The tragic reality of our human existence is that we live in a spiritually fallen world that has repeatedly endured acts of terrorism since the dawn of time. As early as chapter 4 in the book of Genesis we read that Cain killed his brother Abel. The Crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ can be viewed as an act of terrorism since it involved great violence and since one of its motivations was to frighten people into abandoning their devotion to Christ. The perpetrators of our Lord’s Crucifixion envied His popularity and sought to intimidate and destroy those associated with the Way.
As Orthodox Christians, we have endured 300 years of pagan persecutions under the Roman Empire; wars with Persia; Islamic invasions into North Africa, Asia Minor and Europe; Crusades; 400 years of Ottoman domination; 75 years of Communist oppression; and other sporadic acts of terror inflicted against devout and innocent people. On September 17th we annually relive the horror experienced by St. Sophia and her daughters Faith, Hope, and Love who were brutally murdered one at a time by their pagan oppressors.
Our sense of sadness towards all of these past atrocities is intensified by the recent diabolical attack upon innocent people in New York and Washington D.C. Every one of these past horrific events, however, has proven to provide a seedbed of renewed faith, spiritual vitality, increased love for one’s brothers and sisters, and personal repentance for those who desire these great gifts from above. As we continuously pray for those who were killed and injured, as we labor together to rebuild all that has been destroyed, let us realize that we have an opportunity and a responsibility to transform, by the grace of God, this great tragedy into a spiritual victory for all of humanity. How can this be done and what are the spiritual blessings available to us?
First, we have already seen a manifestation of love and selflessness that can only come from the grace and power of our Lord. Rescue workers have labored tirelessly in search of survivors, total strangers have banded together in order to pray and comfort one another, long lines have formed at blood banks around the country, and countless millions of dollars have already been raised in order to support those affected by this tragedy. I pray that we will sustain this spirit of selflessness long after September 11th.
We have also seen the setting aside of petty quarrels and disagreements that have divided us in the past. This is happening within our families, parishes, and within the U.S. government. We have a great opportunity to perpetuate this spirit of forgiveness and tolerance. Moreover, we have an opportunity to reprioritize our values and goals. This tragedy has shown us that the materialistic priorities emphasized by our secularized culture are fleeting and illusory. May we continuously place our hope in God and trust in His will as revealed throughout the 2000-year history of His Church.
It is also essential that we cultivate and intensify the philanthropic spirit that radiates from within us during this time of crisis. This love for our fellow brothers and sisters can be expressed through financial giving, but also through a willingness to embrace and befriend those who are different from us. This requires a great deal of empathy as we make a conscious effort to immerse ourselves into the thoughts and feelings of others. When we feel their pain, when we begin to see the world as they do, then we truly become philanthropic – loving and compassionate towards others. This philanthropy should become so powerful that we will also be willing to provide for the physical needs of those Afghanis whose lives have been ravaged by prolonged wars within their borders and by an oppressive regime. As a nation that consumes approximately 30% of the world’s resources, we should become more willing to share our tremendous resources with those living in abject poverty throughout the world.
This great tragedy should also inspire all of us to embrace the spirit of repentance that is mentioned so many times in the prayer services of our Church. We have realized once again that nobody knows when their earthly life will end. As Orthodox Christians, we are urged to live a life of spiritual vigilance whereby we are always prepared to present ourselves at the Final Judgment. This is an opportunity for all of us to set aside the frivolous and harmful cares of this life and recommit ourselves to Christ and His will.
As we continue to mourn the loss of so many of our brothers and sisters, and as we pray and work together to support those who are suffering unspeakable grief, let us resolve within ourselves to allow the grace of God to transform this tragedy into a triumph of God’s grace and love over the powers of evil. We are already seeing the power of God’s love in many tangible ways. Let us follow the example of the saints and martyrs of our Faith who suffered immeasurably, but who also allowed our Lord to transform these struggles into powerful manifestations of love, forgiveness, philanthropy, and repentance.
May the Cross that we endure today manifest the glorious power of our Lord’s Resurrection as we strive to grow into His holy image and likeness. Amen.