Ecumenical Service in St James Cathedral, Riga. © Ivars Kupcis

Ecumenical Service in St James Cathedral, Riga. © Ivars Kupcis

By Ivars Kupcis*

An ecumenical worship service on 21 January at St. James Cathedral in Riga, held during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2016, was vivid confirmation of the ecumenical efforts of Christians in Latvia.

The worship service was attended by leaders and clergy from Catholic, Lutheran, Orthodox, Baptist, Anglican, Methodist and other churches in Latvia, as well as church members from many congregations. Inviting those present to pray for unity among Christians, the Latvian Roman Catholic Archbishop Metropolitan Zbigņevs Stankevičs said: "Prayer is ranked first in ecumenical efforts, and it is very powerful. Unity is not just a human effort — firstly, it is a gift from God. To progress on the mutual path to unity, we have to grow closer to the Triune God — then our unity will be the outcome of God’s work, not ours."

In his address Alexander, the Archbishop Metropolitan of the Latvian Orthodox Church, urged Christians to be grateful for God's gift of love to us, and to serve our neighbors in love: "What do I benefit from the sun, if I close my eyes to its light? Can the divine teaching save me, if I pay no attention to it? What joy fills our hearts when we have shown love to our neighbor by doing something good! The love of our neighbor is the most convincing sign of Christianity. When our good works are based on love — in accordance with the Gospel, they become works that are done for the Lord Himself."

The division of the church body is a fact both in Latvia and throughout the world, but it need not evolve further, causing misery and pain — it can also bring light, joy and beauty, said Janis Vanags, the Archbishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Latvia. "For hundreds of years the church has chosen the way of division, with Christians turning against each other with anger, ridicule, curse and even weapons. It has brought a lots of misery," said Vanags. "Today, with the help of God, we want to choose another path. Our division — just as a torn and wounded body of Christ – is not a normal situation. However, if that's a fact — we can ask God to use it for our good. There is a particular benefit and a blessing we can experience in the process of our reconciliation.”

In his address Archbishop Janis Vanags mentioned an outstanding example of Christian unity — the Taizé community in Burgundy, France, where thousands of young people from different faith traditions gather together to pray. They help each other to deepen their faith and to fall in love with Christ, thus healing the wounded body of Christ — the divided church. That is why the Archbishop particularly emphasized the good news that at the end of 2016, the annual Taizé European Youth Meeting will be held in Riga, urging everyone to start the preparation right now by looking forward to a joyful coming closer and fruitful unity.

Addressing the gathering, Bishop of the Latvian Baptist Union Pēteris Sproģis pointed to the source of Christian love in the Gospel — that God loves each one of us. "When we see the beauty of the Gospel, we are no longer able to be divided by secondary things. In our admiration of the Gospel we find the path to unity again and are able to proceed," said Bishop Pēteris Sproģis. "If we cease to strive for unity, we lose the ability to admire the beauty of the Gospel. Then we need to look beyond our own vision, our own denomination, and the limited experience of our own tradition. Secondly, we need to look deeper, considering the real meaning of the words we have repeated countless times during our journey of faith. As we do this, we see again the beauty of the Gospel, which really saves the world - and we all together are able to participate in this work".

Zbigņevs Stankevičs, the Archbishop Metropolitan of the Roman Catholic Church in Latvia, led a prayer: ”God, we pray: crumble the walls that still separate Christians, and create a unity, according to your heart and will. Accept us as we are, but mold us as you want us to be, and help us become the leaven of unity and love in our country and around the world.” Prayers for the Christian unity were also said by Jāna Jēruma-Grīnberga, chaplain of the Riga St. Saviour's Anglican church, Astra Dannenfelte, pastor of Riga First Methodist church, Ivars Levi Graudiņš, founder of the Ecumenical House of Prayer for All Nations and other representatives of Latvian congregations.

*Ivars Kupcis is a freelance journalist and photographer based in Latvia

Latvia celebrates Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (WCC press release of 21 January)

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity set to begin (WCC press release of 14 January)

“Bible App” brings Week of Prayer texts to smart phones (WCC press release of 11 January)

More information on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity