Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity. (Ps. 132:1 DRV)
Ecumenism is an often invoked but infrequently understood term in the Catholic Church today. The word comes from the Greek oikumene – the inhabited or civilized world – specifically, the area governed by the Roman Empire covering the homelands of ancient apostolic Christianity. Hence, the term ecumenical council, denoting a “universal” synod attended by representatives from all over imperial Christendom, namely, both the Latins and Greeks, and in very early times also the Syriac Christians as well. Thus, the ideas of being ecumenical or engaging in ecumenism do not properly refer to dialoging with Protestants or other modern sects, but rather to fostering relations among the original churches once united within the Universal Church, but nowadays tragically separated as a result of various misunderstandings and political divisions. I am referring to the bodies of apostolic Christians today commonly known as the Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox, which can all trace their heritage back to the 12 apostles of Our Lord.
Despite a few unresolved disputes about faith (consisting more of differences in expression than in substance), all of these churches share a profound respect for tradition, both apostolic and ecclesiastical, and the general “incarnational” perspective in which tradition is rooted. That is, ancient Christianity recognizes that man is not just a spiritual but also a bodily being who needs physical signs and symbols handed down across the generations to help raise his mind and soul to God. It is the sacred liturgy, the entryway between heaven and earth, which par excellence satisfies this need for man to approach the divine with his whole being so that he might worship God “in spirit and in truth.” (St. Jn. 4:23) Though their structures and rituals have developed in many different forms, the liturgies of the various ancient churches all unite in conveying an aura of grandeur, mysticism, and ultimately transcendence. These liturgies achieve this through some key elements: proportional, contemplative, and otherworldly architecture, decorations (iconography, mosaics, statues), and music (chant, polyphony), fragrant incense, elegant vestments, majestic processions, elevated theological language, formal gestures, and worship facing liturgical East.