Dearly beloved in the Lord,
On the morning of Saturday, February 1, 2003, we once again awoke to news of unimaginable proportions: the loss of Space Shuttle Columbia a mere sixteen minutes before it was scheduled to land in Florida. With no warning and little initial information as to the tragedy’s origin, countless questions immediately came to mind. Was the disaster caused by a mechanical or design failure, human error, terrorism, or something which may never be determined? While space travel involves “great risks and dangers,” as President George Bush reminded us in his initial reaction to the tragedy, the sense of loss, wonder, and mystery will remain with us as individuals and as a society for a long time to come.
Tragic as the physical breakup of the shuttle was, it is in the untimely loss of lives - six American and one Israeli astronauts manned the shuttle - that we are reminded that life is a precious, if fragile, gift - one which, in one moment, can be taken away. To quote a NASA official, these dedicated individuals “pushed the envelope,” fully aware of the dangers involved in exploring God’s creation, yet committing themselves to the aims of their mission. While we may be ill equipped to comprehend what the astronauts experienced during those final moments, we are well equipped, as people of faith, to empathize with the overwhelming shock and grief felt by the astronauts’ families and friends. And we are compelled, as people of faith, to pray for them, that they may find the consolation that comes only through an abiding faith in God and a hopeful vision of eternal life.
We call upon you, our beloved flock, to join us in opening our hearts and minds and to pray for those who perished in this tragedy, that their efforts will not have been in vain, and for their families, that the One Who is Life Itself will comfort them in their affliction and reveal to them the hope of resurrection. Pray also for our nation, now suffering another tragedy in a time filled with so much fear and uncertainty. And let us pray for ourselves, thankful for Our Lord’s invitation to turn over our burdens and grief to Him, that we may continually focus our attention on the life of the world to come. May the consolation and hope so freely given to the world through the death and resurrection of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, fill us now and in the difficult days and months ahead.
With love in Christ,
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada and the members of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America