Pastoral Reflections of His Eminence Metropolitan Anthony
September 13, 2001
Eve of the Feast of the Holy Cross
To All the Clergy and Faithful of the Diocese of San Francisco:
On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, the tranquility of our nation was shattered by a series of devastating terrorist attacks. We approach the celebration of the Feast of the Holy Cross still struggling to come to grips with the dreadful scope of this tragedy. Yet I am convinced that the only possible response which the Church can offer to the many disturbing questions raised by this incident is the Cross itself, for it is only in the Cross that the mystery of suffering and evil are resolved and transformed within the mystery of the Resurrection.
In the Cross of Christ, we are confronted with suffering in all its depth of horror, epitomized in our Lord's anguished cry, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" Tuesday's traumatic events were experienced by many as a kind of eclipse of the divine presence, an apparent suspension of God's loving activity in the world. To use an expression of Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, the world at that moment ceased to be "God-colored," as our eyes filled with scenes of unimaginable terror, pain, and death. In the face of such horrific events, we find ourselves groping for answers, for some explanation of how such a tragedy could have occurred.
Yet in the Cross we discover a God who suffers with us and for us, and who thus makes our suffering the very context for an event of communion with Himself. As one of the hymns of Holy Friday states, God enters into the human condition by becoming "the One who suffers and co-suffers with humanity" (Fourth Antiphon, Orthros of Holy Friday).
In the Cross we also encounter the mystery of evil, of creation's rebellion against the Creator. On the Cross, evil bursts forth in all its malice, all its violence, all its life-annihilating force. But evil is defeated and emptied of its power, not by virtue of superior force, but rather through the divine kenosis, though a free outpouring of love whereby Christ "empties Himself" (Phil 2:7) on behalf of suffering humanity. In light of Tuesday's attacks, there are some who have begun to clamor for vengeance, for retribution, for a justice which exacts "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." As a nation, however, we must take care not to stage a hasty show of force in a rash attempt to reassert our perceived dominance in the global arena. Let us remember the words of the Lord: "Vengeance is mine; I will repay" (Rom. 12:19). The strength of our nation lies not in the superiority of armaments or raw military might. Our true strength was rather demonstrated on Tuesday by those who, heedless of their own safety, plunged into the inferno to rescue their fellow human beings. The strength of our nation lies in those who give blood, volunteer in hospitals, aid those who are wounded and comfort those who mourn. The Cross teaches us that it is through acts of love and selflessness that the power of evil is overcome; as St. Paul writes, we must "overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:21).
Finally, in the Cross we come face to face with the mystery and power of the Resurrection. Formerly an instrument of suffering and death, the Cross has been transformed into a symbol of triumph and a pledge of a new age in which "there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor sighing, and no more pain, for the former things have all passed away" (Rev. 21:4). In the Orthodox Church, the Cross is never separated or considered apart from the Resurrection; this is why in the Divine Liturgy of the Feast of the Holy Cross, we sing at the Trisagion hymn, "We venerate your Cross, O Christ, and we glorify your Holy Resurrection." Moreover, the Cross with its four branches prefigures that future era in which every tribe and nation shall be gathered together from the four ends of the earth into the Kingdom of God (cf. Mt. 24:31), wherein all human enmity shall cease and peace shall reign forever. As one of the hymns of the Vespers states, "through the Cross Christ has united in one that which was formerly divided."
Therefore, my beloved, "let us embrace the Cross in faith with hearts and lips" (kekragarion of the Holy Cross) as support for our weakness, healing for our wounds, and comfort for our sorrow. Let us take tomorrow's period of fasting as a day of solemn remembrance and prayer for all those who have been affected by this catastrophe, for those who have been wounded or lost loved ones, and for the souls of those who have perished. Let us rally around the Cross as a standard of hope, confident that the power of good is greater than that of evil, that the power of love is stronger than that of hate, and that the power of the Resurrection has vanquished and shall vanquish all the powers of fear, of division, and of death.
+Metropolitan Anthony of the Dardanelles
Bishop of San Francisco