Martyrs, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity


June 1 (next Thursday) is the feast of Justin the martyr who was born around the year 100 and martyred in 165. Justin became a Christian at the age of 30 and opened a Christian school in Rome. In 155 he wrote an “apology” addressed to the Emperor Antonius Pius. (An apology is an account or defence of the faith aimed at dispelling misunderstanding and prejudice). This work gives us a wonderful description of the eucharist as celebrated by the early Church in Rome. The liturgy consisted of readings from the Old Testament and the Gospels, a homily, prayers of intercession, a long prayer of blessing over the gifts of bread and wine and distribution of the blessed elements. Most modern Catholics would have felt quite at home at worship in Justin's day -except perhaps for the language barrier!

Justin is not the only martyr we remember this week. On June 3 both the Anglican and Catholic Church commemorate the feast of the Ugandan martyrs. This group of 22 Africans who died for the faith in 1886 included 19 young men under 25. When asked if they wished to remain Christian, they answered “until death”. These martyrs were cannonised in 1964 and their feast included in the Roman calendar in 1969.

Many areas hold a joint Anglican and Catholic service of prayer on June 3. A special prayer for the day has been prepared by AustARC, the Australian Anglican/Roman Catholic Commission:
Holy God, source of all unity, by your Spirit in the Church, you draw our varied gifts into one mission for the world. We thank you for all who have called us to unity, and for the Anglican and Roman Catholic martyrs of Uganda. Give us grace to serve you together as they did and to be agents of reconciliation, in the name of our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Other events of major ecumenical and liturgical significance take place in coming weeks. The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is always celebrated in Australia from Ascension to Pentecost (June 4 to 11 this year). The Week of Prayer, which began in the early 1900s, has become an integral part of the ecumenical movement. Christians from all around the world come together to pray for the unity of the church and of the world.

The prayers for this year have been prepared by a group from the Middle East Council of Churches. The material is based on Ephesians 1: 3-14, that amazing hymn of praise which sets out God’s purpose from the beginning of time until all things are brought together in Christ. Each year the Australian Faith and Order Commission adapts the international material for local use and makes resources available to parishes and schools through State Ecumenical Offices.

A significant Jubilee event will take place in Australia during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity this year. National church leaders together with youth representatives from each church will travel together on a unique pilgrimage as the major national ecumenical celebration of the year 2000. This 3000km bus journey will take them from Canberra, the political centre of Australia, to Uluru, the geographical centre of this land -–a physical and spiritual “Pilgrimage to the Heart”. The aim is to call all Australians to reconciliation and spiritual renewal in Christ. The travellers will take time to engage with all whose land they traverse, especially Aboriginal people.

On Pentecost Sunday an ecumenical service of reconciliation will be hosted by the local Aboriginal community of Mutitjulu people at Uluru. Two prayers have been prepared for the occasion, one for reconciliation between Aboriginal Australians and all other Australians and one for reconciliation between the churches. The latter concludes with these words: Though our convictions have clashed and our paths diverged may the Spirit draw our churches to Christ, our Centre, that the world may see in us the unity of the Trinity of Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.


Elizabeth Harrington