It is When We Are Weak That We Are Made Strong
By Fr. Andrew Demotses
St. Vasilios Greek Orthodox Church
Peabody, MA 01960
All of us have been shaken to the core by the terrible events that have unfolded before our eyes this week, and which have taken a fiercesome toll of human life, and have inflicted unimaginable suffering on innocent victims and their families alike. As I thought about all these events, I was struck by the fact that they have deep religious lessons to teach us.
When something as painful as this occurs, it seems to me that at least one of its results is the fostering of a greater and more sensitized sense of our dependency on God than is usually encountered in our country. And this is in some ways natural because the enviable level of material well-being and the technological advances of our great land are, in some respects, a spiritual liability in that they blind us to our utter weakness in the face of events such as these. Both the prosperity and the technology we enjoy are indeed great blessings in our lives, but they nonetheless give us a sense of empowerment and drive us to triumphant feeling of self-reliance, self-sufficiency, and independence-a sense that we are somehow both strong and invulnerable. And this illusion of strength, for indeed it is an illusion and only that, stands as a hindrance to the proper relationship with God that each of us as Christians should actively be seeking in our lives.
God who alone judges the great events of history through the prism of eternity acts according to what is most expedient for our salvation. Sometimes this means that our prayers are not answered in the way we would have wanted or expected. At other times, we are allowed to experience various trials and difficulties which compel us to recognize and acknowledge our all too human weakness, and thus oblige us to ask for the help and support of His almighty power. Many of us have experienced a spiritual reawakening precisely when we found ourselves immersed in the crucible of pain and suffering. Human strength, exposed for what it is, evaporates at times like this; in this dark region of human experience not unlike what we are enduring these very days, we are compelled to reach out to God in our suffering, and we behold that "out of our weakness we begin to be made strong."
These terrible events, quite apart from the evil they represent, also serve to strip away our illusion of self-sufficiency and reveal to us our fragility and need for God. By this I don't mean to imply that unspeakable acts such as these have any nobility; rather, I am simply pointing out that they stir us from our natural complacency and sensitize us to the deeper truths that we must inevitably confront, truths that do not lead themselves to resolution either with the computer or the check book.
If we were but more attentive, we would soon discover that the normal conditions of everyday life offer many opportunities for us to recognize our weaknesses, and to acknowledge our dependence upon God. As we advance in years, for example, and begin to experience the physical weakness that inevitably result, we suddenly confront how fragile our mortal body truly is, in spite of our culture with its fixation on youthfulness and longevity. But we must acknowledge that it is most often times of crises such as these which most clearly expose our weaknesses, and inspire the kind of fervent prayer answered literally by miracles.
As I left my office on that bitter Tuesday afternoon to go home, I was deeply troubled and melancholy. But as I drove up Lowell Street, I saw a ray of hope and light in the dark despair of the day's events-a line two blocks long of people waiting to donate blood. When I arrived at home and saw for the first time the terrible television images, I also saw the mayor of New York thanking large numbers of doctors and nurses who had called city offices and offered to drive hundreds of miles to help in the care of the wounded. I heard the mayor say-thank you but we have already received all the help we can possible use for the moment. And I thought-Is all this not God's mercy at work through us?
My brothers and sisters, God is the vine, and we are only the branches. He is the Father, and we are the children; He is the physician and we are the patients in the need of healing. This is the kind of relationship we must cultivate, acknowledging our weakness and insignificance, and thereby allowing God to "over-take" us with His power, so that the delusions by which we have lived might be swept away, and in their place, God can assume His rightful place in our lives.
And there is another equally important lesson to be learned, but in order to do so we must go to the hardest place of all. We must imagine the unimaginable-the thousands of families who parted that morning without suspecting that they would never see each other again. Fathers who left and would never return. Parents who saw beloved children leave for work without realizing that it would be the final farewell. Lost brothers, sisters, dearest friends, colleagues, and fiancés, all suddenly, and irretrievably lost.
Does this not teach us how precious we are to one another? Does anyone doubt that if we were to take this lesson to heart we would speak to each other with greater tenderness and affection? Does anyone doubt that our hugs would be longer, and our hearts more forgiving? No, as we approach and stare into the abyss, we cannot help but cling more closely to each other.
This brings us to our final point as we ponder and consider the nature of our suffering on the one hand, and our dependence on God on the other. It is oftentimes an irony that our greatest nobility as human beings is demonstrated in times such as these, times of great adversity and tribulation. It is precisely then that great acts of courage, love and compassion are performed by the most ordinary of people. It is precisely then that those who have not been directly and immediately touched by the tragedy of the moment can respond with the profoundest generosity of spirit to those of their brothers and sisters who find themselves in the midst and great suffering as one would expect, but also respond in like way to all those who are close to them.
Were we to do this, we would invest this great sacrifice with the deepest possible substance and meaning. We would insure that not one of our brethren had died in vain- because we would have learned from them to make of our world a better place-a place where love is stronger, where life is gentler, and where the Kingdom of God is more truly present.
Rev. Andrew Demotses
St. Vasilios Greek Orthodox Church
Peabody, MA 01960