September 7, 2004
To the Venerable Hierarchs, Reverend Clergy, Monastics, Clergy Widows, and Faithful of the Orthodox Church in America:
We live in a world in which tragedy is a frequent visitor. Human history is filled with countless tragedies, as reflected in the many prayers by which we beseech Our Lord for deliverance from “flood, fire, famine, earthquake, pestilence, invasion, and civil war” and from “tribulation and danger, sickness and accidents, and sudden death,” even as we pray for “the sick and the suffering, for captives and their salvation” and those “suffering persecution for the faith.” Indeed, Our Lord Himself instructs us to pray for deliverance “from the Evil One,” while revealing that evil will continue to attack us until He comes again in glory.
During the first days of September, our sensibilities were shocked by the images of the horrible terrorist attack on innocent children and adults on the opening day of school in Beslan, Russia that dominated the media. The cruel and heartless treatment of the most vulnerable, on an occasion that otherwise should have been a joyful one, offered a graphic reminder of the “hardness of heart” of which Our Lord Himself lamented on the eve of His life-giving passion and death, of an evil so irrational that no amount of reasoning could begin to rationalize it. Who among us was not moved to tears as we learned that innocent children were fired upon, with no regard for the sanctity of life? Who among us was not moved to tears as images of grieving parents burying their children flashed before our eyes? Who among us could not legitimately ask, “Has love waxed so cold and hearts become so hardened that such terror is no longer ‘the exception’ but, rather, ‘the expectation?’”
I can only imagine the anguish of those parents who agonized for hours, awaiting the fate of their children; of those who, in the face of a seemingly hopeless situation, still held out hope, only to discover their child’s body in a morgue; of the many who suffered injuries and who escaped with their lives, only to experience the trauma that follows such a horrible event. If nothing else, the events in Beslan serve as a reminder, as did the events of September 11, 2001, that none of us is immune to evil, to the destruction of creation as ordered by the Creator, or to the shocking uncertainties that are encountered in this fallen world.
Hurricane Frances, while certainly not an “evil” in the same sense as the terrorist attack in Beslan, nevertheless serves as a reminder that all we possess can indeed be taken away in a moment, by that “thief of the night” who can “snatch away” our treasures without warning. What a horrible ordeal the 2.5 million evacuees faced, before and during their flight to safety, only to wonder with intense uncertainty when and to what they could return. And who among us could not help but consider the immense burdens placed upon those who lost everything in the hurricane, realizing that in other circumstances, any one of us could have experienced the same tragedy?
Surely such evil, such natural tragedy, must not surprise us. Our Lord Himself recognized that all creation was in need of salvation, of reassurance that while Satan may be the “prince of this world,” Satan’s “power” and the evil that it brings is transitory. He Who is “the King of All” will ultimately triumph and reign supreme, even as in His extreme humility He comforts the survivors and victims of these and countless other tragedies, lightens their and our burdens, and takes upon Himself “the sins of the world.” And He calls upon those of us who, while spared these tragedies yet ever-vulnerable in this fallen world, to become living witnesses of His presence and His love, to reach out to those who have suffered so intensely during this past week and who will continue to suffer in the days and years to come, to help Him in lightening their burdens and loosening their yokes by our prayers and by our acts of kindness and charity.
Let us pray, perhaps more fervently than ever, for those who now need our prayers. Let us offer, perhaps more generously than ever, a portion of our blessings with those who otherwise might descend into utter hopelessness and despair. And let us put our faith into action, perhaps as never before, in helping to lighten the burdens of those who, in other circumstances, would have been called upon to lighten our own. May the King of All, the victorious Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, strengthen all of us in this time of extreme tragedy, that we may live our faith and share His love in ways that we have perhaps never considered before.
May the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit strengthen the innocent suffering people of Beslan and the victims of Hurricane Frances, even as it prompts us to offer our prayers and assistance to our suffering brothers and sisters.
With love in Christ,
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada