In 1908, the Rev. Paul Wattson, a North American Anglican priest, founded the "Octave for unity". The rest, as they say, is history.
Last night it was my privilege and pleasure to Officiate at an Ecumenical Service of Prayer for Christian Unity at the College of St. Elizabeth in Madison, NJ, a Roman Catholic school founded by some of my favorite nuns, the Sisters of Charity.
The preacher was a Roman Catholic priest who was also a Franciscan Friar, and the lector was a local Lutheran Pastor. The Intercessory Prayers were led by two Sisters of Charity.
We didn't celebrate Eucharist, of course - there's only so far our prayers for Christian Unity will take us - but the Spirit was very much in presence.
The Feast of John Chrysostom falls smack-dab in the week after the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unit. He was a bishop of Constantinople in the late 4th century.
Chrysostom means 'the golden mouthed,' as he was undoubtedly one of the greatest preachers of the early church. He saw preaching as an integral part of pastoral care and teaching. He warned that if a priest had no talent for the Word, the souls of those in his (her) charge "will fare no better than ships tossed in the storm."
Indeed, the Episcopal Church thinks so highly of him, we have included his Prayer of Thanksgiving as part of the Daily Morning Office. It's one of my favorite prayers in the Book of Common Prayer (page 102: " . . . granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting.")
It was his devotion to the Eucharist, however, that I was thinking about last night and again this morning as I reflected on his 'spot' in the calendar this week, reminding us of just how far we remain from Christian unity, no matter how fervently we pray.
Chrysostom was especially passionate about lay participation in the Eucharist. "Why do you marvel, he wrote in one of his sermons, "that the people anywhere utter anything with the priest at the altar, when in fact they join with the Cherubim themselves, and the heavenly powers, in offering up sacred hymns?"
I don't know when it was that the Roman Catholics decided that the Orthodox couldn't receive communion from them, and the Orthodox decided that the Roman Catholics couldn't receive communion from them, and neither will "officially" feed Protestants, no matter how piously we sing that Taize Chant "there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism."
It's just a guess, but I suspect Chrysostom would have been much more Anglican in his approach and fed whoever came to him who was hungry and thirsty for the Living Christ.
The Sisters of Charity, however, did an interesting liturgical innovation. As Father read the gospel, the story of the Road to Emmaus was interspersed with the congregation singing Marty Haugen's hymn "On the Journey to Emmaus."
So, it went like this: Father would read a few of the verses of the 24th Chapter of Luke's gospel, and then we would sing one of the four verses of the hymn.
The last verse is really wonderful:
On our journey to Emmaus, in our stories and feastI think the one they called 'the golden mouthed' might have approved.
With Jesus we claim that the greatest is least:
And his words burn within us - let none be ignored
Who welcomes the stranger shall welcome the Lord.
As I was reading over the liturgy in the sacristy before the service, one of the nuns walked in and asked me what I thought of it.
I told her that I found the Gospel reading . . . "interesting." She smiled, immediately understanding how we use the word "interesting" as code - leaving that which needed to be left unsaid in its appropriate unspoken place.
Then she came close and whispered, "It's one way to get lay participation in proclaiming the gospel."
I smiled, nodding my head in the direction of the clergy and whispered, "And 'they' don't object."
She giggled softly and said, "They haven't even noticed."
Well, in that moment, we were two women who may not have been exactly united in prayer, but we were united in a wonderful Gospel conspiracy of which I think even John Chrysostom might have approved.
I will leave you with our closing prayer:
Holy God, take us from where we are, to where you want us to be;
make us not merely guardians of a heritage,
but living signs of your coming Kingdom;
fire us with passion for justice and peace
between all people;
fill us with that faith hope and love
which embody the Gospel;
and through the power of the Holy Spirit make us one.
That the world may believe,
that your name may be enthroned in our nation,
that your church may more effectively be your body,
we commit ourselves to love you, serve you,
and follow you as pilgrims not strangers. Amen.