Common prayer in Geneva responds to acts of violence

Common prayer in Geneva responds to acts of violence

Commemorating the Armenian Genocide of 1915-23 was to have been the principal focus of the service of Sunday morning prayer on 15 November in the cathedral church of Saint-Pierre at the summit of Geneva’s old town. Following terror attacks in Beirut and Paris killing and wounding hundreds of civilians over the preceding days, the prayers of the Protestant Church of Geneva and the Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) took on a new dimension.

Armenian archbishop Vicken Aykazian, a member of the WCC Central Committee, was one of those who led prayers of intercession in French and English both for the martyrs and all who suffered during the 20th-century genocide, and also “for victims today in Beirut and Paris”.

He also quoted from a statement adopted over the weekend by the Executive Committee: “In the face of this brutality, the human family, all people of faith and of good will, must stand together to recommit to respecting and caring for one another, to protecting one another, and to preventing such violence.”

Armenian archbishop Nareg Alemezian, a member of the WCC Executive Committee, petitioned God to deliver humanity from evil in these times, and to strengthen believers in the Christian life.

The WCC Executive Committee is meeting near Geneva from 13 to 18 November and was invited to share in common prayer on Sunday in the historic Saint-Pierre. Its building was the ancient cathedral of Geneva which, during the 16th-century Reformation, became the home church of the reformer John Calvin and the heart of the French-speaking city’s Eglise Protestante de Genève (EPG).

WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit brought greetings to the congregation from the WCC and its moderator, Dr Agnes Abuom from the Anglican Church of Kenya. He noted that the World Council is itself a part of the fabric of Geneva, one of the international organizations that have come to the city out of a “hunger and thirst for righteousness, for peace, for dialogue”.

The members of the Executive Committee and other WCC officials seated at the front of the spacious sanctuary reflected the diversity of world Christianity: women and men from many regions, traditions and ethnicities.

Executive Committee member Rev. Taaroanui Maraea from French Polynesia summarized the spirit of Christian unity found in the service, praying: “In this time of fellowship with brothers and sisters from around the world, we rejoice that we can worship you together with one voice and heart. We give you thanks for the mission that you have entrusted to us: to witness and to work for peace and justice, where we are, where your church is.”

The sermon was delivered by pastor and president of the EPG Rev. Emmanuel Fuchs. Taking as his text the saying of Jesus in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the life”, Fuchs responded to the current programmatic theme of the WCC, “a pilgrimage of justice and peace”.

He said that the Christian’s “pilgrimage” is found not merely in dramatic undertakings and daunting challenges, but also “in our daily walk”. As Christians walk day by day, he continued, it is important to remember that the summit or the goal at the end of the journey may not be as crucial as “the way” itself. “I am the way,” Jesus said.

According to Fuchs, the most important moment in Christian life may be the decision to enter on the journey. In this sense, the church represents companions on the way engaging in an active and liberating life together, encouraging each other, recognizing and responding to one another’s needs.

Even in Paris, Fuchs continued, stunned as the people are by events, a way forward must be found. The church must take to the road in a violent world, resolutely setting out on the way. Like a pilgrim, the church moves ahead in hope.