National Tragedy of September 11th

September 14, 2001

"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
His mercies never come to an end.
They are new every morning;
Great is Thy faithfulness.
The Lord is my portion, says my soul,
Therefore I will hope in Him."
-- Lamentations 3.22-24

Dear beloved faithful,

The world went dark on Tuesday.

It did not start out that way. Indeed, the day dawned bright and joyful. A number of us celebrated Divine Liturgy to begin the first academic year of the St. Sophia Orthodox Academy (the new Orthodox school established by the Cathedral and other area Orthodox Churches). I remember looking down with happiness upon the shining faces of the pre-school and kindergarten children - children who comprised the very first student body of the Academy.

How that day began full of brightness and promise. How that day quickly fell into night and sorrow.

Within an hour of that wonderful Liturgy with the children, our secretary shared with us the grave news. And for the rest of that day, I joined you - we all watched and listened together the heart-rending reports from New York and Washington and, close by us, a little place called Shanksville, Pennsylvania. We heard of the shocking horror, the immeasurable pain, and the cold numbing realization that all of this was an evil, calculated conspiracy, bent on extracting torment and terror.

What do we do in the face of such grief and evil? We pray, of course - and so we did just that. We announced over the media that a prayer service would be held at the Cathedral that evening. When the appointed hour came, Christ the Saviour Cathedral began to fill with those who simply wanted to pray, to listen to the words of God, to be in the comforting fellowship of the Holy Church. Our Cathedral faithful were there, but many, many others joined them. They came from the neighborhood. They came from the West End of Johnstown. They came from the city and its vicinity.

They all came because prayer was the right thing to do. Church was the right place to be in. God was the right Person to be with - as He always is.

Apparently, other people thought the same. On Wednesday, the very next day, the Johnstown Middle School called the Chancery, and asked us to come and speak to the children. They, too, had felt that great need for God in this time of sorrow. And so I went, joined by the Very Rev. Protopresbyter Frank Miloro, Chancellor of our Diocese. As we sat, waiting for the program to begin, we were touched deeply by the sight of 900 middle school students filing into the auditorium, just to hear us Orthodox clergy testify to the saving grace of the Lover of Mankind.

I write to you, faithful, of the children for good reason - because I think that in all this sorrow, they point the way.

In a time of grief and catastrophe, a child flees by innate impulse to the sheltering arms of his parent. And so in the face of this horrendous sorrow, we also should fly into prayerful communion with our Divine Father. "Shelter us, O Lord," we pray, "under the shadow of Thy wings."

Now it is time to follow the example of the child, and trust in God. Humbly. Obediently. Faithfully. With hope and trust and wonder.

For this reason, beloved, I charge you to pray. Pray for those who have been hurt. Pray for those who have lost their loved ones, and those who are waiting and searching for news of the missing. Pray for the valiant heroes - the pilots who tried to defend their planes ... the passengers who risked all by reporting the threat on their cell phones, and who wrested control away from the hijackers ... the police and the firemen, who willingly sacrificed their lives, so that others might live.

Pray for them, beloved, for if hundreds and thousands have perished, then a hundred times that number will be grieving. And Our Lord, after all, has told us to "mourn with those who mourn."

Pray also for our enemies, for that is certainly what these hijackers and conspirators are. Our Lord has told us to pray for them, even though this command flies in the face of all our anger and grief. So in obedient faith, let us pray that Lord may reveal to them His love and glory. These men are not madmen, as so many in our society would like to believe. They are sick with evil, it is true. But they are quite sane.

But they are also possessed. They are certainly of the Evil One, and of this you must be quite sure. They are willing participants in Satan's lust for destruction and despair. They are responsible, conscious conspirators who have become consensual puppets in the schemes of Hell's bitter envy. They are nothing more than marionettes of the darksome powers.

Pray that the Lord will "dispossess" them, and open their eyes to the truth of His glory and love.

And pray, beloved, for our nation. For our nation needs you - now more than ever - to do just that.

I love America. I grieve for her in this bitter season. She has assumed so long that the world of terror and retaliation lay safely across the sea. She thought so long that so much was sure and secure. And now, in the space of a few September hours, all that quaint assurance and assumption withered, like a bloom under the noonday sun.

It is very much like a child, discovering for the first time that the world can be a place of evil and pain.

America wonders why this happened. She thinks that it is because she is the center of commerce, the source of liberty, and the sole superpower of the twenty-first century. All that may be true, somewhat.

But it is not true enough. The fundamental reason why America was attacked by these terrorists is because these terrorists hate Jesus Christ. And America has given safe harbor to His Holy Church.

So pray for our nation and her people. Pray for the victims. And pray even for the sick vessels of evil.

Because there is such great and overwhelming need, we must prepare ourselves to pray, and to pray better. St. James writes that "the prayer of a righteous man is efficaciousness, and availeth much." We must take heed to ourselves so that our prayers will become more effective.

Accordingly, I charge you, beloved, to attend Divine Services more. Now, more than ever, you must not absent yourselves from Divine Liturgy, especially on Sunday. Now, more than ever, you must avail yourselves of the Holy Mysteries. If you have not received the Eucharist, then you must rectify that situation. Now, more than ever, you must rid your heart of unforgiveness and worldliness, because these passions seriously hamper your ability to pray.

And I encourage you also to enter into the service of mercy in this tragedy. Give of yourself any way you can. Give blood. Donate money generously. I ask you to richly give to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief, and to the IOCC - which is mobilizing now to give aid in the streets of New York and Washington.

I love America, and I cherish her fallen sons and daughters, and all her grieving children. I mourn and I pray.

As your Bishop, who stands in your behalf in the presence of our Sovereign, Risen Lord, I humbly invite you to enter this season of prayer with me.

Together, we will wait, and pray, and testify to this grieving nation these comforting words - words spoken so long ago in the aftermath of Jerusalem's destruction: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end ... they are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.

Most assuredly yours in the Gracious Love of the Lord Jesus Christ,