Vesper service reunites Catholic, Orthodox pilgrims

BROOKLINE -- Members of the Boston Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches shared fellowship and a strong desire for unity between their communities at a vespers service Nov. 29, the eve of the feast of St. Andrew, the patron saint of the Orthodox Church.

The service at the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston reunited ecumenical pilgrims who took part in a 10-day pilgrimage to Rome, Constantinople and St. Petersburg in September.

It is customary for a representative of the Archdiocese of Boston to join in the Greek Orthodox celebration of their patronal feast. In return, a representative from the Greek Orthodox Church attends a Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on the feast of St. Peter, St. Andrew’s brother. Since 1996, it has become a tradition for the archdiocese to invite the Eastern Orthodox to celebrate the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, patron saints of the Church of Rome.

Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley told The Pilot that the pope and ecumenical patriarch also send representatives on these feasts.

“What we’re doing here is our way of being connected to the Holy Father and the ecumenical patriarch as they work together toward unity,” he said.

The service began with chanting and incense filled the small, packed chapel. An icon of St. Andrew was carried in procession around the chapel and placed on a podium behind a small table on which sat five loaves of bread.

It was St. Andrew who, at the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, said to Jesus, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish...”

During the service, Metropolitan Methodios blessed the bread, which was later sliced and given to those gathered.

Cardinal O’Malley proclaimed two readings during the vespers service. Then, addressing the pilgrims, he spoke about his hope for unity between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

“My own confidence in the possibility of unity during our lifetime has been strengthened by my experience of the pilgrimage together with you and my friendship with the Metropolitan Methodios and so many of our brothers and sisters in the Orthodox Church,” he said.

Their friendship and prayers together are an important part of the ecumenical movement, he added.

The cardinal said he is also encouraged by the recent meeting of theologians at the Oct. 8-14 plenary assembly for Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue in Ravenna, Italy and quoted their statement.

The statement released by the theologians said in part, “We are conscious that our dialogue is restarting in a world that has changed profoundly in recent times. The processes of secularization and globalization and the challenge posed by new encounters between Christians and believers of other religions, require that the disciples of Christ give witness to their faith, love and hope with a new urgency. May the spirit of the risen Lord empower our hearts and minds to bear the fruits of unity in the relationship between our churches so that together we may serve the unity and peace of the whole human family.”

Metropolitan Methodios, head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Boston, also spoke about his desire for unity between the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

“I pray, and I am sure you join me in prayer that God may lead us to solving theological differences, lead us to his truth, lead us back into his embrace,” he said.

Metropolitan Methodios added that God’s providence led Cardinal O’Malley to Boston at this critical time in history as the archdiocese celebrates its 200th anniversary.

He said to the cardinal, “Your presence among us always brings us a great deal of joy and warmth. You are, as I’m sure you know, the recipient of the respect and the love of the Greek Orthodox community.”

Following the service, participants shared food and fraternity.

Margaret Woods, a Catholic who attended the joint pilgrimage in September, said that the trip gave the travelers an opportunity to know each other better and respect each others’ worship.

“We all worship the same God, and our purpose in that worship is the same,” she said.

Joy Vlachos, member of the Taxiarchae Archangels Greek Orthodox Church in Watertown, said she too gained a greater understanding while on the pilgrimage. She worshipped with Catholics and laughed and joked with the other travelers, she said.

“We were surrounded by love,” Vlachos said. “We didn’t know each other, and now we’re all pilgrimage sisters and brothers.”