THE TRAGEDY OF SEPTEMBER 11TH
By: The Right Reverend Father Michael D. Jordan
The Sunday following September 11, 2001 will be especially difficult for anyone in the clergy. Usually, following every tragedy such as the one we experienced on Tuesday, September 11th, people are always asking, "Why did God let something like this happen?" My response to such questions is: "God did not let this happen, it was a group of evil people that made this happen!"
A few Sunday's ago, my sermon was about our free will. I'm going to repeat portions of that sermon today in order to help you understand why these events like this occur.
God created man in His own image. Man is not a robot, not a machine, to be controlled by some outside force. He is not a beast guided by blind instinct. He is a human, with all the powers of decision given him by God Himself. He is free. His freedom is anchored in the God Who created him. But as soon as man forgets God, even though it is in the name of freedom, he begins to build his own slavery - slavery to himself or to evil, or to someone or something else. That is the ultimate disaster.
"The chief source of man's dignity is man's freedom and capacity for self-determination."
According to St. Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus the Confessor, freedom is the essential element of man's likeness to God. Man's revolt against God deprived him of freedom, made him a "slave" to the "flesh", to corruption, sin and death. Our Savior Jesus Christ came to release man from this slavery, to set him free again. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me... He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives… to set at liberty those who are oppressed …" (Luke 4:18). The "captives" and the "oppressed" are you and I.
The thing that makes us uniquely human is that, unlike the other creatures, we are able to say both "yes" and "no" to God. Man does not do the will of his Creator by necessity. Unlike the elements and the animals, he can refuse to obey his Creator. For God does not want slaves but sons!
To describe the relationship between God and man, Orthodoxy Christianity has coined the word "synergy". Synergy is mankind working in conjunction with God. It comes from Paul's words: "We are fellow workers with God." First Corinthians 3:9. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My Voice and opens the door, I will come in." (Rev. 3:20)
God knocks. God respects man's freedom. God waits for man to open the door. He does not break down the door! The incorporation of man into Christ and his union with God require the cooperation of two unequal, but equally vital forces: divine grace and human will.
A student once asked his professor: "If God knew that people would sin, why did He go ahead and make us and give us the power to choose?" The professor looked him straight in the eyes and replied: "Apparently, God thought you were worth the risk!"
Of course, there was a great risk involved when God chose to give men free will. For it is free will that makes sin and evil possible. The worst thing in the world - sin - comes from the greatest gift man possesses: free will.
Why did God take the risk of giving us a free will? Why do parents take that risk? Isn't it dangerous to bring a child into the world? Suppose that child goes wrong? It will break its own heart and the hearts of the parents. Then why do parents have children? Because love wants objects of love upon whom it can lavish that love, and be loved in return. And God is love. God wants us to return His love for us voluntarily.
Free will, even though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love, goodness, or joy that is worth having.
The terrible events of this past week are conclusive proof that mankind is endowed with freedom to choose right from wrong. Several individuals graphically displayed their choice for evil on Tuesday, September 11th. They acted completely as agents of Satan when they senselessly murdered so many innocent people in a despicable act of terrorism.
Our hearts were terrified and saddened by the images we watched on television. We watched helpless, transfixed, and horrified as the evil events unfolded right before our eyes. Knowing that I am a Priest, several of my co-workers asked me, "Where was God in all of this?" I replied, "God was busy receiving the precious souls of those that were senselessly killed by the terrorist's actions."
God was there, and is still there! God was with the Priest that was killed by falling debris while giving last rites to one of the victims of the attack. God was there in every firefighter that sacrificed their life to save others. God is there in every volunteer that is working so diligently to rescue the victims. God is there every time someone donates blood to help save the victim's lives. God is especially present in every prayer uttered by concerned Americans.
Everyone in America was victimized by evil this past week. We know full well that those who acted with their own free will to carry out these attacks did so from evil hearts, filled with darkness and despair. We must not allow our hearts to be darkened so that we cannot see the beautiful light that is beaming from the Face of God.
Even through the thick clouds of smoke and dust in New York City, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon, the face of God beamed brightly in the heroic efforts of those who selflessly rushed to the aid of their fellow man. The very essence of God was personified in the unconditional outpouring of love from all of the rescue workers.
We have a choice in this matter. We can choose to walk down the path of hatred and violence, or we can choose to follow the teachings of Christ by devoting our efforts to prayer for the victims and their families, and for every American citizen who was affected by these events. A wound cannot heal if it is constantly being traumatized by additional violence. We must use our free will and choose to walk in the beauty of God.
There is a Navajo Indian Expression that goes like this: "May you walk in the beauty of God's Grace today, because His Grace is: before you, behind you, around you, above you, and within you!"
A Prayer for the Victims and All Americans
O Lord our God, we lift up to You this day all of the victims of the tragedy of September 11th. We also ask that their memory will be eternal. We also hold up before You, our most compassionate and loving God, the families, friends, loved ones, and co-workers of those who suffered. Remind us each day that while the people who inflicted the suffering upon the victims, took only their earthly life, they have no control over the soul. It is You, O Lord, Who holds their souls in Your Precious Hands.
Comfort us, O Lord, who are left here in pain and anguish over the great loss of that Tragic day. Send forth the Holy Spirit into our hearts to comfort and protect us.
Strengthen and bless the heroic people that have given so very much selflessly to help others. Increase their rewards in Heaven. Heal our country, and help us to not give in to hate and bitterness. Remind us that to serve You is to walk in the path of the beauty of Your Grace. Surround us, Dear Lord with Your Grace and Holy Protection.
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.Amen.
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