I met Father Misaeil, an Egyptian Coptic priest, at his beautiful sanctuary with Mary, the twelve apostles, and the two angels — Gabriel and Michael with their wings unfurled — looking down on our meeting with studied interest.
He wore his sternum long ashen beard and his ankle long black frock with pride, a look most church planting manuals would discourage as being irrelevant. The preacher should wear casual jeans to tell the congregation to relax and sip latte before the Holy. Father Misaeil would probably see casual jeans as irreverent thus irrelevant.
He stroked his beard, smiled frequently and reminded me of how many of the early ecumenical councils were led by Alexandrian bishops. The Coptic church, he continued, was nourished by the blood of Mark who was dragged and finally quartered in the streets of Alexandria. Hearing those stories felt a bit like the time my mother told me how she visited her mother’s grave every day for a year when she was 13, a family history not told when I was young but leading to self discovery when it was told. It was my mother’s story, but it was also my story. It was a proud history of the Coptic church, but it was my story too.
As we ended our conversation I asked if we could pray together. He said sure and stood up, because that is the only way to pray. I was ready to pray the evangelical style, use cool, hip phrases I’ve picked up from blogs and books about the “unity in a post-denominational world” but he launched right into the Lord’s prayer. He took Jesus’ words at face value, that whenever we pray, we should be praying the prayer he taught.
I followed him, with half-a-beat lag because I did not want a variant versions to collide into a babel, not knowing whether he would say sin” or use the more somber sounding “transgression.”
After the prayer, he looked at me with pity and asked, “You do know the Lord’s prayer?” I had to explain that I wanted to make sure to use his English version.
What if more Christians prayed the Lord’s prayer, more regularly?
What if we prayed with attention to its words? Then how could we miss it central theme, the Kingdom?
Every day we are to pray for greater manifestation of the Kingdom through our joyful obedience. And wouldn’t such daily commitment to the Kingdom lead us towards greater unity?
I don’t think Paul, who did so much to plant so many churches throughout the Roman Empire, would accept the divisions we have. I don’t think he would be satisfied with our unity claimed in the spiritual realm, our “universal church,” a theological concept often misused to excuse our pride-soaked divisions. Unity, if it is to be one at all, has to have some physical manifestation.
Unity of all the churches is an impossible task. Only Kingdom-minded people would believe it possible and worth living for. Only people praying for the Kingdom could sustain such faith. And only a prayer taught by Jesus could ceaselessly woo our heart for the Kingdom.
Our Father in heaven,
help us to honor your name.
Come and set up your kingdom,
so that everyone on earth will obey you,
as you are obeyed in heaven.
Give us our food for today.
Forgive us for doing wrong,
as we forgive others.
Keep us from being tempted and protect us from evil.
And all glories are yours.
All powers are yours,
For all kingdoms are yours,