My recent visit to the diocese of Jerusalem took place in the midst of the annual vigil of Prayers for Peace in the Holy Land. Organized by the Jerusalem Inter-Church Committee, each church hosts an evening liturgy. I worshipped at St. James Armenian Orthodox Cathedral.
In welcoming everyone, the Archbishop spoke about peace in the tradition of the prophets and in the ministry of Jesus. He called us to remember the song of the angels at our Lord’s birth, the centrality of peace in his teaching and his prayer for Jerusalem.
Reflecting on the current political situation in the Holy Land and in many places where there is conflict throughout the world, he reminded us, “There can be no peace without reconciliation and no reconciliation without a resolve and determination to be reconciled.” He invited us to be steadfast in our prayers.
A choir of 40 seminarians opened the liturgy in song. Candles were lit through the congregation.
In the gospel reading, we heard the Lord’s Beatitudes (Matthew 5: 1–12). As each one was proclaimed, there was a pause long enough for us to repeat it in the quietness of our hearts. Anticipation rose as we waited to hear, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” The pause that followed seemed longer than all the others.
Then everyone was invited “to bow before God. Give peace we pray you, to the whole world and especially to our beloved but troubled Holy Land,” the priest prayed. Then we prayed for all victims of bloodshed and violence as well as for the perpetrators of evil, for the children and young people that God may give them hope for the future, and for world leaders that they may be inspired to work for peace with justice.
As the liturgy drew to a close, the Archbishop invited every bishop present, representing several Christian traditions, to pronounce God’s blessing. It was humbling to be so welcomed by his generosity of spirit, his vision of church, and his deep care and concern for peace.
The sights, sounds, and silences of this liturgy for peace will remain with me for a long time.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, visited Israel and the Palestinian territories Aug. 22 to 30.
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