PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY 2001
I am the way,
and the truth,
(John 14: 1-6)
Adapting the Text
This material is offered with the understanding that, whenever possible, it will be adapted for use at the local level. In doing this, account must be taken of local liturgical and devotional practice, and of the whole social and cultural context. Such adaptation should normally take place ecumenically.
There are already ecumenical structures in some places for adapting the material. In other places, we hope that the need to adapt it will be a stimulus to creating such structures.
Using the Week of Prayer Material
For churches and Christian communities which observe the Week of Prayer together through a single common service, an Order of Worship for an Ecumenical Service is provided.
Churches and Christian communities may also incorporate material from the Week of Prayer into their own services. Prayers from the Order of Worship and the Eight Days can be used as appropriate in your own setting.
Communities which observe the Week of Prayer in their worship for each day during the week may draw material for these services from the Eight Days.
Those wishing to undertake Bible studies on the Week of Prayer theme can use as a basis the biblical texts and reflections given in the Eight Days. Each day the discussion can lead to a closing period of intercessory prayer.
Those who wish to pray privately may find the material helpful for focusing their prayer intentions. They can be mindful that they are in communion with others praying all around the world for the greater visible unity of Christ’s Church.
The Search for Unity: Throughout the Year
The traditional date for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is 18-25 January. Those dates were proposed in 1908 by Paul Wattson to cover the days between the feast of St Peter and the feast of St Paul, and have therefore a symbolic meaning. In the southern hemisphere where January is a period of vacation churches often find other days to celebrate the Week of Prayer, for example around Pentecost (which was suggested by the Faith and Order movement in 1926), which is also a symbolic date for the unity of the Church.
But the search for Christian unity is not limited to one week each year. We encourage you therefore not only to be flexible concerning the date but also to understand the material presented here as an invitation to find opportunities throughout the whole year to express the degree of communion which the churches have already received, and to pray together for that full unity which is Christ’s will.
Biblical Text for 2001
I am the way, and the truth, and the life
(John 14: 1-6)
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going". Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know the way to the place where you are going. How can we know the way?" Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me".
(New Revised Standard Version)
Introduction to the Theme
I am the way, and the truth, and the life
(John 14: 6)
In the Prayer for Christian Unity for the year 2000, we celebrated the many gifts which bind us together in the one body of Christ, including our common baptism into Christ, the Scripture as foundation of our faith, and our common recognition of Christ’s call to mission and service in the world. Together we recommitted ourselves to the goal of our ecumenical pilgrimage, the full visible unity of all Christians.
In the Prayer for Christian Unity for the year 2001, we focus upon the way by which we travel together towards this goal. We pilgrims are not alone on this path; Christ, who is the way, is our companion and guide on it. We walk in Christ and with Christ on the way toward unity and only through him will we find this visible unity.
This year a local group in Romania was asked to prepare the initial draft of the material. Prayer for Unity has a long history of observance in some parts of Romania where it has been celebrated annually since 1948, and the Week of Prayer since 1964. For many years, the practice of Christians gathering has been popular in some areas, and for several years the heads of churches have marked the annual observance of prayers for Christian unity. In the face of the cultural, political and economic changes since the Second World War and the dramatic changes of 1989, the churches are seeking how best to witness and serve the gospel in Romania. Therefore the local ecumenical group from Romania took as a starting point for their work Christ’s words in the Gospel of John: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life". These words will accompany us throughout the eight days.
This year’s text, Jn 14: 1-6, must be understood in the context of Jesus’ farewell discourse to his followers in which Jesus prepares them for his immediate future, namely his cross and resurrection. At the same time, Jesus prepares them for their ultimate future, his coming and taking them home in glory.
Jesus responds to the disciples’ confusion at the announcement of his imminent departure by calling them into renewed faith in God and in himself (Days 1-3). Jesus continues by revealing the grandeur of God whose unique "house" affords dwelling places for all who believe (Day 4). Jesus completes his revelation by assuring them that he will return to bring them home to himself (Day 5). The disciples know from Jesus’ example (Day 6) in his farewell meal that they are to live a life in loving service to one another and the world. On our journey together towards unity, we as human beings sometimes lose sight of the goal and become uncertain of the way (Day 7). Jesus responds by reminding us that he is the way and it is through travelling together with him that we will reach the goal (Day 8).
The last century, which has been called the "ecumenical century", saw remarkable achievements on the way to our goal of visible unity, foretastes of unity which are the gift of the Spirit. If the past millennium was one of division among the churches, they have in recent years laid a foundation for the new millennium to be one of unity. The ecumenical experience of the churches in Romania shows that, while the search for Christian unity concerns all Christians in every place, the path to unity must be travelled in a particular way in each place, according to the local situation with its unique opportunities for common worship, confession, witness and service and the distinct problems rooted in its history and culture.
As we travel together it is important to mark milestones on our way. The year 2001 offers ample opportunities for this. Of central importance is the fact that the date of Easter is common to all churches in the year 2001. Thus all Christians around the world celebrate the common feast of the resurrection of our Lord on the same day. This is a providential event which should inspire the churches in their search for a common date for Easter.
Another occasion for ecumenical celebration will be the celebration for the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church of the foundation of the first Christian state 1700 years ago. Additional opportunities for ecumenical celebration and cooperation include the reception of the Carta Oecumenica, a text growing out of the 2nd European Ecumenical Assembly held at Graz in 1997, and reflecting the increasing common life of the churches in Europe. The churches can continue to work together on the issues of debt relief sparked by the programme Jubilee 2000. They can seek together to extend the peace of Christ by participating in the WCC’s Decade to Overcome Violence. They can celebrate recent unions among churches around the world.
The text for the prayer for Christian unity for the year 2001 calls us to continue on our way towards unity. We are not stepping into the darkness. And we are not alone: we belong to each other and we belong to Christ who has claimed us for his own and who will bring us to the unity which he wills for us.
Preparation of the
This material was prepared by an international group appointed by the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (of the Roman Catholic Church) at a meeting held at the guesthouse of the Evangelical [Lutheran] Church of the Augsburg Confession in Romania, in Vulcan, Romania in October 1999. We are grateful to Bishop Christoph Klein of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as well as to the staff of the Casa de Odihna for the warm welcome they extended to us.
The international preparatory group worked from a draft text prepared by a local ecumenical group that included representatives of several of the major Christian traditions in Romania. We were happy to be joined in our work by four representatives of the preparatory group.
At the centre of the worship service proposed for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2001 lies the theme for the week as chosen from John 14: 6: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life".
"I am the way", says Jesus. This means that Christ is not only the source and the goal of unity, but also the one who accompanies and guides his church on its journey and its growth towards unity. Thus, the worship service takes up a concern which became the leitmotiv for the ecumenical working group from Romania: to make the biblical text relevant amidst the challenges experienced as different confessions live together.
The six parts of the worship service revolve around this thematic focus, developing it in different ways:
The recessional symbolizes the promised way of Christ stretching out before us, a way which we follow from a common starting point, guided by Christ and filled with hope.
In three different parts of the worship service (I/II/IV) being on the way together is highlighted by a special prayer. Corresponding to Jesus’ three-fold affirmation, these prayers recall three key aspects of Christian unity: baptism, the word of God (the Bible), and the cross. These are constant signposts for the people of God, and emphasize God’s faithful guidance. Baptism stands for the beginning of the way as a child of God; the scripture is the living witness to God’s direction and truth; and the cross stands for the dawning of new life into Christ’s self-sacrifice and resurrection.
The fellowship of the way, which is linked to these three "stations" and fundamental tenets of our faith, is expressed liturgically in the movement of the worship leaders — and, if feasible, of the entire congregation — to the different locations in the church where the three symbols of unity have been placed during the processional. Thus a prayer would be offered standing in front of or around the baptismal candle or font, another standing in front of or around the Bible, and a third standing in front of or around the cross.
Order of the Ecumenical Worship Service
Greeting (with introduction to the worship service)
(Procession of all those who have a particular role to perform during the service. In the procession, a cross, a Bible and a baptismal candle are carried and then placed on or near the altar/communion table. Appropriate music may accompany the procession.)
Invocation of the Blessed Trinity
L: In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
God, who knows our ways, has brought us together.
From wherever we come, in Christ our separated ways
In his Spirit we are linked together.
Therefore, we give thanks and praise to God:
Psalm (107, 1-16)
L: O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures for ever.
C: O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures for ever.
L1: Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble
L2: and gathered in from the lands from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.
L3: Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town.
L4: Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. For he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things.
C: O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.
C: O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.
(This prayer could be said by a leader near the baptismal candle or the baptismal font. The congregation might also gather there. If this is not possible, all the leaders could gather around the baptismal font or/and the candle.)
C: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.
(This should be a hymn with a doxological character; a proposal would be "O holy God: holy and mighty: holy immortal: have mercy upon us.")
2 Confession of Sins
L1: Christ, you said: I am the way!
We call upon you.
C: Kyrie eleison (sung)
L1: Christ, you said: I am the truth!
We call upon you.
C: Kyrie eleison (sung)
L1: Christ, you said: I am the life!
We call upon you.
C: Kyrie eleison (sung)
Words of grace
C: Thanks, praise and glory be to God.
(Ideally this prayer should be read by a leader near the Bible. If possible, the congregation could also gather around the Bible. If this is not possible, all the leaders gather around the Bible.)
Jesus Christ, you are our teacher:
We thank you for your
We thank you that you
called us to follow you.
L1: Let us worship God in spirit and in truth.
3 Proclamation of the Word
4 Confession of Faith
(If there is a cross in a suitable location in the church, this part of the service should take place around it. The congregation would gather there also. If this is not possible, the leaders might gather around or in front of the cross.)
The pioneer and perfecter of our faith.
We come to you and stand before your cross.
Your cross is showing
us the way.
The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed , or another Profession of Faith, is sung or said. If recited, after each article of the Creed a refrain might be sung composed of appropriate words, such as "I believe, Lord. Alleluia!".
L: We turn to the Lord in prayer.
C: Lord, hear our prayer.
L: Lord, you said that you are the truth. Make us then attentive to your truth. Only in this way shall we be ready to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches today, to proclaim it for the salvation of the world, and no longer provoke scandal by our divisions. May we be gathered together in your truth from every corner of the earth, to the glory of your name.
C: Lord, hear our prayer.
C: Lord, hear our prayer.
(Other intercessions may be added to reflect the concerns of the congregation.)
6 Sending forth and Blessing
Exchange of the sign of peace
O God, your only Son prayed that we might be one as you, Father, are in him, and he in you. Guide our steps, open our hearts and make us ready and able to follow him, the way and the truth and the life, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.
Day One "Do not let your hearts be troubled" (Jn 14: 1)
Isa 43:1-7, 18-19 I will make a way in the wilderness
Ps 43: 1-5 Why are you cast down, O my soul… Hope in God
Acts 18: 8-11 I am with you for there are many in this city who are my people
Mt 8: 23-27 Why are you afraid, you of little faith
On the threshold of the third millennium, we rejoice that we can praise the Lord for his faithfulness towards us through the ages and we perceive more clearly that Christianity is only just beginning. We may however be overwhelmed by paralysing fear. Will hope overcome fear when the tides of evil, injustice, violence and hatred are submerging the weak and poor? And when we encounter opposition as did Paul in Corinth?
Shall we despair when adverse winds threaten evangelization, so much so that we sometimes doubt that we shall ever win new generations to the Word?
On the contrary, in our prayer and apostolic action we sense that the Lord is always with us, as he was with the exiled people of Israel, with Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles and with Jesus' disciples when they were threatened by a violent storm.
Through the sending of his Spirit, God the Father is ever opening new paths through the desert of today's world. God expects and supports the witness of the churches. All peoples of the world are destined to be his. We must therefore have no fear as we advance along the way to common witness.
True ecumenism seems to be under threat. Many still reject it. For some, progress along the road to unity becomes an excuse for introversion and even rupture. Some local groups have been deceived and hurt. Some communities come to fear ecumenical programmes whose biblical bases they contest.
"You of little faith!": Jesus' cry to his disciples could include us. May we overcome our fear in the midst of adversity, through the love that we have within us. Let us pray with the psalmist, who whether he is full of hope or he falters, relies on the Lord who will support his cause by giving him strength, light and truth.
O most powerful God,
respond to our prayer
Day Two "Believe in God" (Jn 14: 1b)
Ex 3: 6-10 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob
Ps 103 He made known his ways to Moses
Rom 11: 33-36 His judgements are unse archable and his ways inscrutable
Jn 17: 5-8 I came from you
Today's world invents its own new cardboard gods, painted in the colours of its own fears, anxieties and insane concerns, alternately derisory and terrifying. In contrast to these unreal creatures of smoke, Israel speaks to us of a totally different and ever-present Being.
Thus, the unknowable God of Sinaï before whom Moses hides his face is that same God of the passing on of the faith, handed down by the patriarchs and prophets. It is the God of the blessings of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
It is the God of whom the psalmist speaks, whose unlimited love bestows grace, pardon and freedom to his people and who offers them the splendour of his divine glory. He promises those who follow the way of faithfulness a new land in which flows the "milk and honey" of his love.
Coming from the very bosom of God the Father, from whom he receives the new teaching, Jesus is the favoured witness. Through his great humility he shows forth the goodness of God the Father, through the force of his teaching and his works he revives the divine blessings for the world.
Christians on their way towards full unity, show forth these unceasing blessings for the new age. Through their prayerful praise they witness to their One God, omnipresent and thrice blessed.
O God whom no words can describe, no thoughts fully understand, no space constrain, who called the patriarchs and allowed the Children of Israel to cross the Red Sea, and who now offers a new land to a thirsting people. Do not condemn us for our numerous sins of division but restore that longed-for unity to our daily life so that together we might witness to your great blessings, and praise and glorify your name, unpronounceable yet three times blessed. Amen.
Day Three "Believe also in me" (Jn 14: 1b)
2 Cor 6, 16-18 If only your children walk in my law
Ps 114 When Israel went out from Egypt
Rom 10: 4-13 Christ is the end of the law
Lk 10: 21-24 No one knows who the Father is except the Son
The gospel is the revelation of the Son by the Father and of the Father by the Son.
The Father manifests himself by acknowledging his Son and in having him acknowledged: we must listen to the Son, who has made himself obedient, has accomplished the law and is the end of the law.
In obedience to the Son, we become sons and daughters of God, like the king of the past to whom God assured his throne as long as he kept his laws; like the Hebrews, whom God had taken out of bondage from Egypt, he has called home his Son.
This is why the men and women who become followers of the Way, follow in Jesus' steps and listen to his words. Those who bear the name of 'Christian' cannot but be one and proclaim the one name necessary for salvation.
For those who have found or are still searching for a god and a place, the church offers a dwelling place in the house of the only true God and of his Envoy, Jesus Christ in the exaltation of the whole world.
Tremble at the
presence of the Master, children of the earth;
Day Four "In my Father's house there are many dwelling places" (Jn 14: 2)
Isa 60: 4-7 They all gather together
Ps 84 How lovely is your dwelling place
Heb 13: 7-14 Remember your leaders and imitate their faith
Jn 10: 11-16 There will be one flock, one shepherd
Until today Christians from different churches have been slow to recognize each other. At present Christians are not yet able to share one table as a sign of full communion. When will it be so? This depends on how ready Christians are to search for the full visible unity in the Father’s one house which is Christ’s will, a unity in which there will be room for legitimate diversity.
The psalmist is singing about the place where humanity will be reconciled with God and with each other. It is the place where people of different nations, cultures and churches will come together. They will be together as one flock with one shepherd.
At the same time it is not a matter of indifference which teachings we follow. There are different places in the house of God, but the way which leads there is the way of Jesus Christ.
What a powerful sign it would be if at the beginning of the third millennium Christians from different traditions could make more visible that they are together on the same way towards God's house. At the same time it will become clearer that in this house there is space for difference.
God, we praise you for being willing to welcome us into your own house in spite of our differences. Help us to open our hearts and minds to those who are different from us, discovering that you also offer space for them in your house. Help and sustain us on the way, which is your way, shown to us. Amen.
Day Five "I will come again and will take you to myself" (Jn 14: 3)
Joel 2: 28-32 I will pour out my Spirit
Ps 98 He will judge the world
Eph 2: 17-22 Through him both of us have access in one spirit to the Father
Jn 14: 25-31 The Holy Spirit will teach you everything
When Jesus Christ, our Saviour, comes for the second time, he will come as a judge. The whole creation will greet and welcome him.
We should not be found naked, we have to preserve the new clothes we received at our baptism, Christ himself. If we are found prepared, Christ will take us with him, and make us partakers in the life of the Holy Trinity. This comes about through Christ, in the Holy Spirit, because their works are not opposed.
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit, on the day of Pentecost, to which the prophet Joel bears witness is — in some churches — made personal through sacramental anointing. The Holy Spirit makes Christ wholly present within us. He conforms us to Christ, makes us like Christ. This process of growing into the form of Christ is continuous.
Those in whom this constant conforming to Christ, this transfiguration, takes place, will become humble and open to others. They will love their neighbours and welcome others. They will understand that Christians cannot judge whether others are saved or not. This will lead them to undertake steps together with others towards unity among Christians.
O heavenly King, the
Comforter, Spirit of Truth
Day Six "You know the way to the place where I am going" (Jn 14: 4)
Ex 13: 20-22 The Lord went in front of them
Ps 25: 1-11 Make me know your ways, O Lord
1 Cor 10: 1-13 God will not let you be tested beyond your strength
Mk 8: 34-38 If any want to become my followers, let them take up their cross
Jesus Christ goes to prepare a place for his disciples. He calls them to follow him on his way by denying themselves and by taking up their cross. He goes ahead of them, showing the way like the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud which led the people of Israel in the desert.
Thus Christians are united with their ancestors and with the people of Israel under the leadership of God.
But on the way Christians often fail and - like the psalmist, - have to ask anew for God's leadership. This can be done because God has promised that he is faithful. He will not let his followers be tested beyond their strength. He helps to endure on the way by giving strength through spiritual food.
Thus Jesus Christ is himself the way, the leader, the light and the provider of food on the way.
Jesus Christ, you are
Day Seven "How can we know the way?" (Jn 14: 5 )
2 Kings 2: 9-12 Let me inherit a share of your Spirit
Ps 130 I wait for the Lord
Phil 3:8-16 This too God will reveal to you
Jn 16: 4-15 He will guide you into all the truth
Throughout the ages Christians have paused to seek God's assurance and guidance. He continues to recognize our expressions of uncertainty and is quick to reassure us and equip us with a new confidence.
Even as we give thanks for the remarkable ecumenical progress of the last century, it is important that we ask 'how can we go forward'? In seeking answers we know that all is not yet fully revealed. God calls us to seek the will of Christ, always encouraging us as we strive to move closer to one another. Questioning is a part of our pilgrimage in searching for the truth in order to grow in Christ and with one another. In discovering his will for us, we learn to see, hear and respect our brothers and sisters in Christ.
As the Holy Spirit draws us deeper into the mystery of Christ crucified and risen, he reveals that sacrifices may be demanded of us. Our uncertainty and the pain involved cause us anxiety. We are reluctant to let go of things familiar and which we treasure. We are assured the Spirit can take and transform that which is painful to us to the greater glory of Christ. The Spirit will give us greater confidence in Christ's call. This is a sign that the ecumenical movement is maturing and that while the way may not be smooth, it is God's will for his people.
Christians long to fulfil the call to be one. With renewed confidence that "the Spirit of truth will guide into all the truth" and will indeed speak, let us pray for the illuminating hope which is God's promise to the world.
Lord, you are the
way, the truth and the life.
Forgive us when we raise barriers that divide us or prevent us from seeking the truth which is the unity offered to us in Christ Jesus.
As we seek your will, release us from all prejudice so that we may be eager to journey more closely with one another and with you. Amen.
Day Eight "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (Jn 14: 6)
Gen 33: 1-12 "I will go alongside you"
Ps 133 How very good when kindred live together in unity
Heb 10: 19-25 Let us hold fast without wavering
Jn 17: 20-23 So that the world may believe
The Lord has stirred up in Christians a deep yearning for unity. He has enabled us to see that this longing, which is found among so many Christians of different traditions, is a sign that his Spirit has been at work in all of us, prompting us to recognize that in this too we must obey his will. When we look up, we now see brothers and sisters, from other Christian communities, offering us gifts that are the fruits of grace.
Painfully, often too slowly, we have acknowledged how much already unites us through our baptism into Christ and the faith we profess. Hesitantly, then with increasing confidence, we have said to one another: let us not settle here, "let us journey on our way, and I will go alongside you". The Lord's own prayer is being answered: he has opened the way for us through his blood and his Spirit is guiding us along that way. His most precious gift will be when we do indeed dwell together in unity.
There is no turning back now. This road leads to the fullness of communion with one another and with the Blessed Trinity. Let us encourage one another to persevere in this search for full visible unity among Christians. Such a unity of faith and life will make possible a profoundly common witness, no longer marred by division, discord and rivalry. If there is one communion among Christians, who truly live and experience their healing and reconciliation, the world will see the truth of our words proclaiming Jesus Christ as the one the Father has sent, their Lord as well as ours.
"He who has promised is faithful" so we can hold fast to this hope without wavering. Even while the Lord has been revealing to us what we already share he has been urging us to go the whole way with him, to be fully united in his truth and in his life with the Father and the Holy Spirit. We can rightly feel responsible for each other since we see that we are brothers and sisters. We can give encouragement, pray together, explore our differences and work for their healing, provoke one another to love and to hear afresh the call to deeper conversion.
Father, on the very night your Son offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins he prayed that we and all who would come to believe in him might be one, as you are in him and he in you. Hasten the day when your will is done and we are so completely one that the world may believe in Jesus Christ whom you have sent. So may all women and men know that you love them as much as you love your only Son. Help us by your Holy Spirit to persevere courageously and confidently along this way together, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Romania – a Christian country
This description of the ecumenical situation in Romania was presented by the Ecumenical Association of Churches AIDRom (Bucharest), with the approval of its president, Bishop Nifon (Romanian Orthodox Church) and the vice-president, Bishop Christoph Klein (Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Romania). The information about the churches and ecumenical life in Romania was prepared at the request of the World Council of Churches, for inclusion in the brochure for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2001.
Thanks to the great arc of the Carpathian Mountains, the Danube and the Black Sea, Romania is easy to find on any map. Culturally speaking it lies at the cross-roads between eastern and western Europe. Ninety-nine percent of its population of just over 22 million people call themselves Christian. As regards other communities of faith, there are 9,000 Jews and 56,000 Muslims. A few thousand people declare themselves to be atheists or of no faith.
The largest church is the Romanian Orthodox Church, to which 86.8% of Romanian Christians belong (19.8 million people). The Roman Catholic Church (5%) has 1.16 million members, while the Greek Catholic Church claims something over 700,000 The Reformed Church has 800,000 members, the Evangelical Lutheran Church 21,000, the Evangelical [Lutheran] Church of the Augsburg Confession, 17,000. The Unitarian community has some 76,000 members, the Armenian Church 2,000, while the free churches — Baptists, Pentecostalists, Adventists, Evangelicals and others — number over half a million Christians.
The Ecumenical Association of Churches (AIDRom) was founded in 1993 and includes the Orthodox, the Reformed, the two Evangelical [Lutheran] churches and the Armenian Church. AIDRom maintains contact with international ecumenical partners and with NGOs and associations in Romania, whose projects it helps carry out. One concern of the Ecumenical Association of Churches is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, for which AIDRom produces a leaflet every year in three languages (Romanian, Hungarian, German), using the material produced by the international preparatory group and sent by the WCC, to encourage and assist with ecumenical worship services throughout the country.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity has been celebrated in some places since the 1960s. Another occasion for ecumenical services is the [Women’s] World Day of Prayer, which is observed on the first Friday in March every year. Preparations for this are coordinated by a country-wide ecumenical committee with women from seven churches, including the Roman Catholic Church. The Romanian World Day of Prayer Committee also has the exceptional responsibility of preparing the order of prayer for the World Day of Prayer on 1 March 2002.
In 1990, it once again became permissible to form associations and many Christian associations, both confessional and ecumenical, were founded. In Bucharest, the Interconfessional Bible Society in Romania is at work. 1992 saw the founding of the "Ecumenical Forum of Christian Women in Romania", to which Christian women’s associations and individuals belong. The Forum organizes ecumenical meetings and training courses which are attended by women from all over the country. An example of local ecumenism is the aid association "Ortopraxia" in Orastie/Broos. It is run by the parishes of the five historical churches present in the town. Other organizations also work ecumenically, even though they are attached to a particular confession, like the association known as "Lifebelt" run by the Reformed congregation in Tirgu Mures.
Ecumenical relations are maintained among the different churches at the level of church authorities and theological faculties within the country, and in the form of partnerships between churches here and churches abroad. The Protestant churches are members of their respective world organizations (e.g. Lutheran World Federation, World Alliance of Reformed Churches, Baptist World Alliance) and, like the Romanian Orthodox Church, are also members of the Conference of European Churches and the World Council of Churches.
A look at the past
The beginnings of Christianity on the territory of what is today Romania reach back to the earliest times, according to Orthodox tradition, to the first century of the Christian era. Archeological finds confirm Christian life in the 4th century. To give a few historical facts: a Roman Catholic bishopric was set up in Alba Iulia (Transylvania) in the 11th century ; in 1359 an Orthodox metropolitan see was founded in Arges for Wallachia. The Romanian Orthodox Church became independent in 1885 and in 1925 was elevated to the rank of patriarchate. In Transylvania, where many churches are established, tolerant and exemplary legislation came into force at a remarkably early date (1568). Various confessions were recognized and given equal status so that Austrian Protestants, for example, were able to find refuge in Transylvania.
The diversity of churches to be found in Romania and, above all, in Transylvania stems partly from the ethnic origin of the inhabitants. Broadly speaking, Romanians belong to the Orthodox Church and the Catholic churches of both rites; Reformed, Unitarians, a majority of Roman Catholics and some Lutherans are of Hungarian origin, living mostly in Transylvania. The members of the Evangelical Church A.C. belong mainly to the German minority in Transylvania. The country’s diversity is an enrichment of its life, but coexistence calls for a great deal of mutual understanding. It is important that everyone should work for reconciliation.
Under the communist dictatorship (from the end of World War II to 1989), all the churches were in a difficult position. They lost almost all the land, forests, schools, hospitals and buildings left in their possession after the agrarian reform of 1921 (except the churches). No new church buildings could be erected. Religious instruction was banned in schools (though not in the churches). Training institutions for pastors did continue to function, though with some restrictions. The Greek Catholic Church suffered particularly harsh treatment at the hands of the communist regime. It was totally banned, its clergy imprisoned or killed, its property confiscated, its church buildings taken away and handed over to the Orthodox Church.
On the threshold of the new millennium
The political upheaval of 1989 brought new openings and opportunities for the churches too. Freedom of movement and assembly and a free press are also good for ecumenism. The former "solidarity of the oppressed" has faded, but the spontaneous openness to dialogue has made new forms of cooperation possible.
The churches are conscientiously fulfilling their diaconal tasks and working to help the weak and marginalized. This is absolutely essential in a country facing enormous economic problems and growing poverty. But they must also minister to spiritual needs. In the last ten years over 100 new Orthodox monastery churches have been built in Romania. Indeed, the monasteries generally are flourishing and undergoing a period of great outreach.
The Greek Catholic Church is still struggling to recover its former property, as in many places its congregations - much reduced after the 45-year ban on its existence - have still not had all their churches returned (so far only about 120 of the more than 2,300 church properties of 1948). For other churches too, ten years after the political changes, the situation regarding ownership of buildings (e.g. schools, homes, etc.) has still not been clarified.
Religious instruction in schools has been reinstated and parents can choose which course, i.e. given by which confession, they wish their child to attend but, despite this, there are still accusations in some places of unfair attempts to recruit members. Proselytism is also suspected when certain churches use the material strength they have (thanks to foreign partners) to provide aid or undertake large building projects.
An important occasion for the ecumenical community in Romania was Pope John Paul II’s visit to the country on 7-9 May 1999. This was not only a great honour for Romania, but a unique opportunity for intensive reflection on Christian unity. The Orthodox, Greek Catholic and Roman Catholic services held with the participation of the Pope and the Patriarch, or in their presence, made a deep impression on all the worshippers, whatever their confession.
Three successful examples of ecumenical life in Romania, showing friendship and cooperation among people of different churches and different ethnic origins, are:
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
2001 I am the way, and the truth, and the life (John 14: 1-6)
Some Key Dates in the History of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity