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“What are you discussing with each other…?”
Lk 24: 17

Christ and two theologians of the Cross –
St. Bernard of Clairvaux and Martin Luther
(Cathedral of Altenberg, Germany)

 

FIRST - UNITY
IN SPIRIT

 

Dr. theol. JURIS RUBENIS
Pastor of Riga Luther’s Evangelical Lutheran Congregation

In the Holy Scriptures we read the conversation between Jesus and his Father before Jesus dies on the cross: “That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (Jn.17,21). These words are the leit-motif of many ecumenical movements. At the same time, they are rather mysterious words.

These words speak about unity in Spirit. It must come first; only then the unity will follow in the visible world. Actually, every Christian who has really encountered Jesus, should feel the unity in spirit also with others, even if they are brothers and sisters from other denominations.

The words “Division of Christ’s Body”– what do they mean to you?

It is a sad situation caused by the weakness of the human beings.  God always unites. Human ambitions, self-assertion, self-righteousness splits. Yes, also in Christianity our human weaknesses are still so strong… But the Spirit of Christ is bound to win.

Is it important to think, pray and make some practical steps towards it? Why?

When we discover the presence of God in other denominations, in other manifestations, we enrich our experience of God. Surely, there is courage always necessary to make the first step. But, when we have made acquaintance with Christians from other denominations, we will not be able to deny that the same Spirit of Christ works also in their lives.

What tendencies do different denominations in the world display towards mutual closeness?

A drive towards closer relations between different denominations is the spirit of the age. Time to stop wasting energy in polemics. We must unite strength for a shared Christian testimony. Yet the word “ecumenism”, should not be used as a tool to achieve the interests of one certain denomination as it has at times happened earlier.

The Orthodox theologian Olivier Clément has said: “The true division now does not take place between denominations, but inside each denomination. It takes place between those, who live in fear, whose faith has turned into idolatry and who want to stay as the old human beings, and those, who discover themselves living through faith in the most essential events of Incarnation and Resurrection, in the gift of Spirit, in the mystery of the Trinity, in Church as Christ’s Flesh, in the temple of Holy Spirit, in Father’s home.” Very serious words, because, it is true, the division may occur even within one denomination, even within one single congregation. What are the deepest roots of the division?

These words are very true because they reveal a vital truth – the causes of division in the exterior world always must be sought within our own interior division!

What are the positive signs of increasing mutual closeness in Latvia?

I think that in Latvia interdenominational cooperation on the level of various congregations and their individual members takes place ever more frequently. It is the most essential testimony. An increasing number of Christians are willing to pull down walls and get to know Christians from other denominations.

What can a Christian – a lay member of a parish do, what are possible steps for a pastor/priest, the leaders of the Church?

One must make the first step and honestly admit that a person can also meet God by following the spiritual path of another denomination. The spiritual path of my denomination is not the only path. For many people it is still difficult, nearly impossible to recognize it because denominational self-righteousness makes one feel superior. Yet the basic principle is that being a Lutheran, a Catholic, a Baptist or an Orthodox does not make me a better Christian than somebody from another denomination. Everything depends on how true and deep my Christian experience is.

Rev. Juris Rubenis  was interviewed by Anda Done
“Kas mūs vieno?” No. 1 / 2005 (1)

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OUR TASK Ė TO CHANGE OUR HEARTS

 

ANDRIS KRAVALIS
Priest of the Roman Catholic Church, spiritual father,
the professor of Riga Theological Institute and Catholic Seminary

“Division of Christ’s Body” – what do these words mean to you?

It is a drama, a wound, contradiction to God’s will. Yet division is also a temporary situation. It is our unfaithfulness to the wish of our Lord. It also means pain and responsibility for the division. Certainly, it is also sin and the burden of its consequences which causes this division. Origen says – where there is sin there is division, where there is virtue, there is unity.
At the same time Christ’s Body – Church in Christ is not divided for it has one Source – the Holy Trinity. The Church has one soul – the Holy Spirit who unites us with Christ as well as among ourselves. The Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic, the way we confess it. From the human point of view we are divided but Christ is not divided. Those who today belong to communities which came about as the result of divisions in earlier times cannot be blamed for the sin of separation. That is why the Catholic Church shows them brotherly respect and love.
Christ wants to give the gift of unity to His Church, but we ourselves have to pray and work in order to preserve, strengthen and perfect the kind of unity Christ wishes.

Do people in congregations care about it?

The issue does not so much concern being interested in this fact as the realization of Christ’s will and commandment. On the eve of his passion Christ continued to pray for the unity among his disciples: “That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (Jn.17,21). Prayer for unity is an assignment which concerns the whole Church, the lay members as well as the ministers. At every service, every Mass we pray for the unity. It is a special prayer after the Lord’s Prayer: “Lord, do not look at our sins, but look at the faith of Your Church and strengthen Your peace and unity in all the Christian community!” Common prayer, conversion, dialogue - these are not optional things, it is the call of our Lord Himself.
The consequences of division must be repented of and one must struggle with sin, because in essence it is sin which harms, splits and deceives. Prayer calls for cooperation and a shared testimony. It is essential that all our life, words, actions and deeds testify to our willingness to fulfill our Lord’s will. This is the underlying reason of our necessity to cooperate. The documents of the Church say that we first have to reach out to our separated brothers, get to know them, promote mutual prayer and ecumenical education.
We are also aware of the fact that sometimes our separated brothers pay attention to one or another aspect of spiritual life in a more special and complete way. Many elements of sanctification and truth, as well as other gifts of the Holy Spirit are a special call and a reminder of unity. So we have to learn from each other, not only observe.

People, however, put different contents into the word ‘unity’.

Certainly, it is similar in the life of a congregation. We can ask how united a congregation  is and to what extent people contribute to and recognize their Church as their home, but when Easter or Christmas comes, the church is overcrowded. On the way to unity it is important to encourage and to motivate people. There are parishes where cooperation on social issues is on a good level, where there is a spirit of fellowship among clergymen, where there are projects and regular ministry. Ecumenical cooperation is a desire to testify about the great gift of belonging to Christ in Church. This, in fact, is much greater than the lack of unity at this moment. I think that considerable progress in all the Church Universal and the more so in Latvia has been achieved. The Apostolic nuncio has named Latvia the “ecumenical laboratory” saying that we are in the lead of many other countries in the world. We have “an atmosphere of ecumenical hothouse”.

What events in Latvia are regarded as good signs on this way towards mutual closeness?

I’m happy when I see that bishops of our denominations at the ecumenical services pray together and bless people together. Bishops have come together for several meetings - in Gaizinkalns, Broceni, Cesvaine. At the same time they were meetings of the worshippers, too.
In my opinion it is important that already for more than a year we have been reading the book of Revelations together on the Christian radio every week with pastors from five denominations. We contemplate the Word of God together, pray together, we have meals together. It happens on regular basis. We have got to know each other. We have been discussing various topics, suggesting ideas and listening to suggestions. The Christian radio does a great and blessed job in this field, including the publication of the magazine “Tikšanās”, there are other ecumenical projects and activities. In my opinion we have to try to avoid polemics, tendentious interpretations of history and bringing to the foreground the mistakes and misunderstandings of the past. We have to keep from mutual offences, prejudices and false presumptions.
Sometimes it is painful to see that Christians from different traditions do not know each other, pay no attention or even stand in opposition. Indeed – we bypass the riches and gifts we have received in the sacrament of Baptism and which has been given to everybody. We, Christians, have to realize that by carrying the burdens of our brothers we save our own soul, and we have to look beyond the borders of our denomination.
The Holy Scripture tells us that God has come to every person, Christ has died for every person and everybody is invited to be a member of God’s people. This universalism which adorns the people of God is a gift from our Lord Himself. This awareness makes us repair the gaps of sin and weakness in the walls of the Church and to become living stones so that the Lord can gather us in one family of God.

You mentioned the meetings of bishops, shared reading of the Holy Scripture. How to build up the fellowship between the lay people in parishes?

Generally it is the issue of spiritual culture and Christian love. Students who stud in our seminary also come from other denominations. They have learned about the Catholic Church and become it’s members. There are active and experienced people from parishes, who are aware of the spiritual gifts in other denominations. It is important not to exclude anybody, to have a broader vision on things happening around.  And, finally, to persevere in search for unity and truth.
Ecumenism is not only one of many possibilities. It is not a kind of an addition. At least this is how I feel about it. A Lutheran pastor once made a good remark that if on the Reformation day we come together to confess our sins and pray for mutual forgiveness it is a sign to the world and the right way of understanding the events. We do not shape our own identity by nagging at another or pointing to the mistakes of others. Unity is not some kind of predefined, artificially realizable program. The unity of the Church surpasses all human efforts and abilities. It is a gift from God, a gift based on Christ’s prayer for His Church, God’s love and the power of the Holy Spirit. Our task is to transform our hearts and be prepared to receive this gift. Let us ask ourselves – do we have peace in our hearts, repentance, forgiveness and courage to pray for forgiveness and to move towards reconciliation? We cannot simply ‘pull the blanket over our heads’ and say – nothing has happened. The beginning of all is the repentance of heart and humble confession of our mistakes. Love that forgives is not blind. It possesses a sharp vision and its horizons are limitless…
Christ’s love changes our hearts. The Church talks about spiritual ecumenism based on a shared prayer and holy life. Saints and martyrs are the privileged witnesses of unity, united in everything – in themselves and their brothers, united in God’s love. Holiness and martyrdom are the highest testimony. I wish to share my joy for the testimony of the holiness of the Latvian bishop Boļeslavs Sloskāns. Rome has made him a member of the Family of Saints on the way to the beatification. This is our road and the road of the whole Church – forgiveness, faithfulness and holiness.

Stepping out of our congregation to reach out to others also means leaving one’s own zone of comfort, since unexpected questions and discoveries may occur. It is not easy. What should one be ready for but not be afraid of?

As far as concerns any exodus, our father of faith, Abraham, comes to my mind. God made him depart and leave his land. This is the path of faith and obedience – to go where God calls you by leaving your security, habits and understanding in order to move deeper into the understanding of God’s mystery and your vocation. This is precisely when God gives His blessing on this path. Then God can gather people around you and lead you towards the Promised Land. We may have to enter the harshness of the desert to understand and perceive ourselves in the true light of God. Let questions do not scare you. Questions are not wrong, only answers can be wrong, incomplete or foolish. If people ask questions, thanks be to God. It means that faith is not dead. People are willing to know things and find out answers. I assume that God Himself will lead such people towards the aim and they will find the answers. The saddest thing would be if we stopped putting questions and nobody put questions to us.

Would it be indifference then?

Yes, it would mean we accept the situation the way it is and do not dare to change anything. Is the question of unity the subject of our contemplation, prayers and sermons?  I have been blessed with the possibility to go on pilgrimages with believers and pastors from other denominations, and they gave wonderful testimonies. There are many beautiful examples. In Moscow, for instance, Catholic nuns after having prepared children to receive the Sacraments take them to the Orthodox Church to be baptized. There can be no competition within ecumenism. Mother Theresa says that the more we learn the art of hospitality the more were reflect Christ. It is important that theology, history and other aspects are taught and interpreted in the light of ecumenism - searching for the truth and not building walls of protection or excluding others.

So, does it mean that misunderstandings are often caused simply by not knowing each other?

Yes, although it is a surmountable ignorance. First, it is sin, human weakness and, of course, the devil – the dissenter and divider. The social environment can also affect and depress us. Unity is the miracle of God’s Grace. And we have to be strong and brave in faith to pray for such things from God which from the human point of view seem to be impossible. This is how saints did things in times before us. God Himself says that He can turn stones into the children of Abraham. He opens the sea and allows crossing it barefoot. He enters the world as a child … It makes us look at things from a new perspective and to pray for the impossible.  Unity is a gift that one should unwrap and be thankful for. It is grace which has to be accepted and be enriched by it. If we do not accept this gift we lose it.

What in your opinion is the situation outside Latvia?

The situation in the world varies very much from country to country. I have had a chance to speak with pastors of the Polish Lutheran Churches. The situation is totally different there from the situation in the Swedish Catholic Church. At the same time, a friendly cooperation exists between them. I think that the formation process of the European Union makes Christians be more aware of the need for reconciliation and unity. The Holy Scripture invites us to reconsider the signs and events of the time. It is important to reconcile and overcome the failures made by our fathers, to pray for forgiveness of sins, to stop reproaching and to continue on the way towards knowing Christ. I think that we are getting freer from various prejudices. Church documents, meetings and shared prayers also testify to it. People should be encouraged to better know the teaching of the Church, cooperation, prayer and love for one’s neighbor should be promoted. Reconciliation is not something that can be put off, there is no time to be lost on programming and planning. We can put it in action already now.

How is the Prayer Week celebrated in the Catholic Church?

The Prayer Week from 18th to 25th of January offers special liturgical readings for each day. It is important to pray for the unity of Christians. Paul Couturier, the Catholic prophet of unity for the Church and the initiator of the Prayer Week, says: “The more we pray to God to free us from ourselves, the more the principle of the divine self-denial (“The one who loses oneself, will gain it”) takes roots in us and the more we strengthen our ability to hear Christ who in spirit prays in us to the Father. Our prayer grows into His prayer. In attentive silence our soul listens to Him and is directed at Him not only in words, feelings or desires, but also with all our will.” This reveals how much God is present within us and what is the very core of unity.

What concrete step to take would you suggest to a person who is now reading this publication? What can a Christian lay member, a pastor/priest or a leader of the Church do?

I think that the leadership of the Church is already doing a lot and is a step ahead of the lay members both in shared prayer and mutual understanding. If we, believers, were as united as the leadership of the Church is it would be a great achievement. I am happy to see that brothers live in unity and pastors have friendly relations. By meeting not only for theological conferences, but also in private we are able to get to know each other better. I believe that the clergy have a special responsibility for each other and for people entrusted to us – to know, reconcile, accept one another and never deny anybody God’s love, not even in our thoughts. It is really important to meet, to get to know each other and pray together. Many steps such as these have been made. I know that in the country regions many pastors/priests visit each other and celebrate holidays together. They really are friends. When unity becomes visible in the lives of Church leaders then people will follow their example. The move towards unity must take place on all levels, among theologians and lay people alike.
In recent years also the Christian teaching has taken a relevant stand, it has shown that we can be united and understanding, that we can cooperate. I believe that in the future there will be even more areas of cooperation.

I am happy about this journal. Let more editions follow. Perhaps one of the following issues may include more of theological articles since the search for truth goes hand in hand with love.  Saint Gregory from Nazianzus says that we should remember God more often than our breath. The desire to pray for unity is a sign of a restored heart. Let us persevere because Christ has said: “Anything you will ask from Father in my name, He will give you” (John 15:16).

Rev. Andris Kravalis was interviewed by Anda Done
“Kas mūs vieno?” No. 1 / 2005 (1)

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RISE ABOVE THE WALLS

 

EDGARS MAŽIS
Pastor of Riga Āgenskalns’s Baptist Congregation

“The division of Christ’s Body” – do these words speak to you?

Certainly, but it is not a happy conclusion, it is more of a statement of obvious fact. Although once a wise person told me – Christ’s Body is indivisible. So we must think what has happened. We might imagine Christ’s Body as a building with a huge hall into which we have built little rooms. We are all in Christ’s Church yet each in our own room. It is written in the Bible, in the letter to Ephesians that Christ is our peace and that He has come to tear down the partitions between us. In the context of the letter to Ephesians it is between Jews and Christians, but, actually, this partition means hatred. I would rather say that the Body of Christ is not divided but we have introduced architectural changes – we have built our “little stalls” in it. Unfortunately, we are often convinced that our room is the best one.

Where do you see the place of the door in this context in Latvia?

The door is an interesting thing. There are doors that open only from within; there are doors that open only from outside, like the doors of a prison cell. After regaining independence in Latvia we seem to have found a door. It is not as if this door had never existed, although, in our radicalism we tend to build “a stall” without a door and say – we have nothing in common with others. I think, one part of Latvian Christians feel that the door is absolutely necessary. Each denomination has people who see beyond ‘the stalls’, but, unfortunately, they are a minority. If ‘the stalls’ really exist they at least do not reach to the top. Then we can get on tiptoe and see or hear one another because the stories we have been told very often are untrue. Perhaps this is a little primitive image and some people from the big Churches would say that Baptists live just in a little shed which is only a kind of extension to the Body of Christ. One way towards unity could be a transparent wall like glass, so that we can see one another. I am not such an idealist as to say that a day will come on earth when there are absolutely no limitations. It will happen only in the Heaven. Yet, in the Bible we definitely do not read anything about some kind of division – in the world to come we shall all be together. If only that wall could be modified a little …

Can we observe any kind of progress in mutual relationships?

Ecumenism – the word used to describe the unity of Christians can, unfortunately, be used also in a very formal sense. To have common services when bishops are together and pray together is very good. However, the time has come to start a healthy dialogue about who we actually are. It is also important what we teach in our congregations. I would say that on a local level everything depends on pastors. In this respect I really appreciate our cooperation with Riga Luther’s Ev.-Lutheran Church. It is like a miracle that we have been friends for already 10 years and have had common in the medical centre “Gratis” and with the youth. We can certainly always wish for more, but I want to believe that neither of the sides says anything wrong about the other church. This already is an achievement.
The first level is to overcome the spirit of criticism. The next level is when we see things we can do in this world by common effort, for example social projects. This way we would give a good testimony in our own region. The ideal we should aspire for is to recognize each other’s Sacraments. Each of us can continue in the church we already are, yet the Holy Communion is a sensitive issue. When we do something together and spiritual bonds already exist, it is very painful when somebody tells you – you are not allowed to, you are not the right one. In such cases, on the one hand, there is a grudge. On the other hand, one feels terribly sorry because these mutual bonds have already been established.  Then you think – well, who, except Christ, could say whether I am allowed or not? A shared Holy Communion is a fantastic bond. Even among various Baptist congregations, however, there is a different understanding concerning the Holy Communion. The issue of the Holy Communion somehow undermines the spirit of ecumenism. Yet we have no time to sit and lament. We must look ahead what we can do about things.

Yes, shared Holy Communion is, unfortunately, a more remote destination on our path. But what to do not to create walls at least at the times when we meet, not to concentrate on the theological differences?

Unfortunately those people who can look on things from a broader perspective are still a minority. Yet, I think that gradually it will change because the younger generation entering the Christian Church has a broader vision.  Battles of our parents’ and grandparents’ generation have lost their relevance. But it is also important what we preach on the teaching of the Church. I would put it in these words – the more stable Catholic, Lutheran or Baptist I am, the easier it is for me to communicate with others. If I know what my denomination teaches I do not have to worry that my communication with the Orthodox, Catholics or Lutherans might take away something from my identity. It seems to me that fear of communication comes from a lack of the sense of identity. It is also important to be aware of the geographical situation in Latvia – most of regions do not have one dominant denomination, apart from Latgale. In the places where only one Church dominates it tends also to control spiritual ideas by either explicitly or implicitly suppressing the others. This is why I like that Latvia does not have a single privileged State Church. It promotes mutual understanding. Yet, again I come back to the issue of the pastor in a church – if he is prejudiced against another denomination most probably the whole church will be “locked in.” In one town I asked some Lutheran pastors about their relationships with the Baptists. Their answer was – none. No meetings. I do not think that the problem is this case are the lay people because any congregation is taught and educated by their church leader. I think in cases like these social projects where we can do many things together can help a lot.

What constitutes a believer’s identity? Can we say that a believer’s identity is related to his/her denomination?

I would say yes and no. No, because the essence of Christian identity lies in Christ. One of my colleagues said – we have to gather under the flag of Christ. Yes and amen! Who wouldn’t like to be under the flag of Christ? The question is not so much about the order of the Church, who the bishop is, etc. Christ says – follow me! And we follow - together. We merge into one whole. On the other hand, Christ has formed the congregation, the Church, so that we may grow there.  By meeting Christ we can no longer stay alone. Sometimes people say – I have Christ and I have nothing to do with the Church. The Church is Christ’s Bride! The Church is the visible part of Christ in the world, such is Christ’s will. The question is:  if my identity is Christ, how will it manifest itself? It manifests itself through the Church I am called to be a part of.  To be part of a Church is vocation. The problem in Churches is comes from people who stress their own ego – I wish to be in this Church and I shall be here. The issue should be formulated differently: how much have you prayed to God and who has strengthened your conviction that you have to be here? Someone says – there is a very good pastor, another – there is a good atmosphere here, nice people. After a while this person may experience the greatest defeats in his/her life of faith and the big ‘I’ gets deflated. This is why it is important to have another side of identity – the question concerning the Church I belong to is as important as the experience of my conversion when I fall in love with Christ. Is it so important in which Church my identity manifests itself? In fact, no – considering that all the Churches are the Body of Christ.  Yet here again is a problem– there will be Churches who say: there is a limit here, the Church of Christ ends here, those others are outside. Apostle Paul says in the first letter to Corinthians that no one can say that Christ is the Lord unless in the Holy Spirit. It is interesting – we are so concerned with dogmas and theology, but he says it in very simple words: only a person inspired by the Holy Spirit can say that Christ is the Lord. Everything begins here: is Christ the Lord in this congregation, in this Church?

So you would say the issue of identity is important also in mutual relationships between people of different denominations?

It is vitally important. For example, it is nice to visit someone who treats us generously, but the main place is our home where we live. There are people who do not like cooking food at home. The meal prepared for guests at someone else’s home is always delicious, you have not raised a finger to make it and you are always treated there for free. I would like to say that these things must be balanced. 
A Christian is neither a tramp nor a vagabond who can say – here I am invited but there I am not. In my teenage years something spoke to me very much in the Lutheran Church.  But then I thought: God has allowed me to grow up in a family that has lived in the Baptist tradition for several generations … I came to an interesting conclusion – I shall never be a good Lutheran in the most literal sense of the word, because it is another paradigm. It is not another world view, yet there are some differences. Perhaps one could draw parallels with music – both Bach and Gregorian chants are music, but we cannot say which is better simply because there are no criteria. Therefore, I understood – if I am called to the Baptist Church then it is neither my choice nor my feeling or my will. It is from God.

If you look back what events come into mind as good signs?

One very good sign was in 1999 when Luis Palau arrived at Latvia. Then the members of Lutheran, Baptist and Pentecost congregations worked together to prepare for that evangelization. It was something very positive as a kind of rediscovery that representatives of different Churches could work together.  How much have we mistaken by thinking that some people are such and others such. It was a very powerful sign to me. Second sign – this is already the second year when every Thursday Christian radio transmits a program “Signs of the Time” where clergymen from five denominations take part – Lutherans, Baptists, Catholics, Pentecostals and Adventists study different parts of the Scriptures from the Bible. It is something very fascinating. Of course, discussions are very careful. When we sit together around one table we try to see where we share the same thoughts concerning the interpretation of the Scriptures. We learn to listen and understand one another. It addresses me very much. It is also a good testimony to Latvia that we can sit around the same table. At the same time, there will be representatives of the strictly dogmatic line in the Church who will say – you have betrayed your ideals. How could you, being a Baptist, sit next to Catholics!

Can anybody be reproached only for having taken part in such discussions?

Certainly! In every Church there is a wing of conservatives. They can be called fundamentalists who think that all other denominations have gone astray and we have to evangelize them. I am not surprised at narrowness, I am happy that horizons broaden. However, the narrowness is rather strong and at times I feel afraid of it.  When I approach that narrowness, it astonishes me – they are my sisters and brothers, and this is how they really think: believer – unbeliever; right – wrong; true – untrue. Therefore I am so desperate when I see people with such a conviction. They seem also to love Jesus, but, at the same time, I cannot understand how it goes together with intolerance towards others.

Also this is reality. Are there any other good signs?

An attempt to get together all the bishops on informal basis the way Ivars Graudiņš tried to do it. There were three or four such meetings and I had an opportunity to be present. It was nice. We talked about life rather than theology and there were very nice relationships and interesting conclusions. We have to be true towards one another. Isn’t it time to stop throwing mud at each other? There are things we maybe not understand from a certain theological point of view, but can’t we ask in love about these things and get answers to these questions? Those issues which I as a Baptist do not understand in the Lutheran teaching do not get in the way with my relationships. I appreciate them as a standpoint and faith existing in one or another Church. I usually say – if at the times of Luther the Catholic Church had been the way it is today, reformation might not have taken place at all. If one hundred and fifty years ago the Lutheran Church in Latvia had been the way it is today then in Latvia Baptists might have never emerged from the Lutheran Church. Things impossible earlier are possible now and in another one hundred and fifty years something else will be more possible. Our task is simply not to put spokes in the wheels. Perhaps we need a common public worship when we all could ask each other’s forgiveness and say – we have experienced many things and possibly we will experience many more, but at this point we wish to build our relationships on different principles. It could be a gesture of good will, a sign that we wish to be reconciled. It is important not to concentrate on the number of the ‘little stalls’ but on the ways how those partitions might be made more transparent. With the help of God maybe one or another wall can be pulled down.

Rev. Edgars Mažis was interviewed by Anda Done
“Kas mūs vieno?” No. 1 / 2005 (1)

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I DID NOT DENY GOD OR BETRAY MY FRIENDS

“When does a true spiritual movement begin?
When a person hears a call
worth giving up one’s life for,
And when one finds those who can be trusted.”

SANDRS RĪGA was born in Riga in 1939 and was baptized in childhood.
In 1964 he moved to Moscow. When he was round age 30 he began his search for God and found his vocation. In Moscow others joined him and‘Ekumene’ (‘Oikumene’) was established.
From 1972 to 1984 he held regular meetings with people who were searching for God and issued the ecumenical magazine ‘Prizyv’ (‘The Call’). He was spotted by KGB (Committee for State Security) and arrested on 8 February,1984. After psychiatric examination he was diagnosed ‘latent schizophrenia’ and announced to be mentally  unaccountable.
On 31 August, 1984 he was sentenced to compulsory treatment for an indefinite period of time. Until 9 March, 1987 he was confined in a special mental asylum in Blagoveshchensk (the Soviet Union), followed by four months in Riga psycho-neurological hospital. On 20 July, 1987 he was released from confinement.
In 1989 Sandrs Rīga participated in a number of conferences, including ‘Spirit Makes Alive’ in Riga. The ‘Chalice of Peace’ was formed.
Since 1993 he lives in Riga, his thoughts and prayers are directed at the future of ekumene. His friends in other countries continue to work in their local churches.
In 2005 a new, complemented edition of the book ‘Prizyv’ was published in Moscow.

‘The ways of God are unfathomable’ runs an old Russian saying. By an ‘accident’at the beginning of the year I encountered the book ‘Prizyv’ (‘The Call’) by Sandrs Rīga. It contains deep insights and many testimonies about people who have searched for God and found Him through ‘ekumene’ – the movement which was active in Moscow and other cities and towns of the U.S.S.R. At that time the magazine ‘Prizyv’ was distributed in ‘samizdat’ form (publishing prohibited literature in the Soviet Union), later the main topics were covered in a book under the same title.

Who was this man who together with his like-minded friends was ready to go to the end and whose life has given a good testimony to what it means to live in accordance with one’s vocation? What kind of an ecumenical edition was ‘Prizyv’? These were my main questions when I found out that Sandrs presently lives in Riga.

Ecumene  is not only the past since “the wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). What does God want to convey to us with the help of the events which took place before our time?
Initially, Sandrs was unwilling to be interviewed. It is not easy to continuously return to the past and it is not easy when all attention is directed at only one person. He didn’t say that, but one could feel it. However, after a long conversation we came to a conclusion that his story would be serve as important testimony. In order to avoid repetition, we agreed that for the most relevant factual information I will refer to the book ‘Prizyv.’

Testimony is important. We are only humans, but the Holy Spirit is mighty – He can turns a sinner into a child of God and human weekness into strength. He gives strength to endure incredible hardships. He helps to live the daily life. He inspires.

How did  the movement ‘ekumene’ start  in the former Soviet Union?

It began at the end of the 1960-ties after the time of Khrushchev and events in Czechoslovakia (A certain process of liberalization was taking place in Czechoslovakia, but the U.S.S.R. oppressed it by sending tanks into the country). People started to search for the meaning of life. For many people it was a search for spirituality, and for our small group, too. The official Church had a resentful attitude, many pastors/priests had been recruited by the Soviet regime. We were unbelievers. It is interesting to mention the fact that at the times when the Bible and spiritual literature was extremely hard to come by, many people found God by reading atheistic literature which contained quotations from the Holy Scriptures. This way it was at least possible to read what was written in the Bible. We were reading the Gospels and nothing was said there about denominations. One could say that it was a time of spontaneous ecumenism among us. We attended various Churches and faced the situation where each of the Churches regarded itself the only true one. They preached love, but only their own people were really loved. It was hard for us to accept it, so we continued to meet in somebody’s flat or somewhere outdoors. Soon young people joined us. Yet it was not an opposition to the Church, we simply made the Church more embracing. There were many spiritual conversions. Today, when the Christian message can be preached openly, it does not seem anything special. In those times each such case or event was something very special. We were then backed up by only a few pastors. But in 10-15 years testimonies appeared from other clergymen who had discovered their vocation directly through ‘ekumene’.

To cast some light on the principles of how the community and the movement functioned, here follows an excerpt from the book ‘Prizyv’(Sandrs Riga. Priziv. Moscow, 2002.):
“We Christians ecumenists pray the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer of all Christians, and we confess the Apostles’ Creed, yet we grant considerable freedom and are tolerant as to the choices believers make concerning their sacramental-liturgical duties before God trying to serve one another with whatever gift each of us has received (1Peter 4:10)
We can join into communities, but once and for all we abandon all division admitting that the fragmented state of the Church Universal is only as an external necessity in the process of striving for internal unity.
We respect the public worship of all Churches and willingly take part in it if it is possible. Believers are free to decide on how deep they want to be involved in the religious life of ecumenists. Those who are willing can be baptized and receive Communion.  We do not condemn brothers or sisters who leave us. We pray for them so that all the changes in their lives would turn for their own good and for the glory of God.
We do not form a new Church; we are willing to be messengers of peace in the existing Church of Christ ‘which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way’ (Ephesians 1:23).
Our tradition involves agape – a community meal with prayer, readings from the Holy Scripture, singing. On festive occasions we share a spiritual Communion - after the readings from the Word of God (1. Corinthians 11:23-29) every baptized Christian who wishes so can pass on to others who stand in the circle the word Maranata (“Lord, come!” or “Lord will come”), which we perceive as the Flesh and Blood of Christ and wait for the time when all Christians will be able to share bread and drink wine from one cup again.”

“In time we felt it necessary to deepen our vocation by devoting our life entirely to God, renouncing marriage and wealth, and living a life of obedience. Some brothers and sisters took the vows. They lived in the world without distinguishing themselves from others by wearing a particular kind of clothes, yet they knew that they had made a commitment to God. It was an order with a small number of people, but the fact of devotion was important. Conspiracy drove everyone underground creating a sort of iceberg with only a tiny part visible above the surface, but at the depths of hearts and in the community work was continuing. Gradually, people attained great spiritual depths. When persecutions began, those who had taken vows were prepared for trials.”

Did you also take vows?

Yes. Fifteen years I lived in strict asceticism.

How did people succeed in keeping their vows?

We were neophytes (a person who is just baptised or welcomed in the congregation) – young, zealous and ready never to give up, therefore, ascetic life didn’t seem so difficult. After religious freedom was restored in the former Soviet Union there was no longer necessity for such a strict order. Everyone went his or her own way.

In 1971 you began issuing the first ecumenical magazine ‘Prizyv’ in the Soviet Union (there were 36 notebooks all in all, later they were compiled in a book). It was printed on a typewriter, reprinted and distributed from hand to hand. It was dangerous. What was the content of these publications? Why was it so important to publish them?

We printed materials about the history of ecumenism and movements of Christian youth in the West since this information was not available in the Soviet Union. The testimonies of the new converts, compiled now in the book that will soon be published in Moscow, were very important. It was vital to realize that the division of the Church is a disease which can be treated and has to be treated. We felt it was our mission. Now it can be said that our efforts were not without result.

I have read that in those people could practise their faith individually, but it was not permitted to form organizations.

Yes, one could be easily expelled from the university if one confessed faith openly. Teachers and doctors could be sacked. But no one would be arrested for it. Repressive organizations were afraid of the underground movements because there the message spreads uncontrollably.

Quoting the book:
“Arrest and the refusal to cooperate with the investigators meant a sentence – compulsory treatment for an indefinite time in a special mental institution.
A few testimonies from the book:
“On arrival at Blagoveshchensk - sulphazine course. Temperature rises with every new injection, muscles hurt continuously, all body is in agony. After the second injection – heart attack. Sulphazine is then replaced by triftazine. Three big doses a day. Restlessness together with the tightening of the body. The tongue refuses to obey. A sense of hopelessness takes over. Fear caused by medication provokes suicidal thoughts. Especially, when you find out that (..) two other people in the cell-wards next door have committed suicide.
And thus it continues – for months on end, without hope that it would ever cease. You are side by side with mad and aggressive murderers, rapists and criminals. Or agents and instigators.
After that –  insulin ward. Three months – jabs, jabs, jabs. They attempt to achieve 30 shocks (..).
The inmate from the cell tells me after the regular ‘therapy’:
When you were on the verge of losing your consciousness and twitched in convulsions, the doctor asked you:
Would you like your friends think well of you?
- Certainly.
- Do you believe that Christ can come now and set you free?
- I don’t know.
- Do you believe in God?
Then you concentrated hard and breathed out:
Yes.
Then medication continues.”

“In the madhouse I wasn’t able to pray since I was under influence of psychotropic medication. I desperately repeated: - God, God, God.
Did He hear me? I didn’t hear Him.”

What helped you endure?

Trust in God and conviction that friends who relied on me must not be betrayed. I knew that I could be arrested, but I could not imagine that they would confine me in a mental asylum. When I found it out, I soaked in cold sweat. We know there is fear, and there is horror.  There it was horror. I was in total isolation for three years, I was permitted to correspond only with my mother and, then, certainly it had to be done very carefully. And I didn’t want to upset her. Inside there time ceased to exist. I was not sentenced – I was regarded to be ill and I had no any idea if I would ever get out of there. When I was released (many people stood up for me from abroad), I considered I had passed my exam.

After you were released a time of ‘recovery’ followed. You visited friends in Italy. Then came 4 May, 1990.

Yes, it was an interesting coincidence on the 4 May, 1990 – I had an audience with the Pope John Paul II, and in the evening I found out that declaration of Independence had been proclaimed in Latvia.

From the book:
“When we were released, there was no longer any necessity for conspiracy or a special religious order. God always creates something new, offers new ways and opportunities. While we were locked in within the walls of jails and mental asylums we had made lots of friends. Now new people turned up, they expected something from us. After we were released we felt we had to take care of them. And we came together for the Chalice of Peace. It was like a call to unite in spiritual Communion. (..) Some time earlier Christians from different denominations were not even allowed to pray together. (..) Now, as time passed many poets and artists joined us. A new creative society called ‘Chasha’ (‘Chalice’) was formed. We began to issue an almanac ‘Chalice’ for young talents to make their voice heard. ‘Chasha’ also published many original translations from the New Testament. The Almanac was welcomed, but like with our religious order, time came when it had completed its task. The most important thing, though, continued to live – the spirit of the Chalice of Peace“.
 
What was this Chalice of Peace? Do you still keep in touch with your like-minded friends?

The Chalice of Peace represents community in prayer. For instance, on a specific day we assemble in different towns and pray for the unity of Church. It offers also spiritual Communion, though we try not to create official structures in order not to be regarded a sect.

What do your friends do now?

My friends live in different towns, cities and countries, but our spiritual closeness is as strong as it was in those former days.

What would you wish for the new ecumenical edition “Kas mūs vieno?”

When I learned about this journal I was inspired. I was under the impression that recently the ecumenical movement in Latvia was mostly confined to formal services, and it seemed somewhat cold and stiff. Ecumenism is the sign of the age. Jesus says that we have to understand the signs of the age. I believe that the inspiration for this journal comes from God, and I wish you endurance since periods of trial may come. On the world scale the first wave of enthusiasm about ecumenism is over. We have to wait for the next wave, a fresh spring of the Church. External ecumenism commonly associated with formal organizations is under crisis. We can compare it with the time of National Revival – the first wave is gone.

What trials is the Church facing?

A comfortable Christianity without the Cross. For example, not pilgrimage, but religious tourism. Not witness, but words, words, words. Also the power of money is too great. At times the Church struggles for its existence using worldly means. Contemporary tactics does not always work. Spiritual goals cannot be achieved by earthly means. People look for holiness in their search for spirituality. Why do many people in the West get converted to Islam? Because there one can find strong faith. Christianity is the Cross, not a luxury item.
Thomas Aquinas has said that heretics are the Church’s unpaid debts. If the Church is good, if there is Love, there is no necessity to look for something better. People look for something they can completely dedicate themselves to.

And what would you wish to those people who feel the call in their heart to pray, to extend the borders and tear down the walls of prejudice which separate Christians?

Not to lose simplicity. Not to fear ridicule. Be ready to work without immediate success. Today we experience a lack of faithful witnesses, though the field to harvest is huge… And another point – this mutual unfriendliness… Unbelievers are disappointed when they see it and start looking for answers elsewhere. Christians are also scared. We are afraid to go where we are not welcome and where we are rejected, and we tend to float with the stream…

Sandrs Rīga was interviewed by Anda Done
“Kas mūs vieno?” Nr. 2 / 2005 (2)

“I did not deny God or betray my friends. (..) How I wished to set these words free, a whole treasure confined to a few words. (..) How simple and at the same time incredibly complicated are these words. It is so hard to keep them only to myself and at the same time it is impossible to reveal them to the fullest.”
(From the book ‘Prizyv’)

_______________

The afternoon of the day he died, Brother Roger called one of the brothers and said to him, “Note down these words carefully!” There was a long silence while he attempted to formulate his thinking. Then he began, “To the extent that our community creates possibilities in the human family to widen…” And he stopped there, too exhausted to finish his phrase.


(12.05.1915.-16.08.2005.)

These words reflect the passion that inspired him, even in his old age. What did he mean by “widen”? He probably wanted to say: do everything possible to make more perceptible for everyone the love God has for every human being without exception, and for all peoples. He wanted our little community to bring this mystery to light, through its life, in a humble commitment with others. So we brothers wish to take up this challenge, together with all those who are searching for peace across the earth.

In the weeks before his death, he had begun to reflect on the letter that would be made public during the Milan meeting. He had noted some themes and some texts of his that he wished to take up again and work on. We have taken them just as they were in order to compile this “Unfinished Letter”, translated into 57 languages. It is a kind of final message from Brother Roger, which will help us to go forward along the road on which God “widens our steps” (Psalm 18:36).

Reflecting on this unfinished letter in the meetings held in 2006 both in Taizé, week by week, and elsewhere on different continents, each person can try to find ways of completing it by the life he or she lives.

Brother Alois

UNFINISHED LETTER
(For 2006)

“I leave you peace; I give you my peace.”1 What is this peace that God gives?
It is first of all an inner peace, a peace of the heart. This peace enables us to look at the world with hope, even though it is often torn apart by violence and conflicts.
This peace from God also supports us so that we can contribute, quite humbly, to building peace in those places where it is jeopardized.
World peace is so urgent in order to alleviate suffering, and in particular so that the children of today and tomorrow do not live in distress and insecurity.
In his Gospel, in a dazzling intuition, Saint John expresses who God is in three words: “God is love.”2 If we can grasp only those three words, we shall go far, very far.
What captivates us in those words? The fact that they transmit this luminous conviction: God did not send Christ to earth to condemn anyone, but for every human being to know that he or she is loved and to be able to find a road to communion with God.
But why are some people gripped by the wonder of a love and know that they are loved, or even cherished? Why do others have the impression that they are neglected?
If only everyone could realize that God remains alongside us even in the fathomless depths of our loneliness. God says to each person, “You are precious in my sight, I treasure you and I love you.”3 Yes, all God can do is give his love; that sums up the whole of the Gospel.
What God asks of us and offers us is simply to receive his infinite mercy.
That God loves us is a reality sometimes hard to comprehend. But when we discover that his love is forgiveness above all else, our hearts find peace and are even transformed.
And then, in God, we become able to forget what assails our hearts: this is a wellspring from which we can draw freshness and new vitality.
Are we sufficiently aware that God trusts us so much that he has a call for each one of us? What is that call? God invites us to love as he loves. And there is no deeper love than to go to the point of giving oneself, for God and for others.
Whoever lives a life rooted in God chooses to love. And a heart resolved to love can radiate goodness without limits.4
Life is filled with serene beauty for whoever strives to love with trust.
All who choose to love and to say it with their life are led to ask themselves one of the most compelling questions of all: how can we ease the pain and the torment of others, whether they are close at hand or far away?
But what does it mean to love? Could it be to share the suffering of the most ill-treated? Yes, that’s it.
Could it mean having infinite kind-heartedness and forgetting oneself for others, selflessly? Yes, certainly.
And again: what does it mean to love? Loving means forgiving, living as people who are reconciled.5 And reconciliation always brings a springtime to the soul.
In the small mountain village where I was born, near our home, a large poverty-stricken family lived. The mother had died. One of the children, slightly younger than I, often came to see us. He loved my mother as if she were his own. One day, he learned that they were going to leave the village and, for him, leaving was not easy at all. How can a child of five or six be consoled? It was as if he did not have the perspective needed in order to make sense of such a separation.
Shortly before his death, Christ assured his friends that they would receive a consolation: he would send them the Holy Spirit who would be a support and a comfort for them, and who would always remain with them.6
In the heart of each person, Christ still whispers today, “I will never leave you all alone; I will send you the Holy Spirit. Even if you are in the depths of despair, I remain alongside you.”
Welcoming the comfort that the Holy Spirit gives means seeking, in silence and peace, to surrender ourselves to him. Then, though at times dire events may occur, it becomes possible to go beyond them.

Are we so easily upset that we need to be comforted?
There are times when all of us are shaken by a personal trial or by the suffering of others. This can go so far as to undermine our faith and extinguish our hope. Rediscovering the trusting of faith and peace of heart sometimes involves being patient with ourselves.
One kind of suffering leaves a particularly deep impression: the death of someone we love, someone we may have needed in order to keep going forward here on earth. But such a trial can sometimes be transfigured, and then it opens us up to a communion.
A Gospel joy can be restored to someone in extreme distress. God comes to shed light on the mystery of human suffering, going so far as to welcome us into an intimacy with himself. And then we find ourselves on a path of hope. God does not leave us all alone. He enables us to advance towards a communion, that communion of love which is the Church, at one and the same time so mysterious and so indispensable … The Christ of communion7 offers us this enormous gift of consolation.
To the extent that the Church is able to bring healing to our hearts by communicating forgiveness and compassion, it makes a fullness of communion with Christ more accessible. When the Church is intent on loving and understanding the mystery of every human being, when tirelessly it listens, comforts and heals, it becomes what it is at its most luminous: the crystal-clear reflection of a communion. Seeking reconciliation and peace involves a struggle within oneself. It does not mean taking the line of least resistance. Nothing lasting is created when things are too easy. The spirit of communion is not gullible. It causes the heart to become more encompassing; it is profound kindness; it does not listen to suspicions.
To be bearers of communion, will each of us walk forward in our lives on the road of trust and of a constantly renewed kind-heartedness?
On this road there will be failures at times. Then we need to remember that the source of peace and communion is in God. Instead of becoming discouraged, we shall call down his Holy Spirit upon our weaknesses.
And, our whole life long, the Holy Spirit will enable us to set out again and again, going from one beginning to another towards a future of peace.8

To the extent that our community creates possibilities in the human family to widen…

“Kas mūs vieno?” No. 1 / 2006 (3)

_______________

(1 ) John 14:27
(2 ) 1 John 4:8
(3 ) Isaiah 43:4
(4 ) At the opening of the Council of Youth in 1974, Brother Roger said, “Without love, what is the good of living? Why live any longer? For what purpose? That is the meaning of our life: to be loved for ever, loved into eternity, so that in our turn we go to the point of dying for love. Yes, happy those who die for love.” Dying for love meant for him loving to the very end.
(5 ) “Living as people who are reconciled.” In his book A Prospect of Happiness? which appeared two weeks before his death, Brother Roger explained once again what these words meant for him: “Can I recall here that my maternal grandmother discovered intuitively a sort of key to the ecumenical vocation, and that she opened for me a way which I then tried to put into practice? After the First World War, her deepest desire was that no one should ever have to go through what she had gone through. Since Christians had been waging war against each other in Europe, she thought, let them at least be reconciled, in order to prevent another war. She came from an old Protestant family but, living out an inner reconciliation, she began to go to the Catholic church, without at the same time making any break with her own people. Impressed by the testimony of her life, when I was still very young I found my own Christian identity in her steps by reconciling within myself the faith of my origins with the mystery of the Catholic faith, without breaking fellowship with anyone.”
(6 ) John 14:18 and 16:7
(7 ) The “Christ of communion.” Brother Roger already used this expression when he welcomed Pope John Paul II to Taizé on October 5th, 1986: “The constant longing of my brothers and myself is for every young person to discover Christ, not Christ taken in isolation but the ‘Christ of communion’ present in fullness in that mystery of communion which is his Body, the Church. There, many young people can find ways to commit their entire lives to the very end. There they have all they need to become creators of trust and reconciliation, not just among themselves but with all the generations, from the most elderly to little children. In our Taizé Community, following the ‘Christ of communion’ is like a fire that burns us. We would go to the ends of the earth to look for ways, to ask, to appeal, to beg if need be, but never from without, always while remaining within that unique communion which is the Church.”
(8 ) These last four paragraphs were spoken by Brother Roger in December 2004 at the end of the European meeting in Lisbon. They are the last words he said in public.

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THE CHURCHES AND THE CHURCH: WHY ECCLESIOLOGY MATTERS

Rev. Dr. THOMAS F. BEST,
minister of the Christian Church
(Disciples of Christ, US)
WCC Faith and Order Commission

As alien as the word might seem at first sight for the average person, "ecclesiology" is actually at the heart of the life of every Christian community. The answers that "ecclesiological" questions obtain in the churches influence the daily life of the faithful and set the course of the search for Christian unity.

George and Ann, young parents, ask themselves: "Should we bring our new-born baby girl to be baptized? Or should we wait, and let her decide for herself whether she wants to belong to the church?"
Ruth goes with her friend Sarah to Irene's church. Ruth is unable to receive the Lord's Supper because her church and Irene's church are not in communion. "I'm confused," she says. "If we share a common baptism into Christ, why can't we take communion together?"

Perhaps without realizing it, these Christians are asking ecclesiological questions - questions about what the church is, and what it is for in this world.

Ecclesiology is, simply put, how a church understands itself, how it organizes its own life, and how each church relates to other churches and to the world. Ecclesiology is also about the limits of the church: what are the beliefs, or behaviours, which put a person outside the church?

The ecumenical movement rests on ecclesiological convictions: one is that the churches' unity in Christ is greater than all the differences in belief, and all the tragedies of history, which divide them. Another is that Christ wills that this unity must be both visible and effective (John 17:20-21).

Thus whenever there are divisions between the churches - when they cannot worship or take communion together, or recognize each other's ministries, when their common witness and service in the world is impaired - it is ecclesiological questions which must be asked, and ecclesiological answers which must be given.

A bit of history
It is hardly surprising, then, that the ecumenical movement has wrestled with issues of ecclesiology from its very beginning.

As the churches sought a basis for their common confession, witness and service, they first practised a "comparative ecclesiology". The convictions of each church were laid out, and similarities and differences noted as a basis for mutual understanding.

This was the basis for the famous "Toronto Statement" of 1950, which stressed the role of the World Council of Churches as a place where differing - even sharply differing - ecclesiologies could meet for dialogue and cooperative mission and service.

Eventually there was a seismic shift to a method of "convergence". The ecclesiological comparisons were set in the perspective not just of the present and past, but also of the future: the discussions now aimed at ensuring that the churches, as they moved into the future, would be drawing closer together rather than moving further apart.

For this, a new depth of dialogue was required. It was no longer enough to note ecclesiological differences - whether infant or "adult" baptism is practised, whether women can be ordained to the ministry of word and sacrament. It became necessary to identify the moment when difference becomes division, to name the causes of division, and to work together to overcome them.

On the threshold of a radical shift
We forget how radical a development the modern ecumenical movement is: churches which for 150, or 500, or 1000 years have lived and worshipped apart are now, increasingly and irreversibly, doing those things together.

This has affected how many churches understand themselves: as truly a part of the body of Christ, completely church in themselves but incomplete without the other churches. Thus the common experience of the churches has become part of the "raw material" for ecclesiology.

This has consequences! We may now be on the threshold of another shift, the most dramatic of all: to an ecclesiology - a basic understanding of the church and its mission - developed by the churches together rather than separately.

Such an ecclesiology would start from, rather than end at, the fact that the churches are one in Christ. It would draw deeply on the experience of each church, but also on the ecumenical experience of the churches in confessing, witnessing, serving, and (where possible!) worshipping together rather than separately.

And it would challenge each church to ask: does our own self-understanding serve the unity of the church? How much of our own ecclesiology was developed to justify, and maintain, our separation from other churches? How do we make the unity that we have, more visible and effective?

The World Council of Churches' (WCC) 9th Assembly in Porto Alegre  (2006) will wrestle with a statement on ecclesiology. Produced by the WCC's Faith and Order Commission, this tries to state, in a concise yet substantial way, what the churches can say together about the church.

The statement is offered for adoption by the Assembly, not as the "final" or definitive statement on the church but as a basis for reflection on what bonds the churches together - and on what threatens to divide them.

It is no accident that it is called "An invitation to the churches", for it calls them to a renewed and deeper dialogue. It calls them to be the one church, to make visible in the Spirit the unity given them by God in Christ. And yes, it challenges them to address their divisions openly, to name them and to work to overcome them.

Doing the right thing
Some years ago, I heard a story that makes it plain why ecclesiology - how each church understands itself and its relation to other churches - is crucial for Christians, for the churches, and for the ecumenical movement.

It was about an elderly parishioner in Ghana, whose village was fed by the priest of a neighbouring village during a famine. When the famine was over, she went to the neighbouring village to thank the people there for what they had done.

But when she attended the priest's church to greet and thank him personally, she was unable to take communion because their respective churches did not agree on some points. So the woman went to her bishop and asked the following question:
"How can we share the material food which keeps us from starving, and not share the spiritual food which Christ himself offers us? I think when Christ comes again, he will feed us himself - and then he will do what is right!"

"Ecclesiology" is about the churches doing "what is right". It is about the churches being "what is right", being the one church, confessing, worshipping, witnessing and serving together with one heart.

“Kas mūs vieno?” No. 1 / 2006 (3)
Photo by Inese Cibuļska

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GODíS CALLING
TO HIS PEOPLE

VASSULA RYDEN
Fragments of a talk in a symposium on ecumenism,
held by the sisters of St. Birgitta in Farfa, Italy in 2001

Lord, I pray as you have prayed: may we all be one, as the Father is in you and you in him, so that the rest of the world may believe it was the Father who sent you. For this we pray too for the sheep who are not of your fold, that they too will listen to your voice. We pray that the world may come to love you from today onwards. Amen.

I would like to share with you three themes: the first theme is on metanoia, fruit of humility that leads to reconciliation and unity, the second is about our sin of division and the third one is on the role of the Holy Spirit in leading us to unity.

God’s Calling to a deep metanoia, fruit of humility that leads us to reconciliation and unity

We, the people of the churches, must realize that we are living in a constant sin, the sin of our division. "Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand." (Mt.12, 25). Even if this division did not come directly from us but from our forefathers, still, we are keeping it alive so long as we remain divided. We cannot say that God is pleased when the shepherds are still separated. We cannot deign to talk about unity without going through a metanoia and put into practice the two greatest commandments of God. It will be as though we want to construct a house without laying down first its foundations. The foundations of unity should be humility and divine love and the conversion of our hearts. For how could we believe that we could reach unity if we do not repent and live fully the two greatest commandments that are based on the law of love? The seeds of unity would be constantly sown in an arid and infertile land and no seedlings will sprout in that sort of aridity, which represents the hardness of our heart. We have to sit down and ask ourselves: "are we maybe looking upon unity according to our own mind, and this is why perhaps we are still separated, or are we seeking it as the Spirit of God wants it, but we do not agree to it?"

We have to knock down the old bricks inside our hearts, bricks of intolerance, pride, lack of forgiveness, unfaithfulness, disunion, lack of love, and reconstruct Christ’s Church inside our hearts by acknowledging each other in our hearts, allowing God to be more in us to bring us his peace. There has to be a kenosis given to God from a deeper metanoia, so that God will fill us lavishly with himself, then we will be "acceptable as an offering, and made holy by the Holy Spirit. (Rm 15, 16)." Metanoia is the gate that leads souls from darkness into light. We cannot say we are walking in the light since we are still divided and fragmented; if we have not entered the light, how are we to see God’s divine Will to progress into unity and to know in which way he desires it? If we do not hurry, that little flickering flame that remains in us will become extinguished. We need to hurry and put aside all our prejudices and draw oil instead from the reserves of humility and love to enliven this flickering flame into a living torch.

But then each church should be willing to die to its ego and to its rigidity and then through this act of humility, Christ’s presence will be shining in them. Each church has to go through an unceasing repentance and cleave itself on Christ joining in his love of mankind. With this act of humility, the churches’ past and present failures will be washed away and unity will be accomplished. Once we lower our voice we will begin to hear Christ’s voice. Only when we lower our heads will we allow Christ’s head to be seen and not ours, only when we lower ourselves entirely, will Christ be able to lift us to see his glory. It is written: "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up." (Jm 4, 10). Then, and only then, we will be able to know God’s divine Will, for he will demonstrate his power and his holy presence will flow through the desert of our soul like a river, healing us.

The Lord permitted me once to hear him say these words: "If you allow my Holy Spirit to invade you, he can transfigure your soul from a desert into a garden where I can have my rest in you. The Holy Spirit can transfigure your soul into a palace, where I can be king and reign over you. The Holy Spirit can transfigure your soul into a heaven where in this heaven you will glorify me." To reach unity we must go through a transfiguration and so long as we have not achieved sharing one Cup around one altar it proves that this transfiguration has not yet taken place within us since we are still living fragmented. So let us go through a metanoia to allow this transfiguration to take place by the Holy Spirit. Without this transfiguration we will be incapable of penetrating into the depths of God to see God and understand him. This vision of the Godhead will undoubtedly draw our hearts into one.

In this transfiguration we will discover that although we would still be among men, our mind will be in heaven; and although our bodies will be moving among men, our soul and mind, captured in the divine Will, filled with the nobility of God’s light, will be as an angel’s walking in the courts of heaven among the saints and angels, becoming one spirit with the Divine. Then the "Our Father’s" prayer would be accomplished because his Kingdom would have come and his Will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. Had we responded to Christ’s supplication that "we may be one," or had we responded to his call by showing obedience to his call, today we would be sharing his Cup around one altar and we would be saying: "I am walking with God and ruling with him now."

The Church needs to be consolidated and unity is the only hope of consolidating the Church. As it is now, the Church is losing its brightness in its weakness to the point that it cannot even stand up and draw by itself the oil and the healing ointment from the Source of Life that is the Holy Spirit. In its fear of losing its treasures but mainly its identity, it not only barricades its windows, but makes sure that its doors are carefully locked as well, not realizing that its interior has collected mould. Out of its fear, it prohibits grace to flow in it that can lead it fearlessly into unity and reconciliation. Someone who acts out of fear and makes sure that windows and doors are carefully barred is usually afraid of being burgled of their valuables. Why are they fearing and isolating themselves? Why do some barricade their doors still? Has Christ not reconciled Gentile and Jew and put them to worship together one Christ? Has Christ not ripped open the veil in two, which separated God and man, reconciling the creature and the Creator? Has Christ not destroyed the gates of hell and set the spirits free? So what could Christ have done more that he has not done? Why then to this day do the churches still barricade themselves and erect walls to keep alive this division? If only they would lay aside their fears, their rigidity and their suspicions, today we would not be talking about unity because we would already be celebrating the Holy Eucharist around one altar.

If the churches are able to go beyond the negative obstacles that separate them, Christ will be faithful to his promise of releasing a time of peace in the entire world. This peace will draw every being into the Mystical Body of Christ, fulfilling his words given to us in his prayer to the Father, when he said: "may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me," (Jn 17, 21). This supplication of Christ to the Father for us to be so unified clearly intonated that the entire creation will be affected into a spiritual unity and not a unity by a signed treaty. But such a spiritual unity cannot be made without the Spirit of God.

Still, in spite of our wretchedness, the Holy Spirit of grace will not stop there because of our human failures, ambitions and our incapacity to reduce ourselves and reconcile to attain unity. Christ’s love of mankind compels him in our days to bend from the heights all the way to us with his precious Blood to conceal these imperfections. The Holy Spirit knows of our weaknesses and failures, so one cannot say that the Holy Spirit stopped pouring out his graces; he is out there, making a lot of noise so that in the end even the deaf who barricaded themselves will hear him and finally open the doors of their hearts; and those that were dead will come to life.

One of the graces that the Holy Spirit is giving us in our times are new apostles who are prepared by God to pour out of their lips the words of God echoing them. But if our minds and hearts cannot be touched easily and hear them it is perhaps that we have become too technical and unfortunately too rationalistic. In this technical environment Christ’s mercy is blemished as well as the simplicity of a spiritual life in God. This is why it is important that the churches allow the Holy Spirit free to blow within them a resurrection breath. In this resurrection they will stand up and realize that evangelising is a necessity to reconcile the world that is so estranged from God. The Holy Spirit will do the rest and extirpate all obstacles that hinder the way to a complete spiritual unity.

God is asking from us a change from within. There would be some who would say: "But we always kept the law of the Church and obeyed it…" It is not enough to keep the law of the Church and obey it. Our rigidity is condemning us. A lot of times we talk of the law but we do not carry it in our heart. The heart of the law is love; but so many times we live the letter of the law but neglect to live the heart of the law. We are often neglecting the weightier matters of the law, which are love, mercy and good faith.

We should be willing to pray more together because prayers are heard and answered whereas dialogues are just spoken words and formulas. That does not mean that we should eliminate our conferences and discussions, not at all. But what is more important for us, the letter, or the Spirit? If we say, the letter, than we will work like administrators when dealing with God’s affairs and we will not be justified nor will we ever achieve anything, because it will be like saying to the Spirit, "I am not a child any longer and I can walk by myself." The letter thus will kill the Spirit and we will become truly administrators shifting papers only and leaving every meeting empty-hearted.

So what is more important, the law or the Spirit? If we say the law then already we will be judging our brother sitting near us belonging to the other church, while he will be already judging us and we will hear from each one of us: "We are in the full truth and we are the ones who are right." And again we will be fragmenting Christ and again we will achieve nothing. If we start with the doctrine and its contents, there again we will end up perhaps even more separated and fragmented, never reaching the essential. I do not mean by that, that we should violate the doctrine since the doctrine is the very existence of the Church. But, if we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us, instead of us leading the Holy Spirit for once, then the Spirit will enliven the letter and the law and he will show us the true doctrine, that Jesus Christ is the only active principle in us despite our differences in doctrinal terminology. For this act of charity, we need intense poverty of the spirit and an overflow of generosity. So let our doctrinal dialogues begin with the Holy Spirit. Let Let him be the one who leads us by our sleeve to show us in our heart that the essence of doctrine should be based on love, sacrifice, redemption and a total dispassion.

Our sin of division

If we have become divided and torn asunder, it is because of our intolerance with each other and our spirit of pride. We have chased the distinctive sign of faith, which is divine love, as Christ said about the virtue of love, "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another." Yet, Christ’s love compels him to deploy limitless mercy on our division, this division that brought upon us this aridity and hardness of heart devastating the Church and bringing a general apostasy in the Christian world. The world now, apostatised as it is, has no place for God, since it is occupied with a sort of self-realization. The world today refuses to give glory to God.

Pretence and lip service never deceived Christ, but whenever we adopted a mutual love that led to peace and a mutual understanding, his Spirit rejoiced. How can we today expect his Spirit to rejoice when every feast of Easter that passes by, the dates of Easter are not unified. How can his Spirit rejoice when the members of his Mystical Body are still scattered like the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision? We are fearlessly transgressing his law of love in front of his Throne. Scriptures say: "Everyone who knows what is the right thing to do and doesn’t do it commits a sin." Jm 4, 17). Scriptures do not lie and cannot be rejected.

Furthermore, how do we expect the Church to be credible in front of the rest of the world’s eyes when it preaches peace, love, unity, brotherhood and reconciliation to countries that are massacring their people, when we at the same time, are massacring the Body of Christ by throwing ever so often venomous arrows on one another? We, the royal household of Christ, have bartered our glory for shame. God is calling all of us, and inviting us to be one, so that the world may believe. (Jn 17, 21). So only when the Church will be healed by uniting and regain her strength, would she be able to reconcile the world to God. At the same time, consolidated as she would be, she will be able to overturn all the dark powers that darkened the world and the dominion of the evil one who keeps us scattered.

The role of the Holy Spirit in leading us to a spiritual unity

It is the Holy Spirit of grace alone that can progress the Church rapidly into unity making us overcome our fears of going forward. The Holy Spirit is there to burn to the roots all that keeps us divided and delays us from uniting. The evil one of course is aware of this and keeps raising upheavals there where they normally should not be, grievously obstructing the work of the Church and delaying unity. This is why I think it is very important to submit to the Holy Spirit and pay more attention on the charisms he gives to the Church. We should stop extinguishing the fire of the Holy Spirit that can brighten up the interior of the Church. Therefore, it is important to let our self be directed by grace and not by fear. Let the Holy Spirit be like a Parousia within the Church.

The Body of Christ, the Church, as we know, always increases through the Holy Spirit and will keep on increasing until the last Day, because Christ is the rock, the builder of the Church as well as the Shepherd of his people. Christ is the supreme High Priest over all his house, this house that men pitilessly divided in their lack of love. The beauty and glory and the fruit it gave once in the beginning of its existence, has now fallen down like rotten fruit. If this is wrong, where is that Apostolic Church in its eagerness to witness to the Christ, to lay itself down on the altar of martyrs, to humble itself in the arena of shame and pain rather than deny the Christ? Where is that discipleship fervour of faith and burning with desire to global evangelization? Oh Christ, how much more must Your Precious Body be pierced and lanced and fragmented before we realize that we may have divided your Body as tools of the "divider" himself. We have done it unwillingly and unwittingly. Help us to find and preserve that remnant so sacred called your Church. Help us to put it together again. A Church unity determined to bring your Second Coming as a revelation globally.

The real spiritual unity is and will be in the heart. Unity will not be of the letter but of the Spirit.

We have to stop creating new Gethsemanes for our Lord. Instead, let us place garlands of love on our Lord’s Head. Unity will come only when all of us will truly begin to love Jesus Christ.

 “Kas mūs vieno?” No. 1 / 2006 (3)