January 2011 - Vol. 46

Prayers for Unity – Ancient and New

A selection from Eastern and Western Christian traditions

Jesus' high priestly prayer for unity
From the Gospel of John, Chapter 17: 20-26
I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 

The glory which you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which you have given me in your love for me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world has not known you, but I have known you; and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.

Prayer from the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (Didache) 
an early church manual written around 90 AD 
Think of your church, O Lord. Free it from all evil and perfect it in your love. Assemble it from the four winds and having sanctified it, lead it to the kingdom which you have prepared for it. For yours is the power and the glory for all eternity.

Prayer for unity in the bond of peace and love
From the Liturgy of St Mark, used in Alexandria, dating from the 2nd century

O Soverign and almighty Lord, bless all your people, and all your flock. Give your peace, your help, your love to us your servants, the sheep of  your fold, that we may be united in the bond of peace and love, one body and one spirit, in one hope of our calling, in your divine and boundless love.
Contemporary prayers

From the Week of Prayer for Unity - 2011

God of Peace, we thank you that you sent your Son Jesus, so that we might be reconciled to yourself in Him. Give us the grace to be effective servants of reconciliation within our churches. In this way help us to serve the reconciliation of all peoples, particularly in your Holy Land – the place where you demolish the wall of separation between peoples, and unite everyone in the  Body of Jesus, sacrificed on Mount Calvary. Fill us with love for one another; may our unity serve the reconciliation that you desire for all creation. We pray in the power of the Spirit. Amen.
Weekly prayer of the Sword of the Spirit
[The Sword of the Spirit, an ecumenical association of Christian communities worldwide, prays and fasts weekly for Christian unity. This prayer focuses on the restoration of Christian truth, holiness of life, unity, and witness. In this prayer we identify with the sin and infidelity of God's people, even as Daniel (Daniel 9:5-11,20) and Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:4-7) identified themselves with the transgressions of Israel. God relates to his people as a body. We stand before him in prayer not only as individuals, but also as representatives of his church. We may not have sinned personally in the ways mentioned in this prayer, but we have suffered personally from the effects of these sins, and we will all benefit greatly as God wipes them away.] 
Let us pray now on behalf of the whole people of God.

Lord God our Father, we come to you in supplication on behalf of all the Christian people. We lament the weakness and division among those who call on the name of Christ. We acknowledge that we have failed to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). We grieve that our disunity has hindered the proclamation of the gospel to all the nations (Matthew 28:18; John 17:23).

We recognize that these evils have come upon us, not only through the malice of our Enemy, but because of our sin, the sin of your people.
Lord have mercy upon us, and pardon our sin

 Response: Amen. Lord, have mercy

Lord, unite your people in brotherly love and in your truth that we might together give witness to Christ in the world.

Response:Amen. Lord, have mercy

Lord, frustrate your enemies and expose their plots; call to repentance all your sons and daughters; strengthen the weak and enlighten those who are confused.

Response:Amen. Lord, have mercy

Lord, encourage and strengthen by the presence of your Spirit all who are suffering for their faithfulness to you.

Restore your people for the sake of your great name.

May your people be without spot or blemish, ready for your Son’s return!

Response: Amen. Come Lord Jesus

Orthodox prayers for unity 

O Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, you promised to abide with us always. You call all Christians to draw near and partake of Your Body and Blood. But our sin has divided us and we have no power to partake of Your Holy Eucharist together. We confess this our sin and we pray You forgive us and help us to serve the ways of reconciliation, according to Your Will. Kindle our hearts with the fire of the Holy Spirit. Give us the spirit of Wisdom and faith, of daring and of patience, of humility and firmness, of love and of repentance, through the prayers of the most blessed Mother of God and of all the saints. Amen. – Fr Sergius Bulgakov

O Merciful Lord Jesus, Our Savior, hear the prayers and petitions of Your unworthy sinful servants who humbly call upon You and make us all to be one in Your one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Flood our souls with Your unquenchable light. Put an end to religious disagreements, and grant that we your disciples and your beloved children may all worship You with a single heart and voice. Fulfill quickly, O grace-giving Lord, your promise that there shall be one flock and one Divine Shepherd of your Church; and may we be made worthy to glorify your Holy Name now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.– Bl. Leonid Fedorov

The unity of Christians resides in prayer
from an address on unity by Pope Benedict XVI, November 18, 2010

The unity of Christians is and remains prayer, it resides in prayer. On the other hand, another operative movement, which arises from the firm awareness that we do not know the hour of the realization of the unity among all the disciples of Christ and we cannot know it, because unity is not "made by us," God "makes" it: it comes from above, from the unity of the Father with the Son in the dialogue of love which is the Holy Spirit; it is a taking part in the divine unity. 

And this should not make our commitment diminish, rather, it should make us ever more attentive to receive the signs of the times of the Lord, knowing how to recognize with gratitude that which already unites us and working to consolidate it and make it grow.

In the end, also in the ecumenical path, it is about leaving to God what is only his and of exploring, with seriousness, constancy and dedication, what is our task, being aware that to our commitment belongs the binomial of acting and suffering, of activity and patience, of effort and joy.

We confidently invoke the Holy Spirit, so that he will guide our way and that each one will feel with renewed vigor the appeal to work for the ecumenical cause.

From the Week of Prayer for Unity - 2011

God, from whom all life flows in its rich diversity, you call your Church as the Body of Christ to be united in love. May we learn more deeply our unity in diversity, and strive to work together to preach, and build up the Kingdom of your abundant love to all, while accompanying each other in each place, and in all places. May we always be mindful of Christ as the source of our life together. We pray in the unity of the Spirit. Amen
C.S. Lewis on Prayer for Christian unity

The time is always ripe for reunion. Divisions between Christians are a sin and a scandal, and Christians ought at all times to be making contributions towards reunion, if it is only by their prayers. I am only a layman and a recent Christian, and I do not know much about these things, but in all the things which I have written and thought I have always stuck to traditional dogmatic positions. The result is that letters of agreement reach me from what are ordinarily regarded as the most different kinds of Christians; for instance, I get letters from Jesuits, monks, nuns, and also from Quakers and Welsh Dissenters, and so on. So it seems to me that the 'extremist' elements in every church are nearest one another...

[quote from The Grand Miracle, and Other Selected Essays on Theology and Ethics from God in the Dock, by C.S. Lewis, Random House, 1970]

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