Ecumenical Service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

From l. to r; Mgr Joel Ruml, Archbishop Dominik Duka, Bishop Dušan Hejbal leading the Ecumenical Service © Aleš Cejka and used with his permission

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity takes place each year in the northern hemisphere, between 18th -25th January. On the evening of Monday 23rd January, Sybille and I, along with three other members of the St. Clement’s Anglican congregation, attended the main service held in Prague to mark this important week.

This Ecumenical Service was held in Kostel sv. Vojtecha, a large modern Church attached the Roman Catholic Theological Faculty of Charles University. It was led by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Prague, Dominik Duka and the preacher was Mgr. Joel Ruml, the Moderator of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, (by far the largest Protestant Church in the Czech Republic), who is also the Chair of the Czech Ecumenical Council. They were assisted by my Czech boss, Bishop Dušan Hejbal of the Old Catholic Church, who is also Vice-Chair of the Czech Ecumenical Council.

Members of various other smaller Czech Churches also took part by reading from scripture and in leading intercessions. It was noticeable that amongst all of these there was only one woman! Obviously the service was all in Czech so I didn’t understand too much though I did get the response to Psalm 122. ‘Do domu Hospodinova pujdeme s radostí’ – ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord with joy’.

I was disappointed that at the end of the service, the host Roman Catholic Church had made no provision of light refreshments to encourage those who attended to stay around for post-service fellowship. Also, there was no opportunity to meet with the various Church leaders who had taken part – they all just processed out during the last verse of the last hymn and disappeared! Thus there was sadly, little opportunity to build good ecumenical relationships.

The other matter that saddened me was the actual way the service was officially organised. The invitation to attend came jointly from the Czech Ecumenical Council and the (Roman Catholic) Czech Bishops’ Conference. The reason for this is that the Roman Catholic Church is only affiliated to the Czech Ecumenical Council, rather than being a full member Church. The evidence of this can be seen on the order of service below. On the left is the logo of the Ecumenical Council, whilst on the right is the logo of the RC Czech Bishops’ Conference.


Front page of the Order of Service

This situation reflects the official attitude of the Roman Catholic Church in any country where it can be described as the ‘majority Church’, which is the reality in the Czech Republic, even allowing for the general low level of Church attendance and Christian belief that there is here. When the Roman Catholic Church is a minority Church, as it is in England, Wales & Scotland, then it chooses to become a full member of the national ecumenical body.

This is not a criticism of individual Roman Catholics, many of whom are very ecumenically minded. Nor is it a criticism of Archbishop Duka himself as I have a great admiration for him as he spent time in prison during the Communist era, because of his underground Church activities. I’ve twice previously had the privilege of meeting him and found him warm and very supportive towards the English-speaking Anglican Church in Prague.

Rather, it is a criticism of the official view that emanates from Rome, which is that it alone is the Catholic (i.e. universal) Church and that the only way to bring about Christian unity is for everybody to rejoin the Roman Catholic Church! Sadly, under the current Pope, that attitude is unlikely to change.

Encouragingly, there are movements within Roman Catholicism that are calling for change such as ‘We are the Church ‘and the Pfarrer Initiative in Austria. I think there are one or two more blog posts coming shortly to address these issues. Watch this space!


10 comments to Ecumenical Service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

  • Oh dear, Ricky. I thought we had moved on from this attitude, but it’s obviously a case of two steps forward (if that) and one back. 🙁

    • Ricky

      Hello Perpetua – Vatican II moved things forward but the current Pope & his immediate predecessor have moved things backwards. I’ve had that view expressed to me by numerous ecumenically minded RCs. And the difference is, as I said in my post, as to whether the RCs are the majority Church or not. The fact that here in the Czech Republic, the Roman Catholic Church chooses not to be a full member of the national ecumenical body to me speaks volumes, despite individual very good local relationships

  • Hi Ricky, I’m sorry to hear about the disappointments that you experienced at the Ecumenical Service in Prague, but I’m not surprised. I think that both the fact of the joint service and the fact of the various shortcomings speaks volumes about both individual and general ambivalence towards ecumenicalism in the various Christian churches. When I studied for my degree in Theology in the 1970s, one of my lecturers was a perfect reflection of this position, at once preaching tolerance of different views and, at the same time, being almost rabid in his opposition to women priests (he published a paper, the title of which I shall never forget: “The Ordination of Women and the Death of Man”!)

    Having strongly held beliefs and yet recognising that other Christian churches have much more in common than not is, for many, a difficult square to circle.

    On a more cheerful note, I was very recently at the ordination of a university contemporary of mine at Christchurch Cathedral in Oxford, such a remarkable place, steeped in history and spiritual power. A number of my other contemporaries were there too, some that I had not seen for years. We all discussed the “Death of Man” paper because the one of our number who was being ordained was a woman!

    • Ricky

      Lol Peter – I concur with all that you say in the first half of your first comment. And I’m so glad you could catch up with some of contemporaries from University days at the recent ordination service at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford. It is a place I love & know well having served my previous incumbency in Oxford Diocese & having Christ Church as one of the joint patrons of my living.

      Regarding your second comment, which I didn’t see until after I’d initially replied to your first, I too had tried to Google the paper/booklet to see what it said. Having the wrong title & not the author’s name meant it didn’t show at all. It is obviously out of print but still in copyright, hence it is unavailable.

  • Having written the above comment, I felt moved to use the remarkable power of Google to see if I could locate the above-mentioned paper, and it seems as if I may have done my university lecturer an injustice (to be fair, I was very fond of him). Although the paper came out right at the top of the search, clicking on it led to the message “not found on this server”. But the point is that the title was not exactly as we had remembered. It was: “The ordination of women and the end of man.” Author, Douglas Powell. Publisher, Church Literature Association, 1978. Length, 45 pages.
    “the end” is perhaps not quite as emotive as “the death”! Or is it?

  • […] the end of my recent post about the Ecumenical Service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, I mentioned the Pfarrer Initiative in Austria, that calls for radical reform within the Roman […]

  • Mike in Bohemia

    In Liberec, the RC churches take part in local ecumenical prayers each year, but I must say it hasn’t resulted in close ties between churches outside that event. I don’t know any lay people who go to them. My contacts with other churches are from personal efforts only on a personal level.

  • Mike in Bohemia

    Yes, how true Ricky 🙂

  • Having lived overseas and gone to an international fellowship for many years, I am much more receptive of believers with different viewpoints than me. Different cultural backgrounds will influence how we we worship. As long as we are united on the basic issues of Christ, the cross, and the resurrection then on the C issues we can “agree to disagree.”

    The churches I have been to have never been a big part of ecumenical meetings or even following basic liturgy so it is interesting to hear about your experiences in Prague. It sounds as though many of those who went did so almost out of an obligation to show someone their open mindedness rather than out of a genuine desire to build bridges and reach out across denominational lines.

    This article is yet another reminder for me to show grace to other believers around me. Instead of looking at them under a microscope looking at mistakes, I must look at their positive qualities.

    Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” You sometimes wonder what Jesus would say if He came back and found Christians squabbling over minor disagreements. I don’t think He would be too happy.