At the beginning of the Divine Liturgy, between the first prayerful petitions to God the Lord, the Orthodox Church pronounces the following: “For the peace of the whole world, for the welfare of the holy churches of God, and for the union of all, let us pray to the Lord.”
Hearing this, some, filling their heart with love, peaceableness and tolerance, pray not only for “for the welfare and the union,” that is for the preservation in unity of “the holy churches of God” Orthodox, particular, comparing the Universal Church, such as those of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Russia, but for the reunion of churches which fell away from Orthodoxy, such as the Roman and Armenian. But some, maintaining a firm zeal about Orthodoxy pray only for “the union of the holy churches of God” which are Orthodox.
Who would not respect a zeal for Orthodoxy? Who does not recognize the worthiness of all-encompassing love? Which of the two meanings of the prayer mentioned above is one to embrace and unite with the prayer of the Orthodox Church? Or better yet, which of the two meanings is the primary one, taught to us by the Orthodox Church itself with the words of its established ritual? Does the Orthodox Church correctly pray only for the Orthodox churches? Teaching us by her prayers to reach out with our love to the edges of “the whole world,” does it limit its boundaries of love when it comes to churches? Does it not want the salvation of the heterodox churches through their return and their union with the Orthodox Church?
How does the Orthodox Church formulate her prayer for the union of churches? “For the peace of the whole world, and for the welfare of the holy churches of God, and for the union of all, let us pray to the Lord.” If the prayer was to have a limited meaning only for Orthodox churches, then it would have been proper to phrase the words as follows: “For the welfare and the union of all God’s holy churches let us pray to the Lord.” But that is not the case and the prayer is divided into two parts:
- “for the welfare of the holy churches of God,” and
- “and for the union of all.”
This prayer is offered always, both in time of peace and in time of discord for the Church. Therefore the first part of the prayer has the following meaning: “for the welfare,” that is for the peace and unity of the Orthodox “holy churches of God” so that the welfare already granted to them would be preserved where it exists and where there is something in some kind of discord, then it should be restored anew by God’s grace. By the same token the second part of the prayer should be understood to be “for the union” of churches that it may be preserved where it exists, and be restored where it does not. (On the Union of Churches)