BEIRUT — At the initiative of the Episcopal Committee for Ecumenical Relations of the Council of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops in Lebanon and the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), the Week of Prayer for Church Unity has begun on Sunday evening in the Armenian Catholic Cathedral of Saint Elias and Saint Gregory the Illuminator in Beirut.
Opening prayer was attended by Patriarch of Cilicia for the Armenian Catholics Raphaël Bedros XXI Minassian, Patriarch Mor Ignatius Youssef III Younan of the Syriac Catholic Church of Antioch, Mor Béchara Boutros al-Raï, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East for the Maronite Syriacs, Mor Youssef Absi, Syriac Melkite Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, and Apostolic Nuncio to Lebanon for the Catholic Church Archbishop Joseph Spiteri. Also in attendance were invited guests including archbishops of the Syriac Orthodox Church, and priests, monks and nuns, and believers of several other Christian denominations present in Lebanon.
The opening began with prayers, supplications and readings from the Bible, taken from the specially prepared rite for the Week of Prayer for Church Unity. Patriarch Bedros XXI Minassian gave an opening sermon in which he touched on Christian unity and the importance and necessity of achieving it among the various churches.
Bishop Joseph Mouawad delivered a speech on behalf of the Episcopal Committee on Ecumenical Relations of the Council of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops in Lebanon, followed by a speech by Father Antoine al-Ahmar on behalf of the Secretary General of the Middle East Council of Churches Michel Abs, in which he stressed the current warm and loving relations between the different Churches of the East, and the need to support and strengthen those relations.
The Syriac Melkites – from the Syriac word “malkoye” or “royals” i.e., those who adhere to the Council of Chalcedon (452) – follow the Byzantine rite while the Syriac Catholic Church and Syriac Maronite Church follow the West Syriac rite. These Syriac churches are Catholic and members of the MECC. The Syriac Orthodox Church and the Syriac Chaldean Church are also MECC members. The MECC is a member of the World Council of Churches and was established in 1974. In 1990 the Catholic Churches which have their basis in the Middle East joint.
The majority of Syriacs thus belong to the Catholic denomination. Whether Syriacs need four Catholic churches is something that could be a point of discussion in MECC meetings. Let us hope the Week of Prayer for Church and Christian Unity pays off.