Despite many divisions and dissensions, Christian communities across the world have observed the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in the month of January, with a thematic emphasis on being "changed by Christ" (cf. 1 Cor 15.51-58) in their outlook and relationships to one another and in the wider world.
Sponsored jointly by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the World Council of Churches (WCC) Commission on Faith and Order, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is celebrated from 18-25 January (in the northern hemisphere) or at Pentecost (in the southern hemisphere).
This year, the materials were prepared by churches in Poland, reflecting and sharing from their own history of partition and victory over oppression.
Through the WCC and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the texts were received by the churches, and were adapted for local celebrations of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity around the world.
In the Philippines, where people have been faced with governance crisis, churches took the lead towards national unity in setting aside their doctrinal differences. Together they marked the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity dedicated to prayers for change and peace in the country.
Similarly, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) stressed the significance of “change”, as an integral part of theology and unity among the churches.
“Change is also at the heart of the ecumenical movement. When we pray for the unity of the church we are praying that the churches that we know, and which are so familiar to us will change as they conform more closely to Christ,” they emphasised.
Celebrations also took place in France and Switzerland, and throughout Europe, where various churches, including Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Protestants, reflected together on the theme of Christian unity in prayer and meditations.
Across the USA and Canada, local Christian communities marked the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, with special worship services and community gatherings.
According to the Rev Victor Kim from Grace Presbyterian Church in Calgary, “It's a week that is ecumenical in nature. So it's not about one particular denomination, one particular strand. It's a week that joins together the Roman Catholic and Protestant and other traditions, including Orthodox, and it's celebrated all over the world.”
For Tamara Grdzelidze, programme executive of the WCC Commission on Faith and Order, the theme offers various perspectives showing the strength of faith as one uniting factor, which keeps us rooted in our diverse situations as churches.
In a special service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on 23 January at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, Grdzelidze said in her reflections, “The reading from the Epistle, indeed, manifests the key antinomy of Christianity according to which the defeat changes into the victory, the crucifixion changes into the resurrection, death, in a twinkle of an eye changes into life.”
Grdzelidze highlighted the significance of Christian unity that the week promotes. She said, “Indeed, to follow the Lord, to serve Him and attain the honour of victory over death, we are called to the unity in our faith in its manifold expressions whether charitable, prayerful, meditative, active or pro-active. Unity in faith is indeed victory over the hatred, wickedness, idle talk, sloth.”