September 11, 2013

September 11th, a day to remember both the desperate fallenness of this world and the indestructible marks of its creation by our good and loving God. The unspeakable violence of a few terrorists alongside the courage and divine humanity of thousands and thousands.

Twin Towers
St Nicholas Church, next to the World Trade Center

From 1982 to 1984 I worked at Bankers Trust, next door to the World Trade Center. At lunchtimes I often walked across the pedestrian bridge that linked the bank with the WTC and went downstairs into the food court. On Wednesdays, in the parking lot behind the bank, tiny Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, a little oasis that had refused to dry up and sell, was open for a few hours for visitors to come in. Byzantine liturgical music played in the background, and an elderly parishioner would hand you a little bag of antidoron as you left. What a peaceful, joyful memory that couldn’t be destroyed when the church collapsed with the WTC on 9/11.

It seems appropriate today that I’ve come to Psalm 5 in these reflections. The second half of the psalm, verses 7-12, are a prayer for entering the temple. These words are part of the clergy entrance prayers of the Divine Liturgy, but of course they can be used by anyone as they enter a church, as a prayer of protection, of faith in God in the midst of enemies and threats.

St Sergius Chapel
Memorial service at St Sergius chapel for victims of 9/11

One phrase to note: “…in the fear of Thee.” The “fear of God” features regularly throughout the bible and in our services, and this can be troubling if we think of “fear” as terror, horror, panic, alarm or dread. Indeed this was the sort of fear that pagans often had in relation to their deities in the ancient world. It was the sort of fear experienced on 9/11. And it was from this sort of fear that God has delivered us. Here the word means reverence, awe and devotion (which is what most modern translations use instead of “fear”.) It is our confidence in God’s overflowing love and faithfulness that inspires the devotion that leads us to enter His house.  As the verse immediately preceding this prayer says, “I through the abundance of thy steadfast love will enter thy house…”.

I will enter Thy house, I will worship toward Thy holy temple in the fear of Thee. Lead me, O Lord, in Thy righteousness because of my enemies; make my way straight before Thee. For there is no truth in their mouth; their heart is destruction, their throat is an open sepulcher, they flatter with their tongue. Judge them, O God, let them fall by their own counsels; because of their many transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against Thee. But let all who take refuge in Thee rejoice, let them always sing for joy; and do Thou dwell in them, that those who love Thy name my exult in Thee. For Thou blessest the righteous, O Lord, Thou coverest us with good will as with a shield.

For more on 9/11 as the National Day of Service and Remembrance see this related article.