By FATHER PAUL A. BURKE, Special To The Bulletin | Published November 8, 2012
The Catholic-Orthodox Ecumenical Gathering took place Sept. 25 at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation. Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and Metropolitan Alexios of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Atlanta presided at the service, which highlighted religious liberty.
Attending this eighth ecumenical service were clergy and religious from both sister Churches, as well as Archons of St. Andrew, Knights and Dames of the Orders of Malta and Holy Sepulchre. A repertoire of music from both the Latin and Greek traditions was provided by the choirs of Holy Spirit Church, Atlanta, and Annunciation Cathedral. Alveda King, Ph.D., niece of the late civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr. was the keynote speaker.
King serves as a pastoral associate for Priests for Life International. A former college professor and member of the Georgia State House of Representatives, she has received numerous awards for her prolife work as well as her commitment to the civil rights movement. She founded the King for America Foundation (www.kingforamerica.org) to further the work of her father and uncle, in “uniting the dream of civil rights and moral justice for abundant life.”
In his words of introduction, Archbishop Gregory noted that King’s presence was a testimony to the ecumenical nature of these gatherings as well as to her commitment to the pro-life movement and to the importance of religious liberty that is under siege in today’s society.
King spoke of a movement in the United States that is seeking to relegate freedom of religion to mere freedom of worship in the private sphere. She recalled the controversy surrounding Dan T. Cathy, the president of Chick-fil-A, and his remarks regarding the essence of marriage. She also described the adversity of the health care mandate in the Affordable Health Care Act that forces religious employers to include contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs in their insurance plans.
King urged all present to exercise their right to vote in the upcoming election. Finally, she stated that in the King family, a family of preachers, hope was always the virtue that sustained them through many difficult times.
She said, “We are called to be a people of hope knowing that God is over all.”
In his remarks, Metropolitan Alexios noted the importance of religious liberty as the theme of the gathering. He stated that the many immigrants who came to the United States throughout the centuries did not come in search of wealth or fame; they came for religious freedom. He shared stories of the plight of Christians who are suffering “varying degrees of persecution, violence and isolation.”
He said, “We must join together, to unite in proclaiming our absolute commitment to the free practice of our religious faith, beginning with our own hearts. After all, the free practice of our religion is not limited to what we do in a ‘house of worship’ or behind closed doors at home. Freedom of religion, as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America, means living our faith every day, with courage and commitment.”
Archbishop Gregory shared similar concerns and said that coming together in prayer is the first step in a common endeavor to protect religious liberty. He highlighted the importance of such ecumenical gatherings and the common desire for Christian unity.
He also reminded all present that when Catholics and Orthodox Christians come together with their hierarchs, they come together as Peter and Andrew. Andrew was the first-called disciple, and he brought his brother Peter to Jesus.
The common Christian heritage between the churches is a great blessing and the quest for Christian unity is essential as together, the faithful bear a common witness to the values that shaped the nation.
Both hierarchs blessed the congregation, and a reception was held afterwards provided by Marianna and Solon Patterson, who in the words of Archbishop Gregory, “provided the spark” and encouragement for these gatherings. He encouraged all present to spread the word about these initiatives and to personally invite family and friends to attend.