Published January 21, 2016
ATLANTA—Since the inauguration of the Year of St. Paul in 2009, Catholic clergy and faithful have been coming together with Orthodox clergy and faithful twice a year for ecumenical gatherings under the leadership of Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and Metropolitan Alexios.
The gatherings rotate between the cathedrals of both churches, and the evenings provide prayer, reflection, hymnody and a keynote address. Keynote speakers in the past have included Bishop Kallistos Ware, of Diokleia; Dr. George Demacopoulos, of Fordham University, New York; Dr. Alveda King; Paulist Father Ronald G. Roberson, of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; and Jesuit Father Joseph M. McShane, president of Fordham University.
The topics discussed have been wide and varied, ranging from respect for the sanctity of life and a joint declaration on the sanctity of life, religious liberty and the plight of persecuted Christians. Following each gathering is a reception sponsored by Marianna and Solon Patterson, a Catholic-Greek Orthodox couple. While the gatherings are coordinated by the delegates of the Hierarchs, Father George Tsahakis, of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Atlanta, and Father Paul Burke, of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta, they represent the efforts and good will of many people. As Pope Francis has continued the venerable tradition of seeking greater unity with Orthodox Christians worldwide under His All-Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, Archbishop Gregory and Metropolitan Alexios follow in their footsteps here in this local Church of Atlanta.
On Dec. 7, 2015, the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation hosted the latest ecumenical gathering. In light of recent events in the Middle East, the theme chosen was “Focusing our Prayers for the Christians Persecuted in the Middle East.” The keynote speaker was Bishop Sevastianos, of Zela and chief secretary of the Holy Eparchial Synod of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. A native of Cyprus, Bishop Sevastianos and his family were forced to flee their country as refugees because of religious persecution. Having firsthand experience of Christian persecution, Bishop Sevastianos listed startling statistics on the plight of Christians in the Middle East and especially the Holy Land, where the number of Christians has been dwindling for many decades. He noted that one of the titles of Jesus is “Prince of Peace,” and yet our world today knows not this peace. In his remarks, Metropolitan Alexios emphasized the need to be united with those persecuted in prayer through works of charity.
In turn, Archbishop Gregory spoke about the Jubilee Year of Mercy and commending prayers and quest for unity more fervently in this Jubilee Year. He noted that Dec. 7 marked the 50th anniversary of the joint lifting of the excommunications of 1054. However, he said that for ecumenism to thrive, much more is needed than theological statements, as important as they are.
Prior to the final blessing, a joint statement of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Atlanta and the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta was read by Father Tsahakis and Father Burke, condemning acts of violence against Christians and urging greater prayer and sacrifice as a sign of union with our persecuted brothers and sisters.
Music for the ecumenical gathering was provided by the Annunciation Cathedral Chantors, choir and children’s choir, as well as the choir of Holy Spirit Catholic Church.
To learn more about Catholic-Orthodox dialogue and local events, contact Father Paul Burke at Holy Spirit College, firstname.lastname@example.org.