It was a pleasure to participate, on Saturday, Feb. 13, in some of the education and formation of our diocesan permanent-diaconate class of 2020. This class consists of seven men from around the diocese. The wives of several of them were also present as we took a day, at Villa Maria on Lake Springfield, to survey the challenges of ecumenical and interreligious activity within our diocese.
We took note of the fact that, just the day before, Pope Francis, visiting Cuba, had met Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, which is a quite imposing presence in Eastern Orthodoxy, as its 150 million adherents are more or less equal to the membership of the rest of the Eastern Orthodox Churches put together. We of the Latin Church split with the Eastern Orthodox Churches in 1054. At that time, Christianity was very new to Russia, and the Russian church was still in a process of formation. Therefore, we Christians in communion with the Bishop of Rome have in fact never had much official contact with the Russian Orthodox. The meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, and their issuing of a joint statement, is a most significant step forward in the cause of Christian unity, as two very large Christian groups, who until now have been largely strangers to one another, at last are getting acquainted.
It may not naturally occur to many of us, since we know far more Protestant Christians than Orthodox Christians, that Catholics are most closely related to the Orthodox, not Protestants. Although there are some theological differences between Orthodox and Catholics, our disunion is largely based upon issues of governance. We Catholics recognize that Eastern Orthodox Christians have a valid apostolic succession (an unbroken chain of bishops ordaining bishops from the time of the Apostles), and therefore a valid priesthood and a valid sacrament of the holy Eucharist.
Also in Springfield, on the evening of Feb. 25, St. Anthony Greek Orthodox Church hosted an ecumenical prayer service with a focus on the plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere. Several members of the leadership team of the Illinois Conference of Churches participated with pastor Father George Pyle and with Bishop Demetrios, chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago. There was a very good turnout of local Catholics for this worship service.
I am pastor of St. Sebastian in Waverly and three other parishes between Springfield and Jacksonville. St. Sebastian parishioners and I were pleased to accept an invitation from First Baptist Church in Waverly to view with them, on Feb. 27, a new film called War Room. Since my favorite film is Dr. Strangelove (1964), I wondered whether the title was derived from the older film's classic line, "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the war room!" It turns out that the "war room" of the new film is a place of prayer, and the focus of the spiritual "war" is the healing of a marriage. This film makes the point that prayer is a process whereby the one praying must be open to the conversion which God intends to work in us. Christians can help one another to invest themselves completely in the process of prayer, by which our God changes us to be more completely and effectively his instruments of love.