(RNS) In their first collective response to the Sept. 11 terroristattacks, the nation's Eastern Orthodox bishops reminded their flocksthat "the Evil One does not have the final word."

In a pastoral letter, the eight hierarchs of the Standing Conferenceof the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas addressed a crisis offaith and tough theological questions following the devastation.

"The Evil One does not have the final word," the bishops wrote. "Godhas the final word, and he is always with us. Yes, God is always with usin both our joys and in our sorrows."

The bishops, who represent an estimated 6 million Eastern OrthodoxChristians in the United States, praised the public safety and rescueworkers who died trying to save others in New York. "Their sacrificereminds us of the words of our Lord: No one has greater love than this,to lay down one's life for one's friends."

The eight hierarchs made no mention of the current U.S.-led militarystrikes on Afghanistan other than to pray that "those who protect us anddefend us in the military be blessed with prudence and courage both nowand in the days ahead."

Orthodox churches across the country were encouraged to hold special40-day memorial services on Sunday (Oct. 21). The bishops also soliciteddonations for a special Sept. 11 Relief Fund, which so far has collected$1.2 million from Orthodox churches.