WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY
JANUARY 18-25, 2021
BACKGROUND: Introduction to the Theme
“Abide in my love… You shall bear much fruit.”
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in 2021 was prepared by the Monastic Community of Grandchamp (www.grandchamp.org). The Community is located in Areuse, in the Canton of Neuchtal, Switzerland. The theme, taken from the 15th chapter of the Gospel of St. John, expresses Grandchamp Community’s vocation to prayer, reconciliation and unity in the Church and the human family.
In the 1930s a number of Reformed women from French-speaking Switzerland who belonged to a group known as the “Ladies of Morges” rediscovered the importance of silence in listening to the Word of God. At the same time they revived the practice of spiritual retreats to nourish their life of faith, inspired by the example of Christ who went apart to a lonely place to pray. They were soon joined by others who took part in regularly organized retreats in Grandchamp, a small hamlet near the shores of Lake Neuchatel. It became necessary to provide a permanent presence of prayer and welcome for the growing number of guests and retreatants.
Today the community has fifty sisters, all women from different generations, church traditions, countries and continents. In their diversity the sisters are a living parable of communion. They remain faithful to a life of prayer, life in community and the welcoming of guests. The sisters share the grace of their monastic life with visitors and volunteers who go to Grandchamp for a time of retreat, silence, healing or in search of meaning.
The first sisters experienced the pain of division between the Christian churches. In this struggle they were encouraged by their friendship with Abbe Paul Couturier, a French pioneer in the development of what would become the modern Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Therefore, from its earliest beginnings prayer for Christian unity was at the heart of the life of the community. This commitment, together with Grandchamp’s fidelity to the three pillars of prayer, community life and hospitality, form the foundations of the 2021 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity materials.
The actual text of the theme, “Abide in my love… you shall bear much fruit”, comes from a joining of phrases from John 15:9 and John 15:5. The entire pericope chosen by Grandchamp, the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity is John 15:1-17. Here, Jesus reminds his disciples that he is the vine and we are the branches. If we abide in him, in Jesus and the Covenant made in his precious blood, we will be such a healthy branch as to bear much fruit, abundant grapes.
Jesus manifests this in his references to loving one another: “Abide in my love.” This love of Christ figuratively speaking is akin to the healthy sap that nourishes the vine throughout all its branches. Jesus the man is lovingly begotten into human society by the love God has for all human beings, through the cooperation of a human woman, the Virgin Mary. In return, humanity is repeatedly raised from sin to justification by the love of Christ, the only Son of God, one with the Father and the Spirit through all the ages. This resource for abiding in his love is endless.
The image of branches helps believers understand that they are all diverse as individuals, but brought together in the one Vine, who is Christ alive in the Church. It can also point out, in these times of growing ecumenical witness, that the differing expressions of Christian faith are also branches which cannot live on their own and still authentically proclaim the Gospel to all creatures. We preach Christ crucified and risen to a needy world, that the world may have hope. Separately, that “sap” which keeps all the branches healthy, gets stuck in blocked veins of animosity, distrust, bigotry and ignorance. Only open veins will allow the sap to flow. Only then can all the branches bear much fruit.
Therefore, abiding in Christ’s love, let us love one another. The events of Covid-19 and of 2020 in general were not foreseen in the planning at Grandchamp in September 2019. Human society is reminded that through the struggle of 2020 we are needier for love, fellowship and support than we have been in generations. So, let the sap flow! Let us bear much fruit.