Rev. Fr. Dimitrios J. Antokas is the Presiding Priest at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Bethesda, Maryland.
More than a month ago, we experienced another horrific shooting in our nation—the deadliest yet. And this week, we witnessed another mass killing on the streets of one of our country’s greatest cities—this time a vehicle was the weapon of choice.
It seems now that we pass from one tragic event to another, almost with a sense that it is inevitable. We mourn; we cry; we are shocked; we get momentarily indignant. Then normalcy sets in again. Time passes, numbness grows, and we lose the fierceness of determination. We develop ways to shield ourselves from the pain, to block it out, to live pretending it just isn’t there. Yet it is. And it seems relentless.
It pursues us and corners us and reminds us of past scars and wounds. Though we say we are stunned, we no longer say we are surprised. What have we done with God’s creation? What has become of God’s people? It was the in the desert of the Old Law, the wilderness, that God tested His people (Deuteronomy 8), taught them to search their souls, to face death and bondage with courage, and to purify their hearts. It was in the wasteland that He forgave them for turning their backs on Him.
Now, in the scorching desert of Nevada and on the world-weary streets of Manhattan, we must own two more betrayals, when the anger, resentment, and darkness that hides in all of us, found its home in one person, and then another, who turned life into death, hope into despair, and festivities into cacophony. Have mercy on them, O God, and upon us. We are tired in the deep-down of us. Genuine emotional fatigue is besetting the land. We are ready to pray for those dead and wounded, but seemingly are paralyzed to take action to stop violence, to create healthy community, and to give our children a place of peace in which to live their future.
We speak like the psalmists about sending prayers and good thoughts to victims’ families and to the wounded, but God summons us to speak like the prophets—calling a people back to sanity, to unity, to the realization that no freedom is of greater importance than the freedom to live a dignified human life. The tiredness we feel is God’s tiredness. It’s the same tiredness that Jesus felt after his own struggles against social injustice that led him to fall asleep on the boat with his disciples.
Give us courage, O God, to respond to this call and to wake up. Help us see in all these feelings—the tiredness, the frustration, the personal anger at these events—that you call us to act. Help us see in these emotions your own desire for our personal change and conversion. Help us see in these reactions your pushing, and prodding, and poking us to do something —not only to pray and think but to engage one another in peace and community, to confront the obstacles that threaten reverence for life, and to take the risks we need to live in safety, sanity, and sanctity together. Because we know this is the way you move people to action.
Jesus did not stand by and just shake his head when faced with conflict, or illness, or human hurt and injustice. He plunged into people’s lives, He challenged them to change, and by his word and example, He brought them to a new awareness and way of living. We are your Son’s disciples, Father-God, and we stand ready to do what we must for His sake and for our own. May the sleep of the Angels come upon those who died, the loving healing of Jesus come upon the wounded, your choicest reward upon those who helped, and your lasting mercy upon these United States of America. For you are the God of Mercy, the Lord of every nation and government, and we give you glory, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen!
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