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

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

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

The bishops, who represent an estimated 6 million Eastern Orthodox Christians in the United States, praised the public safety and rescue workers who died trying to save others in New York. "Their sacrifice reminds 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 military strikes on Afghanistan other than to pray that "those who protect us and defend us in the military be blessed with prudence and courage both now and in the days ahead."

Orthodox churches across the country were encouraged to hold special 40-day memorial services on Sunday (Oct. 21). The bishops also solicited donations for a special Sept. 11 Relief Fund, which so far has collected $1.2 million from Orthodox churches.

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