From the pulpit of St Mark's Pro-Cathedral in Alexandria, the archbishop of Canterbury praised the transforming and redeeming qualities of acceptance, diversity and stillness. Though Rowan Williams' words on Sunday night were aimed at a local congregation, who followed his ad-lib sermon with the aid of a valiant translator, they could well have been for the benefit of the Anglican primates, nestled among the Egyptians, conspicuous in their purple shirts and concerned about the week that lay before them.
In 1979, when the archbishop of Canterbury Donald Coggan invited senior Anglican clerics from around the world to the cathedral city of Ely, Cambridgeshire, it was so they could engage in "leisurely thought, prayer and deep consultation".
Three decades on, in a more glamorous setting, the primates of the Anglican Communion have gathered in Alexandria, home to fables, legends and ancient wonders, to discuss the impact of the sexuality debate on their provinces.
It will be the first time that those present at last year's Lambeth conference meet those who boycotted it. The second group includes the militant evangelical Peter Akinola, the archbishop of Nigeria.
Few of the primates were willing to talk about their hopes and expectations for the week, however those prepared to break their silence were cautiously optimistic.
The archbishop of Brisbane, the Most Rev Phillip Aspinall, said divergent opinions did not weaken the Communion.
"Everyone has their differences or conflicting viewpoints, it's very important that they're in the mix otherwise the church is poorer.
"A number of issues that were on the agenda at Lambeth are here. There are some voices that were not at Lambeth, but it's not a question of starting again."
He conceded that while some of the delegates felt the emphasis on sexuality undermined their efforts in less controversial areas, there were primates who believed these issues went to the heart of the understanding and practice of the Christian faith.
"Even people who are at odds are good friends. These bonds are much stronger than what divides us. There's nothing wrong with the temperature rising, as long as it's done with courtesy and respect."
The primates will also discuss Christian responses to the financial crisis and recommendations to ban same-sex blessings, cross-border interventions and the ordination of gay and lesbian people, three issues that have fractured the Anglican Communion and led conservative evangelicals to form parallel networks.
The conservative primates would like to see an endorsement for their latest initiative – a new province designed to hold dioceses that have broken away from the US Episcopal Church. Although the subject is not formally on the agenda, it will not be far from people's minds.
Leading the closed sessions at the Helnan Palestine Hotel, a gated citadel oblivious to the chaos of daily Alexandrian life, is Williams who, as an academic, will be aware of the city's ties to Christian brinkmanship and strife.
Constantine the Great took an ambivalent stance when faced with believers who were divided over opinion and practice. He had ideas, but refused to impose solutions and, in his attempt to placate both sides, he only succeeded in encouraging further fragmentation.
During the sermon Williams referenced events of the fourth century, telling the congregation about people who could "not stretch their souls" to admit that Jesus was God. They believed something different and history says they departed, in great numbers, to be led by an Egyptian priest called Arius, only to be declared heretics and exiled from the church.
The reference to Constantine was probably a coincidence, but it was one that would not have gone unnoticed by the primates.
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