On the evening of January 24th, an Ecumenical Prayer Service in honor of the “2023 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” was held at the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine at the World Trade Center in New York.
Representing the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA were His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, Prime Hierarch of the UOC of the USA and Diaspora, and Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy and President of the Consistory of the UOC of the USA.
The service was opened by His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America who welcomed everyone and gesturing at the beautiful St. Nicholas Church explained that while the original building was destroyed in the attacks on 9/11 it has been rebuilt stronger than the original, utilizing the same marble as the Parthenon in Athens, and will serve as a place of worship for many generations.
Before proceeding, all the clergy gathered confessed and asked the Lord’s blessing and guidance, reading from Isaiah 1.
12 When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? 13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations-- I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. 14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood! 16 Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. 18 Come now, let us settle the matter,' says the LORD. 'Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land;
His Eminence Archbishop Anouchavan Tanelian, the Armenian Apostolic Church led the prayer of the clergy, as they offered their thanksgiving and praise, asked that their eyes be opened in understanding, and that the Lord grant them wisdom and remind them that they are united in the Lord before the entire nation.
Right Reverend Bishop Paul Egensteiner, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, read from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 2.
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
This verse elucidated that through Christ all hostility and all dividing walls are to be put aside, and His followers are to unite, and to join together in the Lord and spiritually become the dwelling place for God.
As the prayer concluded, His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Catholic Archdiocese of New York delivered his remarks, ““We praise God for the advancements made, we seek His mercy for our faults and failures, and continually repurpose ourselves to that noble goal articulated on Holy Thursday. Thus our gathering this evening.”
He shared his experience in the Conclave of Cardinals during the election of Pope Francis. “As we heed the exhortation of the Isaiah the Prophet, ‘Do good; seek justice,’ the unity through which we persevere in prayer and the advances we have made are not ends in themselves but means to an end… the end is the honor and glory of God.”
The Week of Prayer is particularly important for the American context. Its theme – “Do good; seek justice” (Isaiah 1:17) – was chosen and developed by the Minnesota Council of Churches. These words of Prophet Isaiah reaffirm our responsibility – in the midst of our ecumenical quest for Christian unity – to condemn racism and hatred as a sin and to support the struggle for racial justice and equity.
The final benediction was delivered by Archbishop Elpidophoros, who read from Numbers 6:24-26:
“The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.”
The Ecumenical Prayer Service was an opportunity for faith leaders to come together in a place which will always be of importance to the American psyche. The St. Nicholas Church is a symbol of the triumph of good over evil, and of justice and tolerance in the face of the injustice having been perpetrated against the nation. The rebuilding of this church was itself an act of faith – faith in God, and faith in the American spirit which calls for freedom of religion, unity, and justice for all.