By FATHER PAUL A. BURKE, Special to the Bulletin | Published February 6, 2014
ATLANTA—On Dec. 17, 2013, the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in Atlanta hosted the semi-annual Catholic-Orthodox ecumenical gathering. This gathering’s theme was the Nativity of Christ in a world in need of faith, hope and love.
The Advent celebration was the largest since its inception during the Year of St. Paul in 2008-2009.
The Annunciation Cathedral provided a magnificent setting for a prayerful celebration of readings, reflection and hymnody.
The music reflected the traditions of both East and West: Gregorian chant and Latin motets by the Holy Spirit Church choir, traditional Greek hymns by the Annunciation Cathedral Chanters, traditional Russian chant and modern hymns by the choir and chanters of St. John the Wonderworker Orthodox Church, and traditional Romanian carols by the combined choirs and chanters of St. Mary Romanian, St. Mary of Egypt OCA, and Saints Constantine and Helen Romanian Church.
Members of the Orders of Malta, the Holy Sepulchre, and St. Lazarus, as well as Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, processed with clergy from both churches.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and Metropolitan Alexios, the hierarch of Atlanta’s Greek Orthodox Church, reflected on the Nativity and its significance in today’s society.
Archbishop Gregory in his homily emphasized the importance of trust in fostering relations between the Catholic and Orthodox churches.
“We pray together as Orthodox and Catholics who long for a single church that will again fully unite us in that fraternal bond that once allowed us to be one—a bond that was severed by the sin of disagreement, the sin of pride and the sin of arrogance,” he said. “Rome this evening should hear the angelic voice urging us: Do not be afraid of Constantinople, and at that very same moment Constantinople should also hear that identical heavenly admonition: Do not be afraid of Rome.”
Metropolitan Alexios began his homily by expressing his condolences to Archbishop Gregory on the recent death of his mother, Ethel. He thanked God for the sacrifice that Ethel made in giving her son to the service of the church.
Metropolitan Alexios then led the “Memory Eternal” chant in both Greek and English. The memory invoked in the prayer is that of God, rather than the living, and is in essence a prayer that the soul has entered heaven and enjoys eternal life. He continued with a reflection on the reality of sin and its consequences in our world.
Metropolitan Alexios challenged all present not to be afraid to embrace God’s love and salvation, to overcome temptation and sin, and to focus on the Lord’s Incarnation. He noted that the task of followers of Christ is to be faithful and to cast away all fear.
Both hierarchs prayed fervently that the sister churches will reunite and together approach the altar.
This year is significant in Catholic-Orthodox relations. It marks the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting of Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople on the Mount of Olives.
In May, Pope Francis will travel to the Holy Land, where he will be joined by Patriarch Bartholomew to commemorate the pilgrimage of their predecessors. Since the historic meeting between Paul VI and Athenagoras I, much progress has been made in Catholic-Orthodox relations.
The ecumenical gatherings in Atlanta are expressions of the common desire for the unity of the churches.
Further information on the Catholic-Ecumenical gathering is available from Father Paul Burke at 404-252-4513, ext. 229, and email@example.com.