(The 2016 theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity has been selected. Called to Proclaim the Mighty Acts of the Lord (cf. 1 Peter 2:9). For the coming year the theme finds its origins in the First Letter of Peter. The initial work on the theme for this coming year’s Week of Prayer material was prepared by a group of representatives from different parts of Latvia. Representatives were gathered from the Lutheran Church, Latvia House of Prayer for All Peoples, Vertikale Television, Sunday Morning Christian Programme, Chemin Neuf Community, Religious of the Pro Sanctitate Movement, and the Catholic Youth Centre of the Archdiocese of Riga. The texts were finalised during a meeting of the International Committee of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. )
Archaeological evidence suggests that Christianity was first brought to Eastern Latvia in the 10th century by Byzantine missionaries. However, most accounts date Latvia’s Christian origins to the 12th and 13th centuries, and the evangelizing mission of St Meinhard, and later of other German missionaries.
The past, with its various periods of conflict and suffering, has had noticeable consequences for church life in Latvia today. It is a sad fact that the use of force by some early missionaries and crusaders misrepresented the essence of the Gospel. Over the centuries, the land of Latvia has been a religious and political battleground for various national and confessional powers. Changes in political dominance in different parts of the country were often reflected in changes in people’s confessional affiliation too. Today, Latvia is a crossroads where Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox regions meet. Because of this unique location, it is home to Christians of many different traditions, but no single one of them is dominant.
Latvia first existed as a state from 1918 until 1940, in the wake of the First World War and the fall of the Russian and German empires. The Second World War and the decades that followed with their totalitarian anti-Christian ideologies – atheistic Nazism and Communism – brought devastation to the land and people of Latvia, right up to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. This bond of suffering created deep communion among Christians in Latvia. Through it, they discovered their baptismal priesthood, through which they were able to offer their sufferings in union with the sufferings of Jesus, for the good of others.
The call to be God’s people
St Peter tells the early Church that in their search for meaning prior to encountering the Gospel they were not a people. But through hearing the call to be God’s chosen race and receiving the power of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ, they have become God’s people. This reality is expressed in Baptism, common to all Christians, in which we are born again of water and the Holy Spirit (cf. John 3:5). In Baptism we die to sin, in order to rise with Christ to a new life of grace in God. It is an ongoing challenge daily to remain aware of this new identity in Christ.
Hearing of God’s mighty acts
Baptism opens up an exciting new journey of faith, uniting each new Christian with God’s people throughout the ages. The Word of God – the Scriptures with which Christians of all traditions pray, study and reflect – is the foundation of a real, albeit incomplete, communion. In the shared sacred texts of the Bible, we hear of God’s saving acts in salvation history: leading his people out of slavery in Egypt, and the great mighty act of God: the raising of Jesus from the dead, which opened new life to all of us. Furthermore, prayerful reading of the Bible leads Christians to recognise the mighty acts of God also in their own lives.
Response and proclamation
God has chosen us not as a privilege. He has made us holy, but not in the sense that Christians are more virtuous than others. He has chosen us to fulfil some purpose. We are holy only insofar as we are committed to God’s service, which is always to bring his love to all people. Being a priestly people means being in service to the world. Christians live this baptismal calling and bear witness to God’s mighty acts in a variety of ways:
Awareness of our common identity in Christ calls us to work towards answering the questions that still divide us as Christians. We are called, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, to share our experiences and so discover, that in our common pilgrimage, Jesus Christ is among us. Through common social and charitable projects we reach out to the poor, the needy, the addicted and the marginalised.
The ecumenical Celebration uses the symbols of a Bible, a lighted candle and salt to express visually the mighty acts that we are called, as baptised Christians, to proclaim to the world. Both salt and light are gospel images that Jesus uses in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Mt 5:13-16). They describe our Christian identity: You are the salt… You are the light…. And they describe our mission: salt of the earth… light of the world…