Communities gather for Vespers during Lent

By Matt Doyle

The Catholic Free Press

“It is always a joy and a blessing to be in the presence of my brothers and sisters in Christ of our sister Roman Catholic Church.” With those words the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Boston welcomed a delegation from the Diocese of Worcester to Great Vespers of Contrition on March 15, at Saint Spyridon Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Worcester.

Metropolitan Methodios led vespers and welcomed both the Orthodox and Roman Catholic faithful to the service. Bishop Robert McManus headed the diocesan delegation and preached the homily at the service.

Metropolitan Methodios thanked the Roman Catholic bishops, priests, religious and laity for visiting Saint Spyridon’s. The spiritual leader of the Greek Orthodox Church in the Metropolis of Boston spoke lovingly of the presence of both the Orthodox and Roman Catholic communities in the same church building.

Metropolitan Methodios said, “They have come to share with us their love of God; their love of the Church of God; and their desire and prayers that the Lord will lead us very soon to what we have been praying for, for many, many years. What we have all been praying for is the day that we may join together to celebrate the sacraments together; to share the common cup of Christ together; to be united as one Church of Christ.”

In his homily Bishop McManus said, “It is providential that we gather to pray for Christian unity at this time of the liturgical year because at the core of the ecumenical movement is the theological reality of conversion, a conversion that seriously engages Christian believers in the sincere attempt to fulfill the high priestly prayer of Jesus that ‘all might be one’.”

Bishop McManus noted that the Roman Catholic Church is celebrating the Year of St. Paul and used Paul’s conversion as an example of the mindset that should be with all Christians during Lent. “Conversion was the foundational experience that shaped and determined St. Paul’s life as the champion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

“St. Paul was able to proclaim Christ authentically and persuasively,” said Bishop McManus, “because he himself had been converted to the person of Christ, crucified and risen from the dead and alive and active in his Body, the Church.” Bishop McManus said that Paul was insistent that all must “be reconciled to God in Christ.”

Recalling the words of The Second Vatican Council urging the Church to engage in ecumenical efforts, Bishop McManus said that the council fathers were adamant that Christ founded only one Church.

“Tonight we pray that Christ’s will that ‘all might be one’ will come to pass, not in some distant future but in our own time,” said Bishop McManus. “Certainly the prayer for unity that Christ prayed in the Upper Room on the night before he died for the salvation of the world is the biblical basis for both theologically justifying and pastorally pursuing the imperative in favor of Christian unity.”

However, he observed that history shows that there must be a “profound conversion of mind and heart. The unity of all Christians which is the goal of ecumenism can only come about if Christians like ourselves assume a new attitude of spirit that reflects the will of Christ who prayed in earnest that his Church would perdure in the grace of unity.”
The evening began with the intonation of vespers led by Metropolitan Methodios. At the conclusion, he greeted all present and introduced Bishop McManus “to preach the Word of God.”

The vespers service was part of a renewal of the great ecumenical tradition in Worcester County. Father Peter Beaulieu, who served on the Catholic-Orthodox subcommittee of the diocesan Pauline Year Steering Committee, said the Advent prayer service held at the Cathedral of St. Paul and the Lenten vespers service at Saint Spyridon’s recalled the historic talks that took place between the then Bishop Bernard Flanagan and Archbishop Iakovos.

Father Beaulieu said, “Advent and Lent seemed like ideal times to pray together with a distinct purpose—the Incarnation and contrition for sins.” He worked closely with Father Dean Stamoulis from Saint Spyridon’s to plan the two evening services.

The Year of Saint Paul was opened at the Basilica of Saint-Paul-outside-the-Walls in Rome by Pope Benedict XVI in an evening prayer service with Patriarch Bartholomew I on June 29, 2008. “The Holy Father”, said Father Beaulieu, “clearly stated that the year’s observance must have an ecumenical thrust.”

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