On May 23, 2007, His Excellency Bishop DiMarzio and the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, along with His Excellency Bishop Gregory Mansour and the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn hosted an Ecumenical evening prayer service at Our Lady of Lebanon Cathedral. The opening remarks of Bishop Gregory Mansour follow:
Bishop DiMarzio and the Diocese of Brooklyn, thank you for hosting this ecumenical gathering of Christians from the Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant communities. It is so very important that, as Christ’s ambassadors, we gather to pray.
Many of you were here last December when Christians, Muslims and Jews gathered to pray for peace in Lebanon. At that time, the parishioners of Our Lady of Lebanon Cathedral felt that we must pray for Lebanon, not separately as Muslims, Christians, or Jews, but together as children of God. (We feel the same today, especially with the recent events in Lebanon. We pray for Lebanon and her people.) On that evening a common refrain was heard: “It is good for us to be here” (Mk 9:5). These words, spoken by Peter himself, are quite familiar to us and also define our prayer tonight!
In the light of Mount Tabor, “it is good for us to be here.” Between the Resurrection and Pentecost (which this year we celebrate together) we come to pray. We repent and lament that we do not pray and work together often enough. It is easier for us to stay within our own communities. We know our way around there; it is comfortable for us. But this is not acceptable to the One who prayed to His Father just before He died and was raised up:
“Father that they may be one as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (Jn 17:22-23).
Therefore, what kind of Christian must we be? Should we be faithful to our own particular Churches or ecclesial communities? Yes, indeed we have to say this, but we are also obliged to be faithful to the will of Christ, who in his priestly prayer for his disciples, prayed that “They may be one, Father, as you and I are one.”
In reflecting on our need for one another we can say this about ourselves:
★ The strength and beauty of the Catholic Communion of Churches is in her universality, her unity with the Pope of Rome and in the order, discipline and uniformity of her law.
★ The strength and beauty of the Orthodox Churches is found in their love for Sacred Tradition, their Synodal (team) government of the apostolic college of bishops, and in the epikia principle which allows bishops to accommodate to human need and weakness.
★ The strength and beauty of the Protestant ecclesial communities is in their fervent love for the Scriptures, their evangelical zeal, their flexibility, and their desire to listen to the work and movement of the Holy Spirit to witness Christ in every circumstance of life and society.
Along with these strengths, however, come weaknesses as well. Those of us within and outside each community know these well. There is no need for us to elaborate here. However, what is needed here is the virtue of humility that together we may stand before God, as did Adam, and recognize that we are missing something, perhaps missing someone! For Adam it was Eve; for us it is a unified Church, fully herself: one, holy, catholic and apostolic; one flock with all her shepherds united in full communion. This is the true image of the Body of Christ.
St. Augustine said, “The Holy Spirit is given in the measure that one loves the Church.” In these days spent in anticipation of Pentecost we pray that we will love the Church, already existing in tremendous unity, but still in need of that greater unity which one day will allow all of her children to share the one loaf and the one cup.
In the reading from the Old Testament tonight, we hear the story of the giving of the Ten Commandments, a second time! They were given twice, because the first time the anger of Moses rendered the first set of Commandments “defective.” They were broken! So Moses had to “return” them to the Almighty to get a “refund.” We are glad he did, because not only do we see once again the need for an objective standard of morality, beyond relativism, but we also see the awesome encounter between a leader of God’s people and the living God. We can take notice here and benefit.
During his mystical encounter with God, Moses mentions the “stiff necked people” he serves (sounds familiar?) But he has the courage to pray thus: “If I find favor with you, O Lord, do come along in our company.” Is this not what we pray as we gather today? Sure of our “stiff neckedness” we pray, as the leaders of God’s people, “O Lord, do come along in our company.”
And just as Moses stood in awe before the Majesty of God, so do we. Just as Moses asked for the “pardon of our wickedness and sin,” so do we; and just as Moses prayed “Receive us as your own,” so do we. We recall our sad divisions of the years 431, 451, 1054 and the Protestant-Catholic divisions of the late Middle Ages. We pray for restoration and unity in Christ.
The path to that unity which Jesus willed for us is based partially on intellectual dialogue, partially on prayer, and even more so on love. Love is the greatest of virtues says St. Paul; it is the name for God Himself, says St. John; and as Jesus said, love is the way that all people will come to know that we are his disciples.
Love fulfills the law and love is the heart of “spiritual ecumenism.” In his first address to the youth of the world in Cologne, Germany, Pope Benedict said:
“Spiritual ecumenism, prayer, conversion and the sanctification of life, constitute the heart of the ecumenical movement. It could be said that the best form of ecumenism consists in living in accordance with the Gospel.”
If we cannot enter into an official theological dialogue, which is important, if we cannot work together in ecumenical service projects, which are also important, if we cannot further the common date for Easter or the receiving of the one cup and one loaf, or the hierarchical unity of all Christians, which are all important, we can “love one another.” A gathering like this one helps us do just that.
By our love and sincere interest in one another, we come to be known as Our Lord’s disciples, so that “the world may believe.” The Mother of Jesus, our faithful teacher and guide, who was present with the apostles at the first Pentecost, accompanies us on our Ecumenical journey together. Lord have mercy on us. ❒
+Gregory J. Mansour
(Reprinted with permission.)