Syosset, New York
September 9, 2004
To the Venerable Hierarchs, Reverend Clergy, Monastics, and Faithful of the Orthodox Church in America:
On September 11, 2004, we commemorate the third anniversary of the terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center and airliners in Pennsylvania and Washington, DC. We remember in prayer the thousands of innocent individuals who lost their lives on that day, as well as the grieving spouses and children, mothers and fathers, friends and coworkers they left behind. We also remember the countless times that we have heard how “life has forever changed” and “we will never forget,” not only from our fellow citizens, but also from our sisters and brothers the world over.
In the days immediately following the tragedy, we witnessed countless examples of compassion as firefighters, police personnel and medical professionals, New Yorkers and individuals who made the journey east from the “Heartland” and the Pacific coast, business executives, and “the least of the brethren” alike, put aside their differences to offer whatever assistance they could. Houses of worship were filled to capacity as prayers were offered and comfort was sought. The unprecedented financial support offered to the victims’ families stunned even the most seasoned fundraisers and humanitarian agencies. In the midst of unspeakable horror, a sense of unity prevailed as an otherwise fragmented society came together as one to address “the common good,” reaffirming as never before that mankind is not only created in the image and likeness of God, but is called to reflect and reveal all that is godly, even in the midst of darkness and evil.
Among those who lost their lives or who otherwise were affected on that fateful morning were many Orthodox Christians, too numerous to mention. Hierarchs and clergy went “behind the lines” to pray at “Ground Zero” and comfort the workers. Orthodox parishes in lower Manhattan opened their doors as their parishioners opened their hearts to assist and console any and all in need. Together, we rejoiced to learn that an Orthodox chaplain who had been in the Pentagon when it was attacked had been spared. And together, we wept as we learned that the tiny Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, which for years had stood in the shadow of the World Trade Center, had met a less gracious fate. We remembered our dead in prayer, yet we praised Our Lord, the “Consolation of the afflicted,” for the comfort He provided us in our collective grief.
During the past three years, our nation—and indeed our world—has struggled to make sense of that which happened on September 11, 2001. While we certainly have not forgotten the horror of that morning, and while we seek Our Lord’s protection and guidance lest a similar or greater tragedy visits us, we continue to endure terror and battle the evil it brings.
Hardly a week passes without news of yet another attack, whether in Beslan or Baghdad, Belgrade or Bethlehem, the very place where the “Prince of peace” took on our flesh. War surrounds us, as does death visiting innocent school children, persecuted minorities, those driven from their homes through ethnic cleansing, and our own troops. The intense sense of unity we experienced three years ago has, in too many instances, been replaced with cynicism, fear, or apathy as the many faces of terror continue to plague our world and tarnish God’s good creation.
Despite this, our faith—rooted in the One Who said, and continues to say “Do not be afraid”—must never wane. As we navigate “the sea of life, surging with the storm of temptation,” we must not run from this fallen world, nor must isolate ourselves in the selfish pursuit of our own personal cares and desires, as if we were disconnected from the rest of humanity. Rather, we must cry out all the more fervently, “Remain with us, O Lord of Hosts! In affliction we have no other Helper but Thee!” And we must do so in such a way that the comfort Our Lord bestows upon us will be felt by those who still wander and wonder, who have yet to recognize that He alone is mankind’s Helper, Consolation, and Hope. While we must never forget the tragic events of September 11, 2001, or those who perished, we must also never forget that beyond the dark terror of this world, the radiant joy of the world to come calls mankind to receive “the Light Which is never overcome by darkness.”
May the Lord continue to comfort us and all mankind on this anniversary, and may His light shine upon our world as we continue our journey to His Kingdom.
With love in Christ,
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada