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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christians bid to face fear with hope in ecumenical gathering

Orthodox/Catholic Ecumenical Gathering

“O Come, O come, Emmanuel...
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

While Pope Francis was setting an example of inclusion on his 77th birthday by inviting a homeless man and his dog into his residence, another gathering was occurring on Earth - a service where Roman Catholics prayed, sang, and celebrated the joys of Christmas inside a Greek orthodox church. Will wonders never cease!

For eight years, members of these two religious groups have gathered in Atlanta to promote Christian unity. December 17, 2013 was no exception, and the theme of the ecumenical service held at the Cathedral of the Annunciation during Advent gave guidance on overcoming fears of "others" with love and hope.

The processional looked like a scene from the Knights Templar, with holy men and women in black/white vestments and gold, red and silver crosses. The church was filled with mosaics of a dying yet triumphant Jesus, his followers, and Mary, the Theotokos, center stage. An adorned Christmas tree was to the left of the altar, while Catholic leaders sat separately from Orthodox Greek clergy in crowded pews.

Archbishop Gregory
Atlanta’s Most Reverend Catholic Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory said the birth of Jesus was heralded by angels who spoke to shepherds guarding flocks. The same message must go forth now to people of faith, he said.

“Don’t be afraid....God is about to do something spectacular and wonderful,” Gregory said. “Salvation is coming to an often cynical world.”

Gregory said he is praying for a single church, “a bond severed long ago by sins of disagreement, pride, and arrogance lodged in the outdated argument.”  He said this message should be heard throughout Rome and Constantinople. “Christmas is a time for transformation. Believe in what the angels sang about…in angelic truth.”

Metropolitan Alexios
Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Archbishop Alexios Panagiotopoulos said in order for Christians to be unified, they must befriend and "see one another in the eyes." He bid attendees to not watch and examine others, but to watch and examine themselves first, by concentrating on how they are sharing gifts God has bestowed on them.

In an interview after the service, Alexios said changing the world starts with the individual and radiates outward to the masses.

“It seems there were more people here last year,” said a member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem from Decatur, Ga. Maybe her observation is a sign of the times.

Catholics gathered and listened to messages in ecumenical service.
Hymns were sung by the Holy Spirit Church Choir, the Annunciation Cathedral Chantors, St. John the Wonderworker Church Choir and Chantors; the Romanian Carolers from St. Mary Romanian, St. Mary of Egypt OCA, and Saint Constantine & Helen Romanian Church Choirs and Chantors.

It was a night to remember, a holy night filled with good intentions and prospects of peace. May God have mercy on us all.

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