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"Exploring the Feast of Creation - A high level Ecumenical seminar in Assisi"

Posted on: March 22, 2024 1:01 PM

An Anglican delegation of liturgists and theologians have taken part in an ecumenical seminar in Assisi, Italy. It was hosted by the Laudato Si Research Institute, and sponsored by the Anglican Communion, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, the World Council of Churches, and other partners on March 15-16. The seminar’s title was ‘The Feast of Creation and the Mystery of Creation: Ecumenism, Theology, Liturgy, and Signs of the Times in Dialogue.’

The aim of the meeting was to progress ecumenical understanding of God as Creator, with a view to arriving at an ecumenically shared Christian celebration that might be included in western churches' liturgical calendars.

At this early stage of discernment, the name of such a celebration is not yet decided. The work of the seminar will continue in the months ahead, with conversations within and between the sponsoring world communions, clarifying the vision and proposals that might be shared with churches for consideration and reception.

The Orthodox Church already mark creation on 1 September, and in recent decades this time of year has been increasingly adopted by other churches as an important celebration, known by many as the “World Day of Prayer for Creation.”

Many Anglican Churches mark ‘A Season of Creation’, and in 2012 the Anglican Consultative Council passed a resolution ‘to consider the inclusion of a Season of Creation in the liturgical calendar’. September 1 to October 4 is now marked by many other traditions and churches too.

This has become an encouraging sign of ecumenical unity and is helping to shape a theology of creation care, as Christians seek to respond to the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.

The Revd Dr Rachel Mash, the Revd Neil Vigers and Prof. Paulo Ueti led the Anglican delegation in Assisi.

Neil Vigers said: “It should be emphasised that the energy for this is theological – doctrinal and liturgical. If God sustains all things in being, and redeems and renews all things, then how we live as part of God’s work of love must be shaped by this faith and lead to action and witness. The focus of a feast would be on God the creator.

“It is highly significant that this discernment is being done together, ecumenically, and not by a single communion or tradition. This is a sign of our deepening unity - that we are able to work collaboratively and offer to all our churches a vision that might take us all further towards Christian unity and give strong theological support for what Anglicans call the Fifth Mark of Mission, to tend and care for creation.”

Messages of support for the meeting came from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Ecumenical Patriarch (Orthodox), in parallel to the participation by Cardinal Víctor Fernández of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (Roman Catholic) and Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm (Moderator of the World Council of Churches).

The Archbishop of Canterbury said, “The Feast of Creation is an opportunity to celebrate the Triune God as Creator, reflecting on the mystery of Creation as the foundational event of salvation history. Treasuring the Earth is one of the Five Marks of Mission and in the face of the climate crisis, protecting God’s Creation is a spiritual imperative for Christians throughout the global Church. Creation Day has inspired us to come together in prayer and action – to safeguard, sustain and renew the life of the Earth.

That is why, inspired by the Orthodox Church’s leadership, the Anglican Communion enthusiastically supports this ecumenical process. I encourage Anglicans around the world to pray for the unity of the Church, as we follow Christ’s call to protect and renew what God has entrusted to us.”

The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Head of the Holy Orthodox Church said: “This entire effort gives us great cause for joy, because it was thirty-five years ago that our venerable predecessor, the late Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios, issued the very first encyclical inviting all people of good will to dedicate September 1st... as a special day of prayer for the preservation of the natural environment.

“The call was first taken up by Orthodox Christians throughout the world, while the World Council of Churches and the Conference of European Churches soon followed suit. In recent years, the call was also embraced by Pope Francis for the Roman Catholic Church and by Archbishop Justin Welby for the Anglican Communion. Today, across the planet, numerous Christian churches and faithful recognize this celebration as the World Day of Prayer for Creation or the Feast of Creation.

“This sense of ecumenical conviction and Christian unity is paramount not only because we have been commanded by our Lord “that we may be one” (Jn 17.21), but also because we cannot and should not hope to address climate change without working closely with one another. As we have repeatedly stated, ‘we are all in the same boat.’ Creation care is a collective mandate and responsibility.”