Delivered September 16, 2001

In the Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar the week of September 14, including the two Sundays preceding and following this date, are devoted to the remembrance of the Cross, a paradoxical symbol of death and life, humiliation and exaltation, suffering and hope.

In honoring the Cross, Christians honor the death of Christ, on the one hand, a brutal and inhuman death visited upon the most loving and innocent person who ever lived, and on the other hand, a mystery of self-sacrifice by which God marked a decisive step in the ultimate victory over the evil forces of sin, Satan, and death itself.

During the same week, America experienced another cross of horrific proportions. On a beautiful morning, two magnificent towers stood tall and gleaming, with thousands of people within them beginning the day's work. Suddenly, a plane crashes straight into one tower and explodes through it with fire and black smoke forming the rough shape of a cross. Then, after a brief time, another plane plunges into the second tower with the same horrific results. Two crosses of destruction and death visited upon countless innocent people.

In the history of Greek Orthodox people we know a "black Tuesday"--when the great city of Constantinople, the queen of cities, the center of a brilliant Christian civilization, was conquered and laid waste by an invading enemy. We now have a "black Tuesday" in American history--Tuesday, September 11, 2001--a day of cowardly treachery, a day of great tragedy, a day of unspeakable evil.

Why do such things happen? Why does God allow them to happen? Where is God in all this? We do not have the luxury of knowing all the answers. But three words--freedom, evil, and choice--may help us to understand in part the tragedy we now face, a tragedy not only of America but of the human family as a whole.

Human beings have been endowed with freedom to do good or evil, to be honest or deceitful, to speak the truth or to lie, to love or to hate. Freedom is the basis of human dignity and moral value. Sadly, human beings can instead follow the way of evil and hatred, the way of cruelty and killing. By abusing the gift of freedom, they inflict terrible pain and suffering on others and thus erect crosses of frightening dimensions. And they do these evil deeds by choice. They think about them. They plan them precisely. They carry them out with determination, evil will, and unfathomable hatred.

Many ask, where is God? However, the question is not where God is but where man is. For God is always present in his creation, in human lives, and near our hearts. We call his presence the kingdom of God--eternal, everywhere present, and always ready to express itself through love and goodness, but only where desired and received. Tragically, it is humanity itself which often forgets God, departs from God, and even uses the name of God to do horrible things contrary to the very nature of God. The Bible proclaims the great truth that God is love, not hatred. "He who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love" (1 John 4:7-8). Strangely, both hatred and love are at work in the mystery of human suffering--hatred creates crosses, whereas love seeks to redeem them.

What are we to do now? How are we to face the future from the standpoint of our Christian faith? First, we pray for the peace and repose of the souls of the innocent victims. We pray for the injured and the recovery of their health. We pray for their families and friends as they face anguish and sorrow. We pray for the volunteers, the policemen and firemen, the nurses and doctors, and all the rescue workers who have shown an inspiring abundance of human goodness. We pray also for the perpetrators, those who are now dead--may God forgive them--who may be inseparably bound to the hatred of hell in which they already lived. We pray for ourselves and our leaders, for strength and wisdom, as we face an entirely new future in modern life.

Secondly, we must deal with evil by being alert and courageous. We want to recognize evil, be protected from it to the fullest extent possible, and hold evildoers responsible and accountable. Forgiveness is a grand Christian virtue, but it does not erase or cancel out accountability based on the rule of law and justice. If a child's bicycle is stolen and the thief is caught, the Christian child should forgive the thief but the bicycle must be returned, repaired, or fair money be reimbursed for it. If a criminal commits a crime, he may be forgiven by the victim, but still he may wind up in jail because justice requires it. It is justice and righteousness that makes us strong and courageous against evil. It is justice and righteousness that makes America great.
As Billy Graham eloquently stated, the two towers of the World Trade Center have collapsed into a rubble, but the character and spirit of America will stand tall as long as America stands and acts on the principles of justice and righteousness.