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Primates Meeting begins with celebration in Egypt

Monday 2nd February 2009

The first day of the Primates Meeting in Alexandria has ended with the dedication of St. Mark's pro-Cathedral and the installation of new Dean, the Very Revd. Samy Fawzy Shehata.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, assisted by Dean Samy who translated the sermon in Arabic, spoke of the importance of recognising God's presence in St Mark's.

"As we dedicate this cathedral we ought to be praying that this is a place where Jesus is alive. When we step into this church and experience Jesus' life of prayer, it changes the way we see things.

The Archbishop also spoke of the importance of recognizing the holiness of prayer in others.

"The person praying next to me is a person in whom Jesus is praying....try to see the force of energy of Jesus' life in them. When I diminish them, I am in danger of destroying Jesus' voice in them."

President Bishop Mouneer Hanna Anis, is hosting the primates for their five-day meeting.

The conference began yesterday with a quiet morning led by the Archbishop of Canterbury before an introductory session. Today the conference continues with a session entitled 'What impact has the current situation had on your province's Mission priorities' and a session on the Covenant including 'A Lambeth Commentary – The Reflections on the Saint Andrew's Draft for an Anglican Covenant.' In the evening there will be discussion on Zimbabwe.

The provinces of Central Africa, Melanesia and the West Indies are represented by senior clergy because their primacies are vacant. The moderators of the churches of Pakistan and South India are unable to attend the meeting, while the primate of the Philippines was not granted a visa to travel.

The full text of the sermon can be found below:

Many years ago I lived in a town where there was a very active church indeed. Outside this church was an enormous notice board, it must have been about six feet square. It seemed that every single moment of the week was taken up by activity, but I've no doubt that it was a very good church and a very loving and prayerful parish.

And yet that notice board used to worry me and it still does. It seems to me that it speaks of an idea of the church which supposes that the church is about human beings doing things. When you looked at that church you would have thought what a lot of things they do here, but I am still wondering if anybody ever asked does god do things here? There seemed to be just a slight risk that there was hardly any room in the week for god to find his way in among all these activities.

If we turn to the reading that we heard from Saint Paul a moment ago, we heard these words - don't you know that you yourselves are god's temple and that god's spirit lives in you. What is happening in the life of a Christian is the Holy Spirit, before anything else, before the busyness, the action, the witness, the talking, what is going on is the action of god's spirit.

But what is it that the Holy Spirit does? One of the great theologians of Alexandria in the early centuries answered that question. Origin, writing at the beginning of the third century commenting on Saint Paul's words had this to say

The Holy Spirit makes us call Jesus, Lord and God, Father.

So the action of the Holy Spirit is bringing alive in us the prayer of Jesus Christ. So if we point to another Christian and ask what is going on there, the answer is, the Holy Spirit is praying the prayer of Jesus. Here, and here and here is a place where Jesus is praying. In each place, in each person he prays in a slightly different voice and yet it is the one prayer of the son of god to the eternal father. And so when we come together to pray it is Jesus who prays here. The body of Christ on earth prays to the father in the Holy Spirit.

And above all, when we meet to celebrate the Holy Communion, Jesus prays his prayer in us through the Holy Spirit.

When we share the bread and the wine of Holy Communion, that is a sign of the prayer of Jesus living in us because the bread and wine are the signs of the life of Jesus living in us.

So when we look at a building like this where Christians meet, what should we think? We should think this is a place where Jesus prays. And if we had a notice board outside the church, perhaps it ought to read, "Monday to Monday, Activities, Jesus praying." And on that foundation, every other activity takes place.

So as we dedicate this wonderful building to God's glory, and pray for the ministry to be exercised here, we ought to be praying that this is a place which will be known as a place where Jesus is alive. Where because people called Jesus Lord, God is acknowledged as father. This is a place where human beings are brought into the deepest intimacy with God. And when you come through that door of this cathedral, perhaps it should not be with the thought what must I do, first with the thought, what is Jesus doing here, and how do I become a part of it?

Perhaps we should come into this church as we step into a sea or a swimming pool. Here I step into the ocean of Jesus praying, Jesus alive, Jesus mediating with the father. Perhaps just as I learned to swim, I can be carried along by the depth of the prayer of Jesus. But the prayer of Jesus is eternal. It doesn't begin and end in a church. It is offered to the end of time in heaven. And it is real at every point in creation. So when we have stepped into this church and stepped into the depth of Jesus' life and love and prayer, it changes what we see when we go out through that door again.

We have spent a little time in here, in worship, listening to the prayer of Jesus trying to let it come into us. And we go out having listened to the word and celebrated the sacrament, we begin to hear something else in the world.  We begin to hear the words and the prayer of Jesus. We begin to see the love of Jesus around us. And we ask the same question we ask when we come through that door. How do I join in? How in the world around do I cast myself into the flood of action that is Jesus' life, and work with him in the world. Who knows whether we will make a success of it or not, and yet that prayer and that life goes on.

Saint Paul is very realistic about this. He knows that some of what we build will not be worth saving in God's eyes. Some of it is in gold and silver, and some of it is in hay and straw. And yet, God's work goes on and God's foundation is never destroyed. And if we are faithful to our willingness to join in the prayer of Jesus and the work of God, God will be faithful to us. Our work may or may not be successful, and yet God remains faithful.

And so as we turn to one another, it also changes how we see each other. The person sitting next to me, praying next to me is someone in whom Jesus is praying. I try to listen to the voice of Jesus at prayer in them. I try to see the force and energy of Jesus' life in them. And when I try to dismiss them or make little of them, when I speak harshly to them or about them, I'm in danger of destroying that place - which is a place where Jesus is. When a congregation of God's people is truly listening to one another, listening for the voice of Jesus' prayer in a neighbour then indeed people looking at that assembly of believers will say "Jesus is praying there."

So my hope and my prayer for this church and this congregation is this: May it be a place about which people say, "Jesus is alive there." May it be a place where human beings are coming alive because Jesus is alive. May it be a place where people are learning how to pray because they are listening to Jesus praying in his body. And may the notice board outside never be too crowded. I know Sammy, you are wont to fill this church with good activity for the sake of God. But I know too, that you will want to leave space for God to work Himself and for God to be honoured. And so I pray for you, that you may know Jesus praying in your heart. And that as he prays in you he may draw others to his service and love. And then the true foundation will be laid, God's temple will be honoured, God's spirit will be at work. Jesus will be proclaimed as Lord and God will be proclaimed as Father.

In the name of God, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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