Sunday after the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
(First Sunday After the Attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentegon)
September 16, 2001
By Reverend George Orfanakos, Pastor
Greek Orthodox Church of Saint George
Clifton, New Jersey

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
Christ is in our Midst! He is and shall always be!

There is no doubt in my mind this morning that all of us here have been affected by the attack this past week upon the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Truly this experience has been, at least for me, life changing. For those Americans who fought bravely in past conflicts, the images that have been displayed on our television sets, have conjured up all too vivid memories that had hoped would never be realized again. Likewise, many citizens not only in the Tri-State area, but also throughout this country of ours, have been seriously traumatized by the events that have transpired over the course of the past few days. As Orthodox Christians, and as Americans, we too mourn the death of the innocent men, women and children who have become as Mayor Guiliaini said yesterday, "the first casualties of war."

As we come here to Church this morning, we are here I hope as a community of faith united not only by our presence and in our creed, but also through our prayer. Today, we ask our Heavenly Father to remember in His Holy and Heavenly Kingdom all of those innocent people who perished in these attacks. Likewise, we beseech our God to send His Grace from on High and to guide and bless our President and our Civil authorities and leaders enabling them to respond to this attack in a way that will not be merely for revenge and out of hate, but rather out of concern to prevent this type of atrocity from occurring again.

As I think about the events that have transpired, I bear witness to something quite magnificent. During this time of National Tragedy, it appears that we have not been pulled apart, but rather united in some special way. Even though we are a Country of diverse ethnicity, and are most certainly a mosaic of different creed, together we mourn. Together, we grieve. Together, we suffer. Some how and in some way, this tragedy has brought us closer together as a Country. We have not only a new sense of pride in this free land, but a new found respect for this democracy and most importantly, each other. This is really very important for me. Because it seems that for sometime now secular humanism has tried to destroy the fabric our society. Over time, there had existed many factions and forces that had tried to silence the voice of prayer in society, and break this integral bond between man and God. They had attempted to minimize spirituality.

Over the course of these past few days however, I firmly believe and confess that this devastating attack has now done that which we as a Church and nation were unable to do. It has brought prayer back into our Public Schools, into the Office place and in our homes. It has restored our faith in our Lord. It has apparently reconciled us with our Creator. We have turned to Him for help, compassion and guidance, and therefore I believe today, that we finally firmly stand as truly one Nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. The stories which I heard this past week were so inspiring and uplifting that many times they moved me to tears.

President Bush in his address at the National Cathedral on the Day of Prayer and Remembrance tried to personalize and give faces to the people who are still missing. He spoke about what he called were "eloquent acts of sacrifice." He told us about a man who could have saved himself, but rather stayed until the end by the side of his quadriplegic friend He mentioned a brother priest who died giving the last rites to a firefighter. And he shared the story of two office workers carrying a disabled stranger down sixty-eight floors to safety. It is these acts of selfless love and sacrifice that truly make me proud to be an American today. As an Orthodox Christian, I likewise am extremely humbled. Whether these people, and many others like them, knew Christ our not, were baptized or not, were Orthodox or not, they acted in a way the Lord would have wanted them too.

I recall a passage from the Gospel of Matthew, read on the Sunday of the Last Judgment, when Christ chastises those who believed, but did not do good deeds. Jesus says to them, "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me no food, thirsty and you gave me no drink. I was a stranger and you did not welcome me. I was naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me." But, when the people say that they never saw Him, and if they did they most certainly would have helped, Jesus responds, "As you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me." Why am I humbled? Because I wonder if I were in those towers, are on those planes on that day, how would I have reacted? What would I have done? What legacy would I have left? Even more so, if I survived it, would I be same? Would my life change in any way? What about you?

I think a poem that I recently read, and I would like to share with you this morning, describes for me the importance of living our lives each day as if it were our last, never taking for granted those things and people that our so dear to us. The poem reads:

"If Tomorrow Never Comes"

If I knew it would be the last time
that I'd see you fall asleep,
I would tuck you in more tightly
and pray the Lord, your soul to keep.

If I knew it would be the last time
that I see you walk out the door,
I would give you a hug and kiss
and call you back for one more.

If I knew it would be the last time
I'd hear your voice lifted up in praise,
I would video tape each action and word,
so I could play them back day after day

If I knew it would be the last time,
I could spare an extra minute or two
to stop and say "I love you,"
instead of assuming you would know I do.

If I knew it would be the last time
I would be there to share your day,
well I'm sure you'll have so many more,
so I can let just this one slip away.

For surely there's always tomorrow
to make up for an oversight,
and we always get a second chance
to make everything right.

There will I always be another day
to say our 'I love you's",
and certainly there's another chance
to say our "Anything I can do's?"

But just in case I might be wrong,
and today is all I get,
I'd like to say how much I love you
and I hope we never forget.

Tomorrow is not promised to anyone,
young or old alike,
And today may be the last chance
you get to hold your loved one tight.

So if you're waiting for tomorrow,
why not do it today?
For if tomorrow never comes,
you'll surely regret the day,

That you didn't take that extra time
for a smile, a hug, or a kiss
and you were too busy to grant someone,
what turned out to be their one last wish

So hold your loved ones close today,
whisper in their ear,
Tell them how much you love them
and that you'll always hold them dear,
Take time to say 'I'm sorry," 'please forgive me,"
"thank you' or 'it's okay'

And if tomorrow never comes,
you'll have no regrets about today.

Today I firmly believe that we must prepare ourselves and become like soldiers -ready for battle. We have heard time and again, that this is not over. That this is just the beginning. We are told with certainty that there will be a response. I know this creates great fear in all of us. It is my prayer today that the Peace of Christ will abide with you all on this day, and throughout this impending ordeal. It is my hope that as our Nation prepares itself for battle, that we too might ready ourselves for the challenges that lie ahead. My brothers and sisters in the Lord, whatever happens to you, to your family, to this Community, to this City, to this Nation, to our World, let nothing destroy your relationship with our Father in heaven. Nothing, no matter what. Make peace with each other. Appreciate the tender moments that you share with your spouse, family, loved ones and neighbors. Forgive one another.

It is my hope that just as the Cross is seen in the fight of the Resurrection, that this experience of death and destruction might be seen as an opportunity to spring forth new fife. During this days, fight candies, pray fervently and attend Church faithfully each Sunday. As I close, I invite each and every one of you to go home and copy a passage from scripture and read it each day in your prayers, Romans chapter 8 verses 35-39. As we think about the ordeal we have just been through, and as we focus upon the days that lie ahead, Saint Paul tells us frankly, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, Will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

May the Eternal Peace and Love of Christ that surpasses all understanding, abide within you, your families and in the hearts of our President and our Civil authorities always. May our heavenly Father bless our Nation and give us the wisdom to respond to this disaster in an appropriate way. Most importantly, may His Mercy and Compassion penetrate and transform the hearts of those who harbor hatred and who now hold the world hostage, And may His Love-shine through us all, we stand before. His approachable glory. May He Bless you, and May God Bless America.