THE WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY
and throughout the year 2008

Theme: Pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17)

Jointly prepared and published by
The Pontifical Council for Christian Unity
The Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches


Octave (eight days) of Prayer for Christian Unity (January 20 to 27, 2008)
Click here for the version without daily commentary
     The meditations for the eight days in this year’s material for the week of prayer build on the notion that prayer for Christian unity, spiritual ecumenism, is  foundational to all other aspects of the search for unity among Christians. They offer a sustained reflection on the theme of prayer for unity, each drawing attention to one aspect or concern of such prayer, and making a connection to one of the imperatives which St Paul addresses to the Christian community in Thessalonica. The opening meditation presents unity as a gift and a call to the church, and ponders what it means to “pray without ceasing” for unity.
     Day 2 invites Christians to trust in God and to give thanks as we work and pray for unity, mindful that it is the Holy Spirit who is directing our ecumenical pilgrimage. The need for an ongoing conversion of our hearts, both as individuals and as churches, is the focus of the third reflection. Day 4 is entitled ‘Pray always for justice’, and challenges Christians to a Christ-centred prayer which leads us to work together in responding to injustice and to the needs of suffering humanity.

     Patience and perseverance go hand in hand in Christian life, and Day 5 invites a prayerful attentiveness to the different paces and rhythms of our sisters and brothers as we strive for the unity Christ desires for his disciples. The meditation for Day 6 encourages prayer for the grace to be willing instruments of God in this reconciling work. Day 7 suggests that as we have learned to work together in responding to others in their distress, so too we might learn how to walk together in prayer, learning to appreciate the many different ways in which Christians turn to God in their need. The final meditation of the eight days takes stock of where we are on the Spirit-led journey to unity, calling us and our churches to recommit ourselves to pray and strive with our whole being for the unity and peace willed by God.



                                    Day 1
                                 Pray always
                        Pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5: 17)
 

 Is 55:6-9:                          Seek the Lord while he may be found
 Ps 34:                               I sought the Lord, and he answered me
 1 Thess 5: (12a) 13b-18:  Pray without ceasing
 Lk 18:1-8:                        To pray always and not to lose heart

 Commentary

 Paul writes “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will
 of God in Christ Jesus for you”. His epistle is written to a faithful community that is anxious about
 death. Many good and believing brothers and sisters have “fallen asleep” before the Lord’s return to
 bring all into his resurrection. What will happen to these faithful dead? What will happen to the living?
 Paul assures them that the dead shall be raised with the living and exhorts them to “pray without
 ceasing”. What does it mean to pray without ceasing? We find insights to answer this question in
 today’s readings. Our whole lives are to be a seeking of the Lord, convinced that in seeking, we shall
 find.

 In the midst of the Exile, when all seemed hopeless and dry, the prophet Isaiah proclaims, “Seek the
 Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near”. Even in exile, the Lord is near and
 urging his people to turn to him in prayer and to follow his commandments so that they may know his
 mercy and pardon. Psalm 34 affirms the prophetic conviction that the Lord will answer those who call
 upon him, and adds praise to the call to pray without ceasing.

 In Luke’s gospel, Jesus teaches his disciples with the parable of the widow seeking justice from a
 judge who neither feared God nor respected people. The story serves as a reminder of the need for
 constancy in prayer - “to pray always and not to lose heart” - and for confidence that prayer is
 answered: “will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?”

 As Christians in search of unity, we reflect on these readings to find “the will of God in Christ Jesus
 for you”. It is Christ who lives within us. Our call to pray without ceasing becomes part of his eternal
 intercession to the Father: “that all may be one, ... that the world may believe...”. The unity we seek is
 unity ‘as Christ wills’ and the ‘octave’ observance of Christian prayer for unity reflects the biblical
 notion of completion, that some day our prayer will be answered.

 Unity is a God-given gift to the church. It is also a call of Christians to live out this gift. Prayer for
 Christian unity is the source from which flows all human endeavour to manifest full visible unity. Many
 are the fruits of one hundred years of an octave of prayer for Christian unity. Many are also the
 barriers which still divide Christians and their churches. If we are not to lose heart, we must be
 steadfast in prayer so that we may seek the Lord and his will in all we do and all we are.

 Prayer

 Lord of unity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we pray without ceasing that we may be one, as you are
 one. Father, hear us as we seek you. Christ, draw us to the unity which is your will for us. Spirit, may
 we never lose heart. Amen.



                                   Day 2

                       Pray always, trusting God alone
                    Give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess 5: 18)
 

 1 Kings 18:20-40
                                  The Lord indeed is God
 Ps 23
                                  The Lord is my shepherd
 1 Thess 5: (12a)13b-18
                                  Give thanks in all circumstances
 Jn 11:17-44
                                  Father, I thank you for having heard me
 

 Commentary

 Praying is rooted in the trust that God is powerful and faithful. God alone is the one who holds all in
 his hands, the present and the future. His word is credible and truthful.

 The story of Elijah in 1 Kings impressively demonstrates the oneness of God. Elijah berates the
 apostates who worship Baal, who is not answering their prayers. Yet when Elijah prays to the one
 God of Israel, the response is immediate and miraculous. Realizing this, the people turned their hearts
 back to God.

 Psalm 23 is a profound confession of trust. It depicts a person who believes that God guides him and
 stays with him also in the darkness of life and in situations of desolation and oppression.

 We may find circumstances that may be difficult, even turbulent. We may have moments of despair
 and resignation. Sometimes we feel that God is hidden. But he is not absent. He will manifest his
 power to liberate in the midst of human struggle. Thus we give thanks to him in all circumstances.

 The raising of Lazarus from the dead is one of the most dramatic scenes recorded in John’s gospel. It
 is a manifestation of Christ’s power to break the bonds of death and an anticipation of the new
 creation. In the presence of the people Jesus prays aloud, thanking his Father for the mighty deeds he
 will do. God’s saving work is accomplished through Christ so that all will come to believe.

 The ecumenical pilgrimage is a way in which we realize the wondrous deeds of God. Christian
 communities which have been separated from each other come together. They discover their unity in
 Christ and come to understand that they are each part of one church and need one another.

 The vision of unity can be darkened. It is sometimes threatened by frustrations and tensions. The
 question may arise whether we Christians are truly called to stay together. Our continuous praying
 sustains us as we look to God and trust in him. We are confident that he is still at work in us and will
 lead us to the light of his victory. His kingdom begins with our reconciliation and growing unity.

 Prayer

 God of all creation, hear your children as we pray. Help us keep our faith and trust in you. Teach us
 to give thanks in all circumstances, relying on your mercy. Give us truth and wisdom, that your church
 may arise to new life in one fellowship. You alone are our hope. Amen.



                                   Day 3

               Pray without ceasing for the conversion of hearts
             Admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted (1Thess 5 : 14)
 

 Jon 3: 1-10
                                         The repentance of Nineveh
 Ps 51: 8-15
                                         Create a pure heart in me
 1 Thess 5: (12a)13b-18
                                         Encourage the faint-hearted
 Mk 11: 15-17
                                         A house of prayer
 

 Commentary

 In the beginning and at the heart of the ecumenical enterprise can be found a pressing call to
 repentance and to conversion. We sometimes need to know how to call each other to task within our
 Christian communities as Paul invites us to do in the first epistle to the Thessalonians. If one or the
 other causes division, he should be rebuked; if some are afraid of all that a difficult reconciliation
 could imply, they should be encouraged.

 Why hide the fact? If divisions between Christians exist, it is also through a lack of will to be
 committed to ecumenical dialogue and even, simply, to prayer for unity.

 The Bible tells us how God sent Jonah to rebuke Nineveh and how the whole city repented. In the
 same way, Christian communities must listen to the Word of God and repent. In the course of the last
 century, we have not been lacking in prophets of unity who have made Christians aware of the
 unfaithfulness manifest in our divisions and reminding them of the urgency of reconciliation.

 In the image of the vigorous intervention of Jesus in the temple, the call to Christian reconciliation can
 seriously call into question our narrow self-understanding. We too have a great need of purification.
 We need to know how to rid our hearts of all that prevents them from being a true house of prayer,
 concerned for the unity of all peoples.

 Prayer

 Lord you desire truth deep-down within us: in the secret of our hearts, you teach us wisdom. Teach
 us to encourage each other along the road to unity. Show us the conversion necessary for
 reconciliation. Give to each of us a new, truly ecumenical heart, we pray you. Amen.



                                   Day 4

                           Pray always for justice
               See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek
                  to do good to one another and to all (1 Thess 5: 15)
 

 Ex 3: 1-12
                                God hears the cry of the Israelites
 Ps 146
                                The Lord…secures justice for the oppressed
 1 Thess 5: (12a) 13b-18
                                See that none of you repays evil for evil
 Mt 5: 38-42
                                Offer no resistance to one who is evil
 

 Commentary

 Together as God’s people, we are called to pray for justice. God hears the cry of the oppressed, the
 needy, the orphan and the widow. God is a God of justice and answers with his Son, Jesus Christ,
 who commands us to work together in unity through peace and not through violence. Paul also
 emphasizes this in the words “see that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to
 one another and to all”.

 Christians pray without ceasing for justice, that every single human person will be treated with dignity
 and given a fair share in this world. In the United States of America, the injustice of the slavery of
 Africans ended only with a bloodletting civil war, followed by a century of state-sponsored racism.
 Even the churches were segregated according to colour. Sadly, racism and other forms of bigotry,
 such as fear of the alien, still linger in American life.

 Yet it was through the efforts of the churches, particularly the African-American churches and their
 ecumenical partners, and most especially through the non-violent resistance of the Rev. Dr Martin
 Luther King, Jr, that civil rights for all were enshrined in American law. His deep-rooted conviction
 that only Christ-like love truly conquers hate and brings about the transformation of society continues
 to inspire Christians, drawing them together to work for justice. Dr King’s birthday is a national
 holiday in the USA. Each year, it falls either just before or within the Week of Prayer for Christian
 Unity.

 God heard and responded to the cries of the Israelites. God continues to hear and respond to the
 cries of all who are oppressed. Jesus reminds us that God’s justice is embodied in his own willingness
 to sacrifice his own security, his own power and prestige and his very life to bring to our world the
 justice and reconciliation through which all human beings are treated as equal in worth and dignity.

 It is only as we hear and respond to the cries of the oppressed that we can move forward together on
 the road to unity. This also applies to the ecumenical movement, where we may be required to “go
 the extra mile” in our willingness to listen to one another, reject vindictiveness and act in charity.

 Prayer

 Lord God, you created humanity, male and female, in the divine image. May we pray without ceasing
 and with one mind and heart that those who are hungry in our world will be nourished, that those who
 are oppressed will be freed, that all human persons will be treated with dignity; and may we be your
 instruments in making this yearning a reality. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.



                                   Day 5

                     Pray constantly with a patient heart
                       Be patient with all of them (Thess 5: 14)
 

 Ex 17: 1-4
                                          Why?
 Ps 1
                                          Yield fruit in its season
 1 Thess 5: (12a) 13b-18
                                          Be patient with all of them
 Lk 18: 9-14
                                          A humble prayer
 

 Commentary

 We cannot be complacent about the divisions between Christians and we are rightly impatient for the
 day of our reconciliation to come about. But we must also be conscious that ecumenical effort is not
 sustained at the same rhythm everywhere. Some go forward in leaps and bounds, others are more
 prudent. As Paul exhorts, we must be patient with everybody.

 Like the Pharisee in prayer, we can easily come before God with the arrogance of those who do all
 things well: “I am not like other people”. If we are sometimes tempted to denounce the slowness or
 rashness of the members of our church or those of our ecumenical dialogue partners, the invitation to
 be patient sounds an important and timely warning.

 Sometimes it is towards God that we show our impatience. Like the people in the desert, we
 sometimes question him : why do we have to continue this painful journey if it is all to no use? Let us
 stay confident. God responds to our prayers, in his own way and his own time. He will create new
 ways, to meet today’s needs, of bringing Christians together.

 Prayer

 Lord, make us your disciples, attentive to your Word, day and night. On our journey towards unity,
 give us hope for fruit in due season. When prejudices and suspicion seem to dominate, we pray you,
 give us the humble patience necessary for reconciliation. Amen.



                                   Day 6

                   Pray always for grace to work with God
                  Rejoice always, pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5: 16)
 

 2 Sam 7: 18-29
                                   David’s prayer of praise and rejoicing
 Ps 86
                                   Incline your ear, O Lord
 1 Thess 5:(12a) 13b-18
                                   Rejoice always
 Lk 10: 1-24
                                   The sending of the seventy-two
 

 Commentary

 In prayer we are aligning our wills to the will of God and so participating in the fulfilment of his
 purpose. We need the Holy Spirit to change the hearts of believers, so that we have the grace to
 work with God and become part of his mission and his goal of unity. As we pray for this without
 ceasing we are aware that “more workers are needed for the harvest”. At many ecumenical
 gatherings, and particularly at the annual National Workshop on Christian Unity in the USA, it is
 recognized that if the ecumenical movement is to prosper today and in the next generation, more
 young people need to be drawn into it. We need more workers to experience the joy of praying to be
 part of the work of God.

 The readings for Day 6 give us insight into what it means to work for the sake of the gospel.

 David, amazed that he might be part of the plan to build a magnificent temple for the Lord, asks,
 “Can God indeed dwell on earth?” then concludes, “Now therefore may it please you to bless the
 house of your servant, so that it may continue forever before you”.

 The psalmist prays, “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an
 undivided heart to revere your name. I will give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
 and I will glorify your name forever”.

 In the sending of the seventy-two, Jesus confirms that through his disciples, and those who would
 come to believe in him through their word, his peace and the news that “the kingdom of God has
 come near to you” would be proclaimed to the world. At their joyful return, despite rejection, Jesus
 rejoices at their success in the submission of the evil spirits in his name: the message is never to cease,
 never to give up.

 God’s will is for his people to be one. Like the Christians in Thessalonika, we are urged to “rejoice
 always” and “pray without ceasing”, trusting that as we commit ourselves wholly to working with
 God, his purpose of unity will finally be fulfilled.

 Prayer

 Lord God, in the perfect unity of your being, keep our hearts so burning with the desire and hope for
 unity that we will never stop working for the sake of your gospel. We ask this through Jesus Christ
 our Lord. Amen.



                                   Day 7

                            Pray for what we need
                          …help the weak (1 Thess 5: 14)
 

 1 Sam 1: 9-20
                                      Hannah prays for a son
 Ps 86
                                      Listen to my cry of supplication
 1 Thess 5: (12a)13b-18
                                      We urge you…to help the weak
 Lk 11: 5-13
                                      Ask and it will be given you
 

 Commentary

 Unable to bear a child and in great distress, Hannah prayed to God for a son and in due time, her
 prayers were answered and Samuel (which means I have asked him of the Lord) was born. In
 Luke’s gospel, we read that Jesus himself tells us to “ask and it shall be given” and in our need, we
 turn to God in prayer. The response may not be what we expect but God always responds.

 The power of prayer is immense, especially when linked to service. From the gospels, we know that
 Christ wants us to love and serve one another. In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, the theme of
 service is taken up in the imperative: “help the weak”. We do not find it impossible to respond
 ecumenically in a practical way to people’s weakness or distress; churches of different traditions often
 work hand in hand. But their witness in some situations is seriously weakened by their division, and
 when we want to pray together, we are sometimes deeply suspicious of the different prayer forms we
 encounter in Christian traditions other than our own: Roman Catholic prayers which are addressed to
 God through the saints or Mary the mother of Jesus; Orthodox liturgical prayers; Pentecostal prayers;
 the spontaneous, Protestant prayers which address God in direct, everyday language.

 There are signs however of a new consideration of different forms of prayer. Within American
 churches, the experience of Pentecostal renewal has also led to a greater appreciation of the power
 of prayer and Pentecostals have begun to feel more comfortable in the ecumenical movement.
 Discussions with the Orthodox churches in the World Council of Churches have led to greater
 appreciation of each other’s prayer forms.

 Without doubt, confidence in the power of prayer is common to all our traditions and has rich
 potential to further the cause of Christian unity – once we can understand and overcome our
 differences. We should give prayerful support to the dialogues which seek to address those
 differences among our churches and which prevent us from coming together at the Lord’s table.
 Praying together that prayer of remembrance and thanksgiving would allow a great stride to be taken
 along the road to unity.

 Prayer

 Help us, Lord, to be truly one in praying for the healing of our world, for the mending of divisions in
 our churches, and of ourselves. May we not doubt that you hear and will answer us. In Jesus’ name,
 Amen.



                                   Day 8

                     Pray always that they all may be one
                            Be at peace (I Thess 5:13b)
 

 Is 11: 6-13
                                       The wolf shall live with the lamb
 Ps 122
                                       Peace be within your walls
 1 Thess 5: (12a) 13b-18
                                       Be at peace among yourselves
 Jn 17: 6-24
                                       That they all may be one
 

 Commentary

 God’s desire for human beings is that we live in peace with one another. This peace is not only an
 absence of war or conflict; the shalom desired by God is that which arises from a reconciled
 humanity, a human family which participates in and embodies the peace which God alone can give.
 Isaiah’s image of the wolf living with the lamb, the leopard lying down with the kid, offers an
 imaginative glimpse of the future God desires for us. While this shalom is not something that we can
 create on our own, we are called to be instruments of the Lord’s peace, artisans of God’s reconciling
 work. Peace, like unity, is a gift and a calling.

 Jesus’ plea for the unity of his disciples did not take the form of a commandment or a request. It took
 the form of a prayer, words lifted up before the Father on the night before Jesus was put to death. It
 is a prayer which rises from the depths of his heart and of his mission, as he prepares his disciples for
 all that is to come: Father, may they all be one.

 As we mark the 100th anniversary of the Octave/Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, celebrating it
 within the context of the yearnings, prayers and initiatives for the unity of Christians through the
 centuries, we do well to take stock of where we are on this Spirit-led journey. It is a time to give
 thanks for the many fruits of prayer for unity. In many places, animosity and misunderstanding have
 given way to respect and friendship between Christians and Christian communities. Christians who
 have gathered together to pray for unity have often joined together in acts of common witness to the
 gospel, and worked side by side in serving those in great need. Dialogue has assisted in building
 bridges of understanding, and has led to the resolution of some of the doctrinal differences which have
 separated us.

 Yet it is also a time to repent, for in our divisions we continue to stand under the judgement of Jesus’
 prayer for unity and Paul’s imperative that we be at peace among ourselves. In the present day,
 Christians are publicly divided on many issues: in addition to our ongoing doctrinal differences, we are
 often at odds with each other on moral and ethical questions, on matters of war and peace, on current
 issues where common witness is called for. Internally divided and in conflict with each other, we fall
 short of the lofty calling to be signs and instruments of the unity and peace willed by God.

 What then shall we say? There is reason to rejoice, and cause for sorrow. It is a moment to give
 thanks for those of past generations who have spent themselves generously at the service of
 reconciliation, and a time to recommit ourselves to be artisans of the unity and peace which Christ
 desires. And it is a time to ponder again what it means to pray always, through our words and deeds,
 through the lives of our churches.

 Prayer

 Lord, make us one: one in our words, that a single reverent prayer might rise before you; one in our
 yearning and pursuit of justice; one in love, serving you by serving the least of our sisters and
 brothers; one in longing for your face. Lord, make us one in you. Amen


To index page of the 2008 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity