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Sept. 16, 2001 (Elevation of the Cross Sunday)

Fr. Alexander Veronis - Annunciation Church, Lancaster, PA

(Delivered several days after the September 11 terroristic attack on the World Trade Center Twin Towers in NY and the Pentagon in Washington, DC)

Our beloved nation fell into a state of shock on September 11 when terrorists struck the World Trade Center Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. We are still in disbelief that such an invasion could happen in America.

The pain and grief of those who lost husbands, wives, children, parents, relatives, friends pervade countless homes and hearts. At the same time the heroism of firefighters, police officers, health workers, paramedics, blood donors, taxi drivers, volunteers and so many others makes us proud of our fellow Americans.

In the midst of horrific evil, goodness and love have risen to the surface. Prayers have increased. Acts of charity abound. People have turned to God. Patriotism in the best sense of the word has spread throughout the country. Americans of all stripes and colors and creeds have united to say: WE STAND TOGETHER FOR EACH OTHER. WE OPPOSE THIS EVIL THAT HAS STRUCK OUR BELOVED COUNTRY.

We Christians have still a higher reason to remain positive and hopeful. We have the CROSS OF JESUS CHRIST to strengthen and encourage us. To some the cross may be folly, foolishness, a stumbling block as the Apostle Paul writes, but to us THE CROSS REPRESENTS THE POWER OF GOD WORKING IN OUR LIVES.

It is in weakness that God's power manifests itself. The evil of this world that nailed Christ to the cross won a small battle but lost the war. The Ruler of this world thought that he snuffed out Christ's influence by crucifying him. He was totally wrong. Totally deceived. By raising Jesus from the dead on the third day, God showed that his message of love in Christ conquered hate, evil and death. The spiritual realm of the Devil met its superior in Jesus Christ. Henceforth all who live in Christ and follow him as disciples discover the real source of power in this world: GOD'S INVINCIBLE LOVE.

The Apostle Paul said it well for all time: "Who shall Separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or peril or sword? ... I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor powers nor things present nor things to come ... shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus Our Lord " (Romans 8.35 ff)

The terrorists against America, whatever their grievances are, chose an evil and murderous way to express themselves. Killing innocent people is condemned by the both the Bible and the Koran. It is morally wrong and gains no sympathy. It merely creates temporary terror. If anything the terrorists have mobilized and united America and the international community to oppose whatever message they are trying to send. Their attack has been called AN ATTACK AGAINST CIVILIZATION, FREEDOM, AND DEMOCRACY. They are the very values Americans have struggled and won to preserve over 200 years. Values that have served us well and which have allowed self‑expression, self-confidence, personal and communal growth, opportunity, individual liberty and tolerance for diversity to flourish.

Significant to all faith believers, America has given people the freedom to express their religious convictions without intimidation and persecution. We Orthodox Christians represent a relatively small minority in the USA, yet we are and have been free to express our spirituality in ways that remain most meaningful and precious to us...even in an area like Lancaster County that is populated predominantly by Anabaptists and Evangelical Protestants. We make no judgment upon those faith traditions, different as they are from our own. All of us, plus Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and mainstream Protestants co‑exist with mutual respect for each other's religious rights.

The terrorists would most certainly not tolerate such diversity if their fanatical brand of religious intolerance became the dominant one in our midst. So we must view their worldview of life and faith as diametrically opposed to our democratic civilization where individual liberties are respected.

For this reason America needs to become united and show all terrorists that we will do whatever is necessary to preserve our freedoms.

As Orthodox Christians and Americans, let us not blame groups of people or even another religion for what has befallen us. It is simplistic and untrue to say that the Jews or the Arabs or the Moslems are to blame. When Timothy McVeigh bombed the government building in Oklahoma City, we didn't say Christians were to blame because he came from a Christian background. He and his warped violent way of expressing his views were to blame.

Terrorists are individuals or small cells of people with fanatical views. They become brainwashed by a few leaders. Against such individuals and groups we can express our wrath and firm opposition. Our government has pledged itself to that course of action and Americans will hopefully support it with a measured and rational response.

At the same time, let us pray for divine guidance. Let us pray for our enemies. Let us not return hate for hate, but with the Prophet Amos let us say: "LET JUSTICE ROLL DOWN LIKE WATERS, AND RIGHTEOUSNESS LIKE AN EVERFLOWING STREAM." (5:24)

The CROSS assures us that God's love will prevail in the end. Evil may have its day, but it will be short. Morning is coming and God will have the final word, the final victory, and his way is the way we need to follow.

LET US PRAY: In our time of distress, 0 Lord, we remember the words of the Psalmist: "GOD IS OUR REFUGE AND STRENGTH, A VERY PRESENT HELP IN TROUBLE." (Psalms 46:1) Grant us wisdom, grace and divine light at this critical time.

Receive mercifully those who met sudden death this week.
Comfort the grieving.
Heal the wounded.
Bless those who hastened to help people in distress.
Teach us how to pray for our leaders, our nation...and for our enemies.
Unite us as we strive to preserve our God‑given freedoms, our country, our homes and our faith.
In the name of him who died to make us free we pray, even Jesus Christ Our Lord. AMEN.

.......................

LET US SING TOGETHER:

"God Bless America"

(Interestingly this hymn, one of America's most beloved, was written by a Jewish immigrant from Russia, whose family migrated to America for religious freedom and opportunity!)

GOD BLESS AMERICA,
LAND THAT I LOVE.
STAND BESIDE HER,
AND GUIDE HER,
THROUGH THE NIGHT
WITH THE LIGHT FROM ABOVE,
FROM THE MOUNTAINS,
TO THE PRAIRIES,
TO THE OCEANS,
WHITE WITH FOAM...

GOD BLESS AMERICA
MY HOME SWEET HOME (2)