In God We Trust
Father Anthony Savas
Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Dallas, TX
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Good Morning. Last night at Great Vespers, I sort of gave a homework assignment to the people that were in attendance. I asked them to read the Gospel passage that was read today in the Divine Liturgy. I asked them to meditate on that specific passage of Scripture because it is hauntingly relevant following the enormous tragedy that our nation suffered on Tuesday the 11th of September 2001. I feel that today’s Gospel passage bears repeating at this time, in order for the words to be fresh in our minds.
“When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, ‘Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man will also be ashamed when He comes to the glory of His Father with the holy angels.’ And He said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power” (Mark 8:34-9:1).
Today, since that fateful, Tuesday morning, many people in America are looking for answers. And I guarantee, as I stand at this pulpit today, that thousands of priests, pastors and ministers are grappling to find the answers to give you. They are looking for words to put in your pockets to make you feel better, to make you feel safe and at peace. As we were planning last Wednesday’s prayer service for the tragedy, I was reminded by a parishioner that, as I stated, “People are looking for answers, and they’ re looking to their churches for them.”
Well, I must confess from the onset, that I do not stand here today to give you answers for what happened in New York and Washington this past Tuesday. Nor am I here to fortify your patriotism. There are other avenues for that. I am not here to pin a red, white and blue pin to your lapel. I am not here to wrap a black band around your badge. I am not here to call for vengeance and revenge, for those things belong to the Lord. I am not here to ask you to forgive those responsible, because frankly, I don’t think you are ready for that yet. That will come with time.
No. I am not here to give answers. I am here only to remind you of the words of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ in today’s message, on the Sunday following the lifting up of Christ’s precious Cross: “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”
-On Tuesday morning, buildings tumbled, yet on Friday, the Cross of Christ was lifted up.
-On Tuesday, death and terror reigned, yet on Friday, death and life were presented as one mingled reality through the precious wood of the Cross.
-On Tuesday morning, lives were taken, yet life was eternally preserved, since this nation rediscovered God and found, once again the value of true faith. A country without prayer in schools asked you to get on bended knee and pray. A nation founded on religious expression and accountability to God asked you to return to those ideals - ideals that are far-removed today. A country with a gaping hole and an open wound asked you to stop the bleeding by speaking to your God. Petitioning. Pleading. Sobbing.
As citizens of this city, this nation, this world - if only for a few days, we have learned to, as the Gospel says, “DENY OURSELVES.” We have poured out empathy for our suffering brothers and sisters. We have given of ourselves - of our tears, our cash, our blood, our platelets. We have reached into our depths and wept for faceless souls, childless parents, and parentless children.
We’ve learned to “PICK UP OUR CROSS.” Not our own insignificant crosses of personal infirmity and strife, or crosses of broken relationships or habitual weakness, but we’ve learned to bear our Lord’s Cross:
-The Cross of unjust suffering & waste.
-The Cross of innocent bloodshed.
-The Cross of terror and cowardice.
-The Cross that attempted to bring the world to its knees in submission, but rather finds us there - on our knees - in prayer and thanksgiving.
We learned to “FOLLOW HIM.” We learned to follow the Lord!
We learned not to follow hopes of national security and strong borders.
We learned not to follow reliance on seemingly endless resources.
Not to follow values of founding national principals, popular opinion or political rhetoric. We learned to follow God. We learned to follow our collective gut - because our gut tends to follow the righteous path that leads us to God. This makes sense to me, since I believe, I must believe, that the good is instinctive, while evil requires a little thought.
In the last few days, we were forced to learn that we must follow God, not each other - Forced into this lesson by items, sciences and methods we could never think of: like destructive creativity with jet fuel, passenger jets and office buildings; and the exploitation of engineering; and the perversion of calculation and planning; and diabolical thought at its morbid best.
In the second chapter of John’s Gospel, Christ spoke of a Temple destroyed then built back up in three days. And those listening to Him - those limited to the temporal and locked in the literal - what did they see in His illustration?
They saw mountains of rubble.
They saw broken concrete & twisted steel.
They saw shattered form & loss of function.
They saw firefighters running into the Temple, while the frightened & panicked ran out.
They saw all those years of work destroyed – all that planning, financing, developing, designing, constructing, producing - Destroyed!
They saw their cultural icon go up in smoke.
Yet the promise to raise the Temple came from the mouth of Christ Himself. But His message for that day, and my message for this day has nothing to do with raising buildings with brick, mortar, concrete, glass and steel - but rather the raising of the Body, the sharing of the Resurrection, the promise of comfort and peace.
Not the kind of peace that comes from “openin’ up a can of American Whoop-ass,” but the kind of peace that can only come from Christ - Born of a Virgin, Crucified like a thief, and reigning as King. This is the God I Serve. This is the God I trust - The God you consume through the Eucharist, the God we follow, and the God the universe fears.
You know, the US Government has said that we’re going to re-build. The man on the street says that although we have suffered much, America will go on, just as we always have. And I hope that this is not true. Now that our “smoke screen” of invincibility has cleared; and our weaknesses are exposed; and our humility is in check; I pray that we don’t, or rather can’t go back to “business as usual.”
I pray that this blank spot in our nation’s skyline can become cathartic.
I pray that we are no longer a nation that glorifies violence.
I pray that we are no longer a nation that desensitizes our youth with the video games they play and the movies they watch.
I hope Hollywood will stop producing blockbuster explosions and fireballs in the “action thrillers” that the studios crank out.
“It looked like a movie,” people screamed on the news as they described the buildings explode then cascade to the ground. Of course! That’s because those are the movies we crave! “Collateral Damage,” the new movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger had its release postponed this weekend. Why? Because it’s a movie about a New York fireman, who watches terrorists murder his family, and saves a big, burning building from destruction. How much more dreadful indeed is reality than fiction! In today’s Gospel reading, the Lord asks, “What will a man give in exchange for his soul?” In today’s society, unfortunately, man exchanges his soul for very little in return.
Good people, I stand here today without answers - no answers, only reminders. Reminders, such as in today’s Gospel reading: that although God loves and cherishes us, He can also be ashamed of us, as an “adulterous and sinful generation.” He was ashamed of the Children of Israel, so He allowed them to fall prey to the Assyrians (II Kings 17:1-23). But I also remind you, that while He may be ashamed of our transgressions,
He gave us Christ.
He gave us the Church.
He gave us the Holy Mysteries.
He gave us life.
And rising from the ashes of destruction, He continues to give us life.
I have no answers, but I have hope - Hope in a nation that now realizes it’s hated. But that’s OK, because Christ was also hated by the envious and misdirected.
I have hope for you, that the prayers and petitions of the Church have a renewed sense of meaning. For all Orthodox Americans, praying for “Peace in the world…those who travel by land, sea and air…for the sick and the suffering…for captives and their salvation…for peaceful times”…it’s as if we’ve never heard such prayers before. I bet these petitions mean more to you now than they ever have.
I have hope in a God, our God, who will lift us up, wipe our tears, motivate us to improve airport security, and save our souls.
In closing, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, I want to read to you a passage from the 80th Psalm. It should sound familiar for two reasons; the first reason is because the bishop blesses his congregation with parts of the first two verses in a Hierarchal Divine Liturgy. The second reason this passage should sound familiar, is because we’re now living through the last four verses.
“Return, we beseech You, O God of hosts; Look down from heaven and see, And visit this vine, And vineyard which Your right hand has planted, And the branch that You made strong for Yourself. It is burned with fire, it is cut down; They perish at the rebuke of Your countenance. Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand, Upon the son of man whom You made strong for Yourself. Then we will not turn back from You; Receive us, and we will call upon Your name. Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; Cause Your face to shine, And we shall be saved” (Psalm 80: 14-19)!
With Love in Christ,