The theme for this year’s Week for Christian Unity (January 18-25) is “Reconciliation - The Love of Christ Compels Us.” During the General Audience recalling the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Pope Francis encouraged Christians to look with hope to what “unites us” rather than that which “divides us.” Indeed, this is how bridges are built and foundations for dialogue reaffirmed. I made my students listen to a lecture by Abbot Sergius of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk Monastery (an Eastern Orthodox Monastery in Waymart, PA) on the Divine Liturgy, just to understand another view on liturgical theology. The abbot speaks of liturgy as an intimate “encounter” with God through the Incarnate Christ, who unites Himself to us through the sacraments, thus working the great mystery of salvation.
Moreover, the Divine Liturgy has a double unitive function: vertically with God, and horizontally with each other. Further, the Divine Liturgy is also a public service involving the whole community in an act of prayer, worship, teaching, and communion of the one Body of Christ. In the East, celebrating the Divine Liturgy was saving. In fact, what enabled the Eastern Churches to survive the Communist persecution was the worship and the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in the local Church. In the East, a Eucharistic community “One Lord, One Faith, and One Baptism” (Ephesians 4:5) proved to be a surviving community. The understanding of Divine Liturgy in the East and the West are very similar, as my students observed after the abbot’s lecture, with some differences, the most visible and important being the normative use of ad orientem in worship in the East.
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