Remembering September 11

Remembering September 11

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In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

On this Sunday before the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, our church brings to mind for us the Cross of Christ. Christ was crucified upon the cross so that those who believe in Him may have eternal life. Likewise we are called to glory in the Cross, to endure suffering in Christ’s name but also to show mercy in Christ’s name.

There’s a popular sermon illustration about a pastor who had actors show up for services dressed like terrorists with guns and threaten to kill anyone who would not deny Christ. They allowed anyone willing to deny Christ to leave rather than be shot. Once the deniers of Christ have all left, the actors say, “Ok pastor, you can start the service now. All the hypocrites are gone.”

The Orthodox Christian Network ran two stories this week that essentially portray this sermon illustration in real life. In the first story, OCN shares a report from the World Council of Arameans. ISIS terrorists brutally executed two Christian children and a mother last week in Northern Iraq. Fearing for their lives, more than 40,000 Aramean families – at least 200,000 human beings – fled in the middle of the night from their ancestral homes, towns and villages in the Nineveh region.

Another unprecedented humanitarian disaster is now unfolding in Iraq. In recent weeks, thousands of Aramean families had already escaped the Mosul region to the Nineveh province, after ISIS terrorists took control there. But now, the entirety of the Nineveh plains are emptied of their native Christians, who belong to the Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Chaldean and Assyrian churches in the region.

This is the second region that has been emptied of its native Christian population for the first time in its millennia-old history. Thus, an ancient civilization, cultural heritage and population are being destroyed and erased from Iraq’s future.

“It’s genocide, ethnic cleansing,” said Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Nikodimos Daoud of Mosul in an impassioned — and now famous — interview to MEMRI TV (Middle East Media Research Institute). In the interview, the Archbishop says that he waited to speak out against ISIS because he did not want his flock in Mosul to suffer any repercussions. Now that all of the Christians have fled the city and surrounding region in order to escape horrific executions of men, women, and even children, the Archbishop says there is no longer any reason to remain silent.

The second story from OCN this week is about the work of IOCC and the Orthodox Church in Gaza. 2,400 children and parents are now taking shelter at the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Porphyrios in Gaza City. The church, with the help of IOCC, is providing emergency shelter to displaced families, many of whom have lost their home, possessions, and livelihood in the ongoing hostilities with Israel.

As the conflict has only gotten worse, the number of people sheltering at the church has swollen well beyond what anyone expected. As of this week, 2,400 displaced children and their parents are packed onto the church’s property, sleeping in the community center as well as outside in the church courtyard.

International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) is on the ground in Gaza to provide humanitarian relief to families in urgent need of food and basic supplies. IOCC distributed hot meals to hundreds of displaced families seeking refuge at the church, for many their first hot meal in weeks.

“We were not able to provide meals like this,” explained Hani, one of the church council members, who expressed gratitude for the critically-needed assistance. “With this support we are able to help feed these people who have come to us for help.”

What is striking about these two stories is that Christians are standing up for their faith in both of them and in response to their Muslim neighbors. In the first story, Muslims are forcing Christians and other ethnic minorities to either convert to Islam or be killed. By the way, this is not a new thing. Over a thousand years ago, both Syria and Iraq, and for that matter the majority of the countries in the Middle East, were predominantly Christian countries. Islam has been picking away at this population with financial incentives, both with the Dhimmi double tax called the Jizyah on non-Muslims as well as promises of financial reward if they converted. Islam has been picking away at this population through repeated waves of persecution often reaching the point of “convert or die”. What we are seeing today is not new and not foreign to Islam or the Koran, but results from a literal reading and interpretation of that book.

The second story is in many ways much more striking. Though the Muslim neighbors of the faithful of St. Porphyrios in Gaza have over the years “encouraged” their Christian neighbors to convert to Islam, during this time of need the Christian population of Gaza has responded with compassion, love and mercy. How very powerful is that?!

What are we doing about our faith in the Cross of Jesus Christ? How would we respond if we were told to choose between either converting to Islam or being killed? How would you respond to your Muslim neighbor in their time of need? This is a time for real Christians to rise up. We cannot allow ourselves the luxury of sitting complacently in our pews and pretending that we don’t need to worry about anything beyond the walls of our church. We cannot pretend that there’s no point to registering to vote, studying all the candidates and issues, and then voting our values. When Christians in America vote their values, our nation prospers. When they either stay home or leave their values at home, we and our nation suffer the consequences.

A week and a half ago, only 20% of registered Brevard voters participated in the election. Two thirds of Brevard citizens claim to go to church at least once a month. What does that say about what happened locally? What does it suggest is happening nationally? What will it take for Christians to actually live their faith outside the walls of their churches? Do we really need another 9/11 wakeup call? Even that was short-lived. What will it take for another Great Awakening, another Great Revival in the life of our church and our nation?

When I was a single young adult, I often tried to keep a fast from food on Wednesdays and Fridays. I don’t mean just abstaining from certain foods but not eating any solid food on those days. I tried to do it again this past week. It seemed harder than it used to be. I had my coffee in the morning, some juice, and water throughout the day, but no solid food on either day. I also tried to spend some extra time in prayer on those days. It was not easy. I can’t tell you that I definitely saw something happen as a result of my fasting. I do know that the Bible and our Orthodox Christian faith tell us to fast and pray during difficult times in our lives, during challenging situations.

With all that is going on in the world, the rising again of radical Islam, our national debt, the turning of our nation from a Christian one with freedom of religion to a non-Christian secular nation with freedom from religion, with the anniversary of September 11 upon us this week, shouldn’t we all be turning to God, humbling ourselves in fasting, prayer and repentance. We need to show mercy to others, even to our enemies, so that God can show mercy to us. We need to pray for our troops, for our President, our Congress and Supreme Court and all our public servants. We need to earnestly live our faith at work, in school and in every aspect of our public life, not with proud triumphalism but with humble, merciful faith, hope and love.

Brothers and sisters, please, for God’s sake, for Heaven’s sake, for the sake of the world, for your sake and the sake of your family and friends, repent, if you can, get on your knees in prayer and fast. Pray for God’s mercy on us all. Show God’s mercy to others. Prayerfully consider a donation to the IOCC and do whatever you can, whatever God is calling you to do, at this time of crisis. The word crisis in Chinese is composed of two words, danger and opportunity. Let us all be aware of the current danger and see it as an opportunity to repent and recommit to our relationship to God, to pray for mercy and to show mercy to our brothers and sisters in need.

To God be the glory, now and forever and to the ages of ages, Amen.

Editor’s Note: This sermon was preached this morning at St. Katherine’s Greek Orthodox Church in Melbourne, Florida.

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Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network.  You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+.

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Fr. Demetri Tsigas

Fr. Demetri Tsigas was ordained a priest at Holy Trinity in Portland, Oregon by Metropolitan Anthony Gerganakis of San Francisco (of blessed memory) assisted by Bishop Kallistos Ware of Oxford, England on July 5, 1995. Fr. Demetri was ordained a deacon at his home parish of St. Andrew in Randolph, New Jersey, by Metropolitan Silas Koskinas of New Jersey (of blessed memory) on May 29, 1995. St. Andrew’s was founded and lead for 42 years by his father, Fr. Konstantine Tsigas, back in December of 1962 just a few days after the family arrived on the shores of America. Fr. Demetri served as the associate priest at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Portland, Oregon for seven years (1995-2002). His next parish was St. Gregory of Nyssa in El Cajon, California where he served from 2002-2006. Fr. Demetri arrived here as the priest of St. Katherine in Melbourne on December 1, 2006 and anticipates serving St. Katherine’s for many years focusing on the Gospel message of love, humility and forgiveness. Before being ordained a priest, Fr. Demetri had the honor to serve the Greek Orthodox Church in many capacities. He served as Youth Director/Pastoral Assistant in Broomall, PA (1994); Norfolk, VA (1991-1993); Piscataway, NJ (1988-1991) and the Diocese of New Jersey (1987-1988). He has served as a counselor/spiritual director at many camps throughout our Archdiocese (Camp Angelos, Portland, Oregon – 1995-2002; Ionian Village, Bartholomeo, Greece – 1982, 1983 & 2000; Camp Nazareth, Pittsburgh, PA – 1993; Rose City Camp, Detroit, Michigan – 1985; Scout Jamboree, St. Basil Academy, Garrison, NY – 1983-1986; Camp St. Andrew – 1984-1987). His calling to the priesthood developed out of his extensive youth ministry work with teenagers and young adults (esp. GOYA, YAL & OCF). Even before going to seminary, Fr. Demetri served as a GOYA advisor, Campus Ministry (OCF) coordinator, Oratorical Festival chair (parish, district and diocese), YAL conference chair/workshop coordinator and retreat master/advisor/counselor at innumerable youth retreats. Fr. Demetri graduated from Holy Cross Theological School with a Master of Divinity in 1987. He has completed graduate level course work in both Biopsychology and Social Work. In 1982 he graduated from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey with a dual B.A. in Biology and Psychology. Fr. Demetri was born on December 12, 1960 in Patras, Greece. He emigrated to this country in 1962 and became naturalized as a citizen of this great nation in 1985. He married Eleni Zuras on May 28, 1994 at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Bethesda, Maryland. All their children were born in Portland, Oregon. They lost their first child, Nikonia Evangelia late in pregnancy due to Preeclampsia. Jordan was born in 1999 and Jonathan in 2002. For leisure, Fr. Demetri enjoys working out and science fiction, as well as golf and other sports. He played Frisbee with the 1978 World Championship team while at Rutgers, and throws a mean disc. His motto and worldview is summed up in the following statement: God is Love. We are created in God’s Image. We were created to love. Imperfect people in a fallen world serving a perfect and Holy God.