ASIA/LEBANON – Prayers for Christian unity in the Middle East
Beirut (Agenzia Fides) – “We saw the star in the East and we came to adore it”. This is the title of the booklet of texts offered to Churches and ecclesial communities around the world to celebrate liturgies and meetings on the occasion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in 2022 (January 18/25). This year, the readings and prayers contained in the booklet refer to the Epiphany of Christ and the journey of the Magi from the East to Bethlehem to adore the Child Jesus, and have been prepared at the request of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian unity by a group of theologians belonging to different ecclesial communities in the Middle East, under the coordination of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), based in Beirut.
The singularity of the theme chosen and the prayer suggestions that the texts offer to the ecumenical journey in this historical phase are revealed in all their richness precisely if we take into account their Middle Eastern matrix. This is attested to by the Lebanese Greco-Melkite priest and theologian Gabriel Hachem, a member of the International Theological Commission, who also participated in the work of the team responsible for preparing the texts for the Week of Prayer for the Unity of Christians, which has just started .
With the adoration of the Magi and then with the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan – Father Gaby remarks in a conversation with Agenzia Fides – the theophany begins, “the manifestation of the divine mystery before men, the revelation of the mystery of the Trinity . It is therefore the beginning of the proclamation of the Gospel of God, the proclamation of the good news of the Kingdom, it is the historic moment when the “Oiconomy” is manifested and begins to be fulfilled, the divine promise and the plan of salvation. light of God begins to “incorporate” itself in each Christian, the moment he is baptized: And the light of Christ comes from the East: Christ is our East, our light, our sun”.
The message that with the texts prepared for the week of prayer, they want to reach the world, and first of all the Christians of the Middle East – continues the Lebanese theologian, adding enlightening considerations on the present of the Christian communities of the Middle East “is a message of hope: the light of Christ still shines in the world, even in the Middle East, even in these difficult times. And the vocation of Christians in the Middle East is not to complain about this situation. It is worth reminding the world, and especially Christians in the Middle East, that they are bearers of Holy Tradition, of Apostolic Tradition. During this long time of two thousand years, we are there, and we are called to carry this apostolic Tradition with our bodies and our souls, announcing the Gospel. We are not miserable people who just need to be rescued and helped. We are not just people in need. We have a mission.”
Jesus – we read in the introduction to the texts of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2022 – “is the Light who came into our darkness when, through the Holy Spirit, he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary and became Man”. And the Magi saw the light and followed it to Bethlehem, always represented for many commentators also “a symbol of the diversity of the peoples known at that time, and a sign of the universality of the divine call “. The second aspect that we find in the texts prepared for the current week of prayer for Christian unity – underlines Father Gabriel – “is precisely what I would call ‘eschatological’: the Adoration of the Magi reminds us the universal call to salvation. This is why, in the proposed texts, there are also references to dialogue with believers of different communities of faith and to the sufferings of the poor throughout the world. We Christians are called to become for all this “eschatological message” addressed to every human being, reflecting in our lives the light of Christ and the very life of the divine mystery”. For this reason – concludes the Lebanese priest – The third element highlighted by the texts for ecumenical prayer is precisely the recognition of the liturgy as the source of Christian life “How can we become the sacrament of the light of Christ in this world ? possible only through the liturgy, which gives grace. We in the East have no theology apart from the liturgy. And we don’t even have a morality apart from the liturgy”.
While in the Christian communities of the West celebrate Christmas with great solemnity – reads the introduction to the texts of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2022 -, for many Christians in the East “the oldest holiday, and always the principal, is rather the Epiphany, that is to say, when the salvation of God, of Bethlehem and of the Jordan, was revealed to the nations. manifestation, is, in a certain sense, the treasure that Christians in the Middle East can offer to their brothers and sisters throughout the world”. (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 19/01/2022)