This past Monday, January 18, was the feast of the Confession of St. Peter (see Matthew 16:16), while next Thursday, January 25, is the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul (see Acts 9). As a result, it has become a custom for many to mark the octave (eight days) between the two commemorations with prayers that focus particularly on the unity of all Christians.

The World Council of Churches reports that the Monastic Community in Grandchamp, Switzerland, has chosen this year’s theme for the prayers for unity from John 15:1-17: “Abide in my love, and you shall bear much fruit.” As part of the materials they have put together, they include this evocative quote from Dorotheus of Gaza, a monk in Palestine in the 6th century:

Imagine a circle drawn on the ground, that is, a line drawn in a circle with a compass, and a centre. Imagine that the circle is the world, the centre is God, and the radii are the different paths or ways people live. When the saints, desiring to draw near to God, walk toward the middle of the circle, to the extent that they penetrate its interior, they draw closer to each other; and the closer they draw to each other, the closer they come to God. Understand that the same thing applies conversely, when we turn away from God and withdraw toward the outside. It then becomes obvious that the more we move away from God, the more we move away from each other, and the more we move away from each other, the more we also move away from God.

I hope during this octave, we will indeed seek to move closer to each other and to God, praying for increased communion and unity of all Christians. (And may we remember that the goal of unity is not the same as praying that all others come to believe exactly the way we do!) But I also hope that we will take seriously the second part of this year’s theme – that we shall bear much fruit. The point of Christian unity is that we will bear fruit by modeling that unity for the rest of the world. In this fractious time in our nation, may our prayers and actions not be limited to closer communion in the church, but also spread more broadly, seeking unity in our country as well as the whole world.

As we work toward this this unity, this drawing nearer and nearer to others, then we will also experience the joy of drawing near to God, the very Center of All!

(If you are interested in knowing more about the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, you can start here: https://www.oikoumene.org/resources/week-of-prayer-for-christian-unity).