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God,” Father Burke prayed.
The evening ended with a prayer in which both leaders asked that their journey toward unity be blessed with success and gave a final blessing.
“I thank all of my own esteemed clergy and faithful who come together this evening with me to pray with and for our Orthodox brothers and sisters and for the unity of the churches both locally and universally,” Archbishop Gregory said.
The Jubilee Year of St. Paul was declared by Pope Benedict XVI to commemorate the 2,000th anniversary of the apostle’s birth. It opened on June 28, 2008, and will close on June 29 this year.
The pope opened the year in Rome with a strong ecumenical tone, accompanied by Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and representatives of Orthodox and Anglican churches. The year has been observed both by Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.