Monday, October 29, 2018

Death in a Place of Worship

On Saturday 11 people were killed and many were injured when the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh was attacked in what is being reported as a hate crime. It is important for us, as people of faith, to speak out clearly and unequivocally in such situations. There is a time and a place for theological disputes. This is not that time. This is not that place. This is the time and place to say without any hesitation: violence in a place of worship is NEVER acceptable. Never. Full stop.

I think there is a temptation to downplay such things when they do not touch our community. That is perhaps “normal” or “natural”, but as Orthodox Christians we have to strive to go beyond “normal” - we have to try to raise society to a higher level. And this begins with striving to not allow such things to be acceptable on any level – even if we have to push ourselves in this regard because we are not personally touched by the tragedy. We must affirm in ourselves and we must teach our children that even if we disagree with someone’s theology we never resort to violence and we never accept, encourage, or condone such violence. Never. Full stop.

In sampling the mass media this morning I have been quite disappointed. One would hope that such a tragedy would provide an impetus to unite our country. On the contrary, everything I have heard and seen so far from the media shows that this tragedy is being used as a weapon to blame and attack the “other side”. This is destructive, counter-productive, and promotes the furtherance of evil. It seems that whatever tragedy besets our country and the world there is no effort to unite and work together. Rather, every opportunity is taken to attack the “other side.” To separate. To divide. In such situations is there an other side? Not if we all see each other as God’s children. There’s just one side in that paradigm. The truth of the matter is that we are all God’s children. Yes – some are theologically challenged. That does not make them not God’s children. The Lord values each of our souls – He desires that “all be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” (I Timothy 2:4) All. Not some. Not just the ones we like. The ones we know. The ones we identify with. ALL.

And now we get to the “what can I do about it?” part of this note.

This is our job brothers and sisters – to bring all to the knowledge of the truth. We do that mostly by our example. Do we exemplify the Gospel in our lives? Does the love of Christ shine forth within our hearts to such an extent that it enlightens those around us and motivates them to love Christ too? Do we understand that by serving others we serve God (and act on that understanding)? If not (and I’m a long way from that so please pray for me!) then we have work to do. Let’s start by refusing to accept the destructive paradigm being put forth by the mass media in our days. That every tragedy is the fault of the “other side”. Those on the left blame the right. Those on the right blame the left. And the reason this is so wrong? No one is telling the truth that the real culprit is: evil. The constant battle to weaken and undermine the “other side” is a distraction. It keeps us from paying attention to and fighting the real foe: evil. That evil which comes from the prompting of the Devil. That evil which come from within the hearts of some who have been deluded by the paradigm of the “other side” being the culprit which must be destroyed, and are self-justified in their evil actions by their delusion. It is not acceptable for us to be political partisans on this level. Full stop.

Of course, some of us lean to the left, others to the right. That is fine – as long as we remember that we only have one “party” as Orthodox Christians – and that party is Christ. And that means we strive for moderation in our own lives – and that we promote moderation as we are able to in those around us. Again – our example comes first. If we are wild-eyed partisans we should not be surprised if our children our our spouse cannot maintain moderation. Extremism in politics leads to violence, and so perhaps this is one of the most destructive things we can provide a bad example about. Remember that our example effects those around us (not just in this case, but always): our children, our spouse, our neighbors, our friends. In their eyes our actions exemplify what an Orthodox Christian is. We are Orthodox Christianity for most of the people we know. Let that sink in for a second. We ARE Orthodox Christianity for most people in our lives. With that in mind, let us remember that we must be examples of the Gospel: the Law of Love. If that is front and center in our lives then we will not see a “right” or a “left” - we will only see the children of God. Just as we must see those who were killed in their place of worship on Saturday. As children of God. May He have mercy on them! And may He have mercy on us – that we will exemplify His Gospel. If we are serious about this – if we really get to work in this regard – we can make a difference. Our example can change the world. But success only comes before work in the dictionary. In all other instances we must work before success comes. If we can work sincerely in this regard - and ask the Lord’s blessing on our work – we can have great hope in success. Success that will lead us to the Heavenly Kingdom, and many around us too. This is how we should react to the evil perpetrated on Saturday, and to every future evil act. Let us learn from this. Let us change ourselves. Let us stop listening to those who are trying to get us to support future evil acts by incessantly seeking to make the “other side” worthy of destruction. That is not our Orthodox way. Our way is to examine ourselves, work on ourselves, and know that the Lord who loves mankind will help us to transform ourselves and the society around us if we will only put our trust in Him.

Fr. Gregory