Remembering 9/11

Even 16 years after the events, when I see any documentaries on TV about the terrorist attack on the United State on 11 September 2001, I find myself hypnotized by the images on the screen.  A paralysis of disbelief takes over as I watch in horror the events unfolding and experience the terror and sorrow of the victims and their families – images that seem burned into my memory.

911

I have not been moved to hatred or thoughts of revenge.  My reaction has been a total sorrow that we in the world are in such condition that hatred takes over our lives and that we humans can do such horrendous acts of murder.  Such dehumanization is hard to fathom – both that we dehumanize those we see as enemies and that we ourselves become dehumanized and come to think that murder and mayhem and evil are somehow godly.  They are inhuman acts, why do we imagine they can be godly?  Unless of course we think God is tyrannical, maniacal and demonic.  From the time Cain murdered his brother Abel, humans have been willing to kill and murder on such a scale that is should trouble every human . . .  but doesn’t, tragically enough.

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So, how are we to understand such inhumanity?  Here are some words from a 4th Century Christian bishop, St. Basil the Great, whose saintly parents had lived through the Roman persecution of Christians:

“An enemy is by definition one who obstructs, ensnares and injures others.  He is therefore a sinner.  We ought to love his soul by correcting him and doing everything possible to bring him to conversion.  We ought to love his body too by coming to his aid with the necessities of life.

That love for our enemies is possible has been shown us by the Lord himself.  He revealed the Father’s love and his own by making himself ‘obedient unto death‘, [Phil 2:8] as the Apostle says, not for his friend’s sake so much as for his enemies.  ‘God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.‘ [Rom 5:8]

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And God exhorts us to do the same. ‘Be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us.‘ [Eph 5:1-2]

God would not ask this of us as a right and proper thing to do, if it were not possible.

On the other hand, is it not perhaps true that an enemy can be as much of a help to us as a friend can?

Enemies earn for us the beatitude of which the Lord speaks when he says: ‘Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.‘ [Matt 5:11-12]”  (DRINKING FROM THE HIDDEN FOUNTAIN, pp 232-233)

It is no easy task to be a Christian in the face of terrorism.  It is not impossible as St. Basil says to do what Christ commands us to do.  But it is for us very had and seems like a great burden . . .  like taking up our cross to follow Christ.

Jesus said: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  (Mark 8:34)

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Welcoming the Day and Its Blessings

“This day is blessed by God, it is God’s own and now let us go into it.

You walk in this day as God’s own messenger; whoever you meet, you meet in God’s own way. You are there to be the presence of Christ, the presence of the Spirit, the presence of the Gospel – this is your function on this particular day.

God has never said that when you walk into a situation in His own Name, He will be crucified and you will be the risen one. You must be prepared to walk into situations, one after the other, in God’s name, to walk as the Son of God has done: in humiliation and humility, in truth and ready to be persecuted and so forth.

Usually what we expect when we fulfill God’s commandments is to see a marvelous result at once – we read of that at times in the lives of the saints. When, for instance, someone hits us on one cheek, we turn the other one, although we don’t expect to be hit at all, but we expect to hear the other person say ‘What, such humility’ – you get your reward and he gets the salvation of his soul. It does not work that way. You must pay the cost and very often you get hit hard. What matters is that you are prepared for that.

As to the day, if you accept that this day was blessed of God, chose by God with His own hand, then every person you meet is a gift of God, every circumstance you will meet is a gift of God, whether it is bitter or sweet, whether you like or dislike it. It is God’s own gift to you and if you take it that way, then you can face any situation. But then you must face it with the readiness that anything may happen, whether you enjoy it or not, and if you walk in the name of the Lord through a day which has come fresh and new out of His own Hands and has been blessed for you to live with it, then you can make prayer and life really like the two sides of one coin.

You act and pray in one breath, as it were, because all the situations that follow one another require God’s blessing.”  (Anthony Bloom, Beginning to Pray, pp. 46-47)

Making Christ Your Greatest Love

He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”   (Matthew 10:37-38)

St. Brigid of Ireland

“If you worship Christ in your heart, you can save your kinsfolk as well as yourself; if your heart worships father and mother, son and daughter, you will certainly lose both yourself and them. For whoever denies Christ before the world, him will Christ deny at the Last Judgement before His heavenly Father and all the hosts of angels and saints.

(Saint Isidore of Pelusium wrote to Philetus the Mayor, who was downcast at not having got into the eminent society that he craved:

‘Glory in this life is of less significance than a spider’s web, and more insubstantial than dreams; therefore lift up your mind to what is of first importance, and you will easily calm your saddened soul. He who seeks the one glory and the other cannot attain them both. It is possible to achieve both only when we seek, not both but one: heavenly , glory. Therefore, if you desire glory, seek divine, heavenly glory, and earthly glory will often follow on from it.’  (Letter 5, p. 152)

The Lord made it clear to the apostles that this moment of decision is difficult saying, “And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household” – that is, his family, that will hold him back from following Christ more than anyone else in the world, and who will condemn him the most strongly if he does so. For indeed, it is not our enemies who bind us to this world, but our friends; not strangers but our kinsfolk.”   (St Nikolai Velimirovic, Homilies, pp. 4-5).

Perseverance and Persecution

“’Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake’ (Mt. 5.10-11). In saying these words, Christ promised that those who would follow Him would certainly be persecuted. This is a central prediction of the Gospel and an essential condition of those who accept it.

Martyr Juvenaly of Alaska

Remember the word that I said to you, “A servant is not greater than his master.’”  If they persecute me, they will persecute you; if they have kept my word, they will keep yours also. But all this they will do to you on my account, because they do not know Him who sent me.’  (Jn 15.20-21).

            True Christians will always be persecuted for Christ’s sake. They will be persecuted with Christ and like Christ, for the truth that they speak and the good that they do. The persecutions may not always be physical, but they will always be spiritual and psychological. They will always be mindless, unjust, violent, and “without cause” (Ps 69.4, Jn 15.25). They will always be painful and the cause of much suffering. For ‘indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted’ (2 Tim 3.12).

           A person embarking on the spiritual life must expect persecution and slander. He must be wary, however, of any false persecution complex, and must be absolutely certain that the suffering he meets is solely ‘for righteousness’ sake’ and not because of his own weakness and sins.”  (Thomas Hopko, Vol. 4 Spirituality, p. 50)

St. Ignatius of Antioch, Martyr and Godbearer

Today in the Orthodox Church we remember the Martyred Bishop of Antioch, St. Ignatius the Godbearer.  Below are a few words about St. Ignatius taken from an old Christian Education publication, Personalities Who Shaped the Church (pp 3-4):

It was the year A.D. 107 when Trajan, a Roman emperor, came back victorious from a war against the Dacians and Scythians. As soon as he entered the glorious city of Antioch, he let the Christians know that the persecution against them was not yet over.

One night a great celebration was given in his honor. Trajan, out of gratitude to his gods, ordered precious incense to be burned. But he thirsted for more victories and more blood.

“Roman citizens…tonight we honor our divinities, for they have deemed us worthy to gain more victories…But our victory cannot be complete until we defeat Christians, those bitter enemies of our empire who refuse to acknowledge our gods.”

Meanwhile, in some remote corner of Antioch, another message was being heard [from St. Ignatius, Christian Bishop of Antioch]:

“Keep on praying for those who persecute you. Return their bad temper with gentleness, their boasts with humility, and their violence with mildness. Never be eager to retaliate. Try to please not yourselves but God.

Toil together, struggle together, run together, suffer together, rejoice together, as servants and assistants of God. Let none of you be found a deserter. Let your baptism serve as a shield, your faith as a helmet, your love as a spear, your endurance as full armor. So be patient with one another in gentleness, as God is with you.” 

Martyrs and Passion-Bearers Boris and Gleb

Sts Boris and Gleb were sons of St Vladimir, Enlightener of Russia. After their father’s death the eldest son Sviatopolk planned to kill his brothers Boris and Gleb in order to seize power. He sent a message to Boris, pretending that he wished to live in peace with him, and to increase Boris’s land holdings inherited from their father.

Sts Boris and Gleb

Some of Vladimir’s advisers told Boris that he should take the army and establish himelf as ruler of Kiev. St Boris, however, said that as a Christian he could never lift his hand against his own brother. Unfortunately, Sviatopolk was no Christian and had no such moral thinking.

Sviatopolk sent assassins to kill Boris, who already knew that his brother wanted him dead. When they arrived they heard him chanting psalms and praying before an icon of Christ. He asked the Lord to strengthen him for the suffering he was about to endure. He also prayed for Sviatopolk, asking God not to count this sin against him. The assassins stabbed him with their lances, and also killed some of Boris’s servants.

After Sviatopolk had killed Boris, he sent Gleb a message that he wished to see him. Gleb though also received word that their father had died and that Sviatopolk had murdered Boris.  St Gleb wept for his father and brother, and was lamenting them when the assassins arrived. They seized his boat and drew their weapons, but it was Gleb’s own cook who stabbed him with a knife.  Later, he was buried beside St Boris in the church of St Basil.

Sts Boris and Gleb received the crown of martyrdom in 1015. They became known as Passion-Bearers, since they did not resist evil with violence.  They are commemorated on July 24 each year.    (Excerpted from the OCA webpage, Lives of the Saints)

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.  (John 15:13)

Bearing Patiently the Unsought Affliction

“Unless we bear with patience the afflictions that come to us unsought, God will not bless those that we embrace deliberately. For our love for God is demonstrated above all by the way we endure trials and temptations.

Martyrdom of St. Stephen

First the soul has to surmount afflictions embraced willingly, thereby learning to spurn sensual pleasure and self-glory; and this in its turn will permit us readily to bear the afflictions that come unsought. If for the sake of poverty of spirit you spurn such pleasure and self-glory, and also regard yourself as deserving the more drastic remedy of repentance, you will be ready to bear any affliction and will accept any temptation as your due, and you will rejoice when it comes, for you will see it as a cleansing-agent for your soul.

Hieromartyr Gorazd of Prague (1944)

In addition, it will spur you to ardent and most efficacious prayer to God, and you will regard it as the source and protector of the soul’s health. Not only will you forgive those who afflict you, but you will be grateful to them and will pray for them as for your benefactors. Thus you will not only receive forgiveness for your sins, as the Lord has promised (cf. Matt. 6:14), but you will also attain the kingdom of heaven and God’s benediction, for you will be blessed by the Lord for enduring with patience and a spirit of humility till the end.”

(St Gregory Palamas, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Location 45965-45975)

40 Martyrs of Sebaste

Responding to the Resurrection

Fr Dmitri Dudko (d. 2004) was an Orthodox priest during the communist reign in the Soviet Union.  He defied Soviet authority by preaching question and answer style sermons to teach the faithful the Gospel.  This eventually led to his arrest and imprisonment where he was forced by the KGB to renounce his activities for the Church.   He understood what it was to live in a place and time in which Christians were persecuted by the state.  Here are some words he spoke in a sermon before his imprisonment.  They are encouraging words to all Christians who feel threatened by changes in the world or by Islamic terrorists.   Despite our fears, we still need to witness to the Gospel and the resurrection.  The original disciples themselves hid in fear after Christ’s crucifixion.  Eventually, however, they went out into the world to proclaim the Gospel with all of them facing various torments and persecutions and executions.   Here are the words of Fr. Dmitri commenting on what Christ said to Mary Magdalene:

“‘Go to My brothers and tell them what you have seen and heard.’ What does this mean? Simply, that having recognized the risen Christ you can’t lock yourself up in your own private world. No one who tries to protect his faith by running away from all trials and tribulations knows Christ yet. Christ is the Savior of the world. He came to save each person.

Knowing this, how can we not proclaim the risen Christ to the world? Can we look on calmly as people perish, not knowing Christ – some of these, moreover, being very gifted people who could do quite a bit? We see how people stumble about with no support, enduring their earthly trials? Why – out of personal fear – are we unable to give them support? Often we’re afraid to reach out a hand to those who don’t know God, thinking that in this way we are defending, protecting our faith, though in reality we are losing it. Could Mary have left the tomb without saying a thing to anyone? Could threats have made her be afraid? After all, threats are just amusing if you know that Christ is risen. What can our personal earthly well-being mean in the face of this fact?

Anyone who knows the risen Christ has a heavy responsibility placed upon himself. He must bring to people the news of Christ’s resurrection, in whatever way he can and wherever destiny leads him If you’ve been with Mary to Christ’s tomb, if you’ve been convinced that it’s empty because Christ is risen, then go and tell everyone about it. Christ is risen! May God bless you and help you! Amen.”   (Our Hope, pp 291-292)

Like many Christians in history, Fr. Dmitri was eventually broken by threats of the KGB.  Feeling unable to endure the threats in imprisonment, he publicly denounced his activities on behalf of the Church.  After the fall of communism, humbled by his own humanness, he confessed his brokenness saying, “I thought if I didn’t agree, I wouldn’t live … Compared to the hell that I then brought into my soul, anything – even torture or execution – would have been easier to bear.”  He feared torture and death, but then found his heart and mind tortured by his choice to avoid further suffering by caving in to the KGB threats.  That he felt created a greater hell his heart than torture or execution ever would have.

Hope in the resurrection is a joyous experience which can carry us through life.  Hoping in the resurrection might also lead to our being persecuted by those who hate God.

We Orthodox honor St. John the Baptist for his willingness to suffer for truth joyously.  May we each have that same spirit and remain faithful to the Gospel even in the face of threats or terror.

Martyrs: The Wounded Friends of Christ

St. Ignatius of Antioch

“Since the time of the first martyr and deacon, St. Stephen, the witness of blood has been the sign of the highest and most expressive fidelity. The ideal of the martyr, of that glorious company of ‘the wounded friends of the bridegroom,’ of those ‘violent ones who take heaven by storm’ and in whom ‘Christ fights in person,’ makes the first centuries unique. On his way to his glorious death, St. Ignatius of Antioch confessed: ‘It is now that I begin to be a true disciple…do not hinder me from being born to life.’ Likewise for St. Polycarp the martyrs are ‘the images of true charity…the captives laden with venerable chains, which are the jewels of the veritable elect of God.’ This is why Origen made his somewhat harsh remark that a time of peace is propitious to Satan, who steals from Christ his martyrs, and from the Church her glory.” (Paul Evdokimov, Ages of the Spiritual Life, pg. 133)

The Reception of the Martyrs in Heaven

Martyr Andronicus

October 12 on the Church Calendar is the commemoration of the Martyrs Probus, Tarachus and Andronicus (304AD). These are the martyrs whose relics we have in our church’s altar.

St. John Chrysostom describes the reception of the martyr’s into heaven like this:

“[…] as if they (sc. the martyrs) were some warriors returning from war and battle with numerous trophies and victories, so do they greet and embrace them all with pleasure. Next, with a large guard of honor they escort them to the king of heaven, up to that throne that is fill of considerable glory, where there are the cherubim and seraphim. And after they arrive there and do obeisance to the one who sits on the throne, they enjoy even more abundant friendliness from their Master than their fellow servants. For he doesn’t receive them as servants (even though that, too, is a major honor, of which one can find no equal), but as his friends. ‘For you are my friends.’ (Jn. 15.14), scripture says. And rightly so. For he said on another occasion: ‘There is no greater love than this, that a person lay down their life for their friends.’ (Jn. 15.13).

Martyr Probus

And so, since they have exhibited the greatest possible love, he greets them and they enjoy that glory; they take part in the choirs [of angels] and participate in the mystical songs. For if, while they were in the body, at the time of the communion in the mysteries they became part of that choir and with the cherubim chanted the thrice-holy hymn, just as you who have been initiated know, how much more now, when they have regained their fellow worshipers  do they participate with considerable boldness in that praise.”

(St. John Chrysostom in The Cult of the Saints, pg. 224)

 O holy martyrs of the Lord, pray to God for the peace of the world and the salvation of our souls in His Heavenly Kingdom!