An Orthodox Response to the Tragedy in New York

This Homily was given at a Baptismal Divine Liturgy on the Sunday after Sanctity of Life Sunday (2019), after the State of New York Passed the most aggressive abortion laws in history.
Fr. Gabriel Bilas | 01 February 2019

After Divine Liturgy, in our memorial service for all unborn infants, we read these words:

Blessed are You, God of compassion and consolation.  You know the name and age of each person, even from our mother’s womb.  Accept the sorrow of us who are grieved by the loss of these children.  You know the desires of our hearts.  Help us to have confidence in your sustaining presence, in this moment, and in all future days!

We are in need of that consolation and sustaining presence this week, which has been a difficult one for devout Orthodox Christians throughout the country.  Just a few days after praying these prayers, we watched in horror as the State of New York condemned even more unborn children to their deaths, by passing the most immoral and unrestrictive abortion laws that our country has ever seen. So many children, just a few weeks younger than the one who has just received a second birth by water in the Spirit, will sadly be added to our list of daily prayers, all in the name of “Human Progression”.

Orthodox Christians especially should take this news with incredible sadness.  We know from the Holy Scriptures and from the teachings of the Church, that life (without a doubt) begins at conception.  This is seen in the way that we celebrate the conception of many saints throughout the year, like the conception of the Theotokos (December) and of St. John the Baptist (September).  The image and likeness of God is placed upon every human being from their very beginning, and this is why hearing news like this strikes a Christian to their core, because to deliberately destroy the image and likeness of unborn children, is to destroy God Himself.  This is something that our souls simply cannot understand.

In the midst of this darkness, brothers and sisters in Christ, what are left to do?

There is an incredible saying from a very famous Saint, that describes for us the heart of an Orthodox Christian.  If we could describe what our goal is in the midst of the chaos of the world, it comes from the lips of St. Seraphim of Sarov who famously said: “Acquire the Spirit of Peace, and a thousand souls around you will be saved.”

This incredible teaching goes hand in hand with the Gospel lesson that we just heard, about a man who entrusted talents to three of his servants.  Two of them ended up investing and growing their gifts, and were praised for doing so by the master.  The third servant ended up burying his gift in the ground, blaming the master for being too difficult, and wasting what he had been given.  For this he was condemned and sent into the outer darkness.

This is often a mis-understood and difficult parable to understand.  Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t talking about the importance of stewardship in the Church.  Christ isn’t telling us that we need to double our finances!  Money doesn’t come from God, it comes from the world!  This parable is rather about receiving God’s own life through the Holy Spirit.  It is about accepting this gift that is freely given by our Creator, to all those who wish to receive it.

So what does all of this mean for the chaos and immorality that witnessed this past week?  How can we use these gifts that the Lord has entrusted to our care to enlighten the world?

We have all been given the gift of prayer and conversation with our Lord.  When news hit of New York’s tragedy, was our first reaction to run to our icon corners and pray?

Our Lord has given us the cross, to sign upon ourselves multiple times throughout the day, acting as a shield to the evil that permeates mankind.  Is our first reaction to the devil’s works to make the sign of the cross?

We have all been given the gift of life.  Being Pro-Life isn’t just about caring for the rights of unborn children.  It’s about caring for all life:  The sick, the homeless, the refugees, and all of the “Lazarus’s” that God put’s at our doorstep.  Have we used our own gift of life to help save other lives?

Each of us has the ability to take these gifts of the Spirit and use them not only to improve our own lives, but to bring peace to the world.  Christ calls for us in the parable of the talents, to take all our spiritual gifts and produce dividends of Grace.  The more the Light and Life of Christ shines within our own hearts, the more it permeates the hearts of those who have chosen to turn their back on God and His creation.  This should be, and needs to be, our response to the immorality and injustice of the world!

We must be careful however, brothers and sisters in Christ, and proceed to navigate these waters carefully. There is a tendency to get fired up and to personally attack and judge in anger, those whose hearts have fallen.  But we must remember to respond rather with kindness, gentleness, and most importantly deep prayer.  It is St. Seraphim who tells us:

“All condemnation is from the devil.  Never condemn each other…but rather, strive to reach that inner peace.  Keep silent, refrain from judgment, as this will raise you above the deadly arrows of slander, insult, and outrage, and will shield your glowing hearts against all evil.”

My own spiritual father once told me something that had a profound impact on my life.  He said when we are in pain and crying over something in our life (or something in the world) ,we take our tears to our Lord and his Mother.  We pray in the psalms that God Himself numbers the tears that flow from our eyes…and so we weep.  Weep for those who have been coaxed by the devil.  Mourn for the loss of innocence.  Wait for the consolation of the almighty.

“Acquire the spirit of peace, and a thousand souls around you will be saved.”

Thank God we didn’t have to wait long for consolation, because we as a parish family were all witnesses to the Holy Spirit in a very real way this morning.  Winifred Anna was given her own “Talents of Grace” this morning for her salvation.  The gift has been given, and with the help of her parents, her godmother, and her new parish family, she will learn how to re-invest it in her life, and multiply it throughout the entire world.

We see the saying of St. Seraphim truly come to life this morning, because those who have the eyes to see and the ears to hear, were able to see pure light and life come forth from the baptismal font.  The Grace of the Holy Spirit not only changes the life of a newborn baby girl, but it also serves to enlighten the lives of those who are gathered to witness it.

In the midst of darkness, here is light…and we witness that reality here this morning in the purity of a simple little girl, who has been un-coaxed by the passions and unaffected by the wiles of the devil.

May she serve an example to us all, as she leads us in conquering the darkness of the world…Amen

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