“Worshipping together follows ‘will of God’”

No matter how hard ecumenists internationally try they never really can top the Americans for consistency. NFTU

(Catholic Free Press) WORCESTER – “We have to do this every year.”

Father Gregory Christakos, associate pastor of St. Spyridon Cathedral, was raving about the Greek Orthodox-Roman Catholic vespers that had just concluded at St. Paul Cathedral Sunday.

“It was so moving,” he explained. “It’s not just discussing and dialoguing about unity, but actually worshipping together.”

“It’s wonderful because it brings us together,” said Alberto Huaman, of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish. “Some of my best friends are Orthodox.” Now he’s looking forward to the vespers at St. Spyridon’s in March, he said.

Both services were planned for the Year of St. Paul, which Pope Benedict XVI inaugurated June 28 to mark the 2,000th anniversary of the apostle’s birth. The pope expressed pleasure that Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople also arranged for a Pauline year for his faithful.

Sunday Bishop McManus told Metropolitan Methodios, of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston, that his presence and the presence of his clergy and laity honored the Worcester Diocese and added ecumenical significance to the diocese’s celebration of the Year of St. Paul.

He gave the Metropolitan and Father Dean Paleologos, dean of St. Spyridon’s, copies of the image of St. Paul which parishes in the Worcester Diocese had received at a diocesan Mass inaugurating the jubilee year.

Vespers, or evening prayer, is part of the Liturgy of the Hours clergy and religious pray daily in the Latin Church. It is very similar in the Greek Orthodox Church, said Father Robert K. Johnson, director of the Worcester Diocese’s Office for Worship.

Sunday’s vespers began with members of the Orthodox Church singing The Great Doxologies in Greek by the Easter candle. The congregation’s candles were then lit from it, as at the Easter Vigil. This Lucernarium, of one of the rites of solemn vespers, proclaims Jesus as light of the world, Father Johnson said. In the ancient church there was a practical purpose for lighting the lamps, and it later became a ritual, he said.

The vespers also included a reading from St. John Chrysostom, the singing of intercessions and a Marian hymn in Greek and other hymns and Psalms, led by the St. Paul Cathedral Choir, in English.

In his homily Metropolitan Methodios expressed appreciation for the deepening bond between Catholics and Orthodox and hope for eventual “full ecclesiastical unity.”

He said he and Bishop McManus were replicating the examples of the partriarch and pope and expressed appreciation for the presence of Bishops Reilly and Rueger. He noted that Bishop Flanagan and Archbishop Iakovos, Greek Orthodox Archbishop of North and South America, first opened Orthodox-Catholic dialogue in the United States.

“The ecumenical movement is not an option, but, in obedience to the will of God, an imperative in our ministry,” the Metropolitan said in his prepared remarks.

“This Christmas in the darkness that surrounds us, the light of the world…comes to grant…salvation,” he said. He mentioned war, terrorism, financial worries and hunger. He said Catholics and Orthodox are “distressed that our nation is permeated with tragedy, violence…scandals,” horrified by abortion and ashamed that kindergarteners are exposed to “unethical lifestyles.” In Washington, D.C., buses have posters which say, “You don’t have to believe in God, just ‘be good for goodness sake,’” he said.

“The angel speaks of tidings of great joy for us who listen in faith this Christmas,” he said. “Whatever the circumstances in our personal lives and the life of the world, Jesus is, for those who believe, the Savior.”

He quoted Revelation 3:20: “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him and he with me.”

“The question is whether we will notice Christ this Christmas, whether we will have time to dine with him,” he said. “This Christmas, the infant Savior comes to renew our way of thinking, to reorder the priorities in our lives, to free us from the bondage of sin.” Only by inviting the incarnate Savior in can people better the world, he said.

“United, let us proclaim that the Lord lives and that ‘whoever believes in him will have eternal life,’” he said.

At the informal reception afterwards, John Smithhisler, president and CEO of St. Vincent Hospital, said the Metropolitan’s words “can inspire us during the Christmas season to begin to make a change,” and become a more morally based people.

“The Church needs to speak with one voice to our culture,” said Father Kenneth DeVoie, of Emmanuel Orthodox Church in Warren, an Antiochian Orthodox Church. “The division doesn’t help us. The culture is in some way pushing the Church back together.”

“It’s this huge family that’s been alienated for years, and you finally run across members of the family,” Dwain Robbins, of St. Mary Parish in Uxbridge, said of the Catholics and Orthodox. “You understand the connection that you have with them.”

“We’re very elated,” said Christopher Lekas of St. Spyridon’s. “As his eminence said in his homily, hopefully someday we’ll all be able to praise Jesus in one Church. That’s my prayer.”

“It’s for me a very significant thing,” Metropolitan Methodios told The Catholic Free Press after the vespers. “It’s another manifestation of our tireless efforts to share in the Holy Eucharist. I’m very happy that there’s such close relations between Catholics and Orthodox here in Worcester.”

“I think it’s a historic celebration in the life of the Diocese of Worcester,” Bishop McManus said. “What Bishop Flanagan began 40 years ago continues tonight in this cathedral celebration.”

Editor’s note: The vespers will be broadcast on Charter TV3 at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday and at 7 p.m. Friday. A 30-minute special with excerpts from the service will air at 6 p.m. Jan. 17 on Charter TV3 and cable access stations that following week. By Tanya Connor