Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Coptic New Year and 9/11

Today is remembered for two iconic reasons, one from 1,730 years ago, and one from 12 years ago, but both as a result of evil being done to the innocent.

1,730 years ago, during the reign of Roman Emperor Diocletian, hundreds of thousands of Egyptian Christians were persecuted and martyred for carrying the name of Christ.  The persecution was so severe that the Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox churches decided to mark 283 AD as the year of the martyrs, and to restart our calendar to honor the martyrs that gave their lives for our faith.  For many Orthodox Christians, today is Tute 1, 1730 AM (Ano Martyrum).

But for the vast majority of Americans, today is remembered for a different reason, when our country and our citizens were attacked in cold blood.

Recently I listened to a wonderful podcast by Fr. Thomas Hopko (linked at the end of this post) which he gave two years ago on the anniversary of 9/11.  In it he explains evil in the Old Testament and how it is properly understood, God's providential plan that includes evil, how we as Christians should "react" in response to it (namely, repenting, doing good, and trying to win the hearts of our enemies), and that we should not demonize these terrorists as if they were sheer and evil, nor act as if we as a nation are purely innocent and good.

I think this podcast is extremely helpful and is on a topic that is essential for Christians to understand.  No summary I give could possibly do this podcast justice, but I will share some paraphrasing below.  In fact, do not read further than this if you do not plan on listening to the podcast yourself, because you will not be able to fully understand his explanation.

On God's participation in evil:
God is not the cause of evil, human beings and demons are, but God created the world knowing that there would be evil and suffering.  Greco-latin Christian theologians use words like “permits” or “allows” when explaining God’s hand in evil, but the Bible does not speak that way; Scripture teaches that God ultimately causes everything because He created human beings knowing what they would do. 
St. John of Damascus makes an important distinction for us: metaphysically and ontologically God does not cause nor will any evil, but God providentially did will a world in which there would be evil, God willed the world as it is now because He created it knowing that all of these evils would occur.  It is clearly the teaching of the Scripture that it is God who is behind everything; God uses and manipulates the evils of men in a way that would ultimately be for the salvation and good of those who ultimately want good.  There is a providential plan that includes evil, and God is directing that plan. 
In the scriptures God very often uses evildoers and allows them to go through with their evil for purposes of His own, and those are purposes that are ultimately always good and merciful.   He uses evil doers so that people can learn, change, and repent, and overcome their own evils, so that they can see their own place in the evils of humanity that actually exist. 
What are we to see in this? What are we to learn from this?
We have to have the courage to ask these kinds of questions.  When the three youth were thrown into the fiery furnace because they would not worship the idols, Shadrach sang, “Thou art just O God in all that Thou hast done for us.  This has come upon us for our sins, You have permitted/allowed/sent these things to us because of our sins.”  That is the way a Christian would look at it.
On how we should view the terrorists:
We should ask other questions as well, why do these people hate us so much?  Why would these young guys go through all that trouble, learn to do all of those things?  You could say they are evildoers, they are brainwashed, they are in the hands of Satan, but on the other hand they are also God’s creatures.  They are our enemies, but we are commanded to love our enemies, and at least to try to understand our enemies. 
We have to ask the question, why is America so hated by so many people on the planet earth?  What is it about Americans' behavior that can cause people to act toward us the way they do? Maybe there is something in us that causes it.  Sure these people are madmen and evil, but one thing is for sure, that they are not cowards, and that they act on what they believe.  We have to ask ourselves the question, do we act on what we believe?  Why are they willing to blow themselves up?  Why are they willing to sacrifice themselves?  Is it just demonic, or is there some other failure, more common failure of humanity as a whole that has created the world as we know it today?
What a Christian should do:
There is still a question that no one can deny that we have to ask.  What should we do?  How should we behave? Not only to defend ourselves from evildoers, that is very important, but we have to ask the question, what can we do to change their minds?  What can we do to convert them so that they don’t feel so powerfully possessed to behave this way?  How can we witness to them that there is another way of living, a better way of living?  What can we do?  One thing is for sure, we are not going to do it with our porno films and our sex charged culture, we are not going to do it by the so-called American way of life the way we live it now, with vulgar materialism.  We are not going to do it with our carnal lifestyles.  We are not going to do it by greed and by power and by self-righteousness.  We are not going to do it by demeaning them and calling them names.  We are certainly not going to do it by our abortion centers and our own culture of death that we have in the western world. 
There is a deeper issue here:  how do we win the minds and the hearts of the people who hate us so much that they are willing to plan and connive and learn how to drive airplanes so that they can smash our country?  What can we do to change them? 
The first answer is, what can we do to change ourselves?  That would be what God will ask us.  All of these things have happened, how are you going to change yourself because they have happened?  What are you going to do about the fact that this has happened?  How are you going to act to prevent it from ever happening again?  Not only to defend yourself against it, but to create a world in which it would not happen, or at least it would be gravely minimized.  These are also the questions we have to ask on the anniversary of the terrorist attack of September 11.
This year, we have gained many more Egyptian martyrs for Christ.  We can learn the proper Christian response to evil and terrorism in the recent events that have occurred in Egypt.  All of those churches, houses, and stores of Christians were burned, but they did not retaliate and return evil for evil. And now everyone can see the true witness of Christians, truly loving their enemies, truly following the commands of Christ.  Even though the churches have not been rebuilt, the churches are already being glorified.

Here is the link to Fr. Thomas Hopko's podcast "Understanding Evil - 9/11 Remembered" -

Please do yourself a favor and listen to it!  You will thank me forever!!

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