Today we celebrate one of the great feasts on the Church calendar, the return of Sunday football! As hard as it is to believe, and with the Red Sox riding on top of a high wave, especially after absolutely taking the Yankees to school this weekend, the fall of the year is upon us and we have much to be thankful for.
But seriously, today we do celebrate on the great feasts of the Orthodox Church, the Nativity of the Theotokos and we have been called on this day, to pray for peace in the Middle East. As we sit here in relative comfort War Ship from the United States, and now Russia and China, are poised off the coast of Syria to strike if given the go ahead.
In a letter sent to the Bishops and Clergy, His Beatitude our Patriarch Daniel, has asked us to pray during the Liturgy on this feast day “Because peace is more and more threatened at present, we address an appeal to prayer for peace on the Feast of the Birth of the Mother of God, the protector of those in distress and need, ‘the joy and reconciliation of the world’”.
His Beatitude reminds us that all Christians have a moral obligation to pray for peace, and as I reminded you last week, the entire Divine Liturgy is to point us in that very direction. The opening line of the Liturgy is “in peace let us pray to the Lord.” The image of the Theotokos stands before us as an example of that reconciliation.
In our Orthodox Theology, the Theotokos is called the New Eve. The Theotokos brought back together what the first Eve tore apart through sin. Through her willingness to serve God above all else, she became the vessel that brought forth the savior of the world. Just as Eve brought sin and death into the world the Theotokos brought reconciliation and life to the world. We ask for her intervention that a peaceful solution is found and that the horror and sin of war is averted not just here, but around the world.
But we should not only pray for peace in far off places we need to pray for peace right here, inside of each of us. Many of the problems we face in the world today are man-made. Because of that disobedience and pride of our first parents, we have a propensity toward sin, our lives are pointed in the direction of doing what is best for us rather than what is best for those around us.
Again we can turn to the image of the Theotokos. Here was a young girl, no more than a teenager, and she chose to do what was being asked of her by God. She had no clue what was to happen to her, by Jewish law and custom she could have been stoned to death, but she chose to do as God was asking her to do. She witnessed many of the miracles that her Son, our Savior, performed and she heard His preaching and she stood at the foot of the Cross and watched her Son be crucified for no reason. She was there through it all because God asked her to.
She was able to do all of this because of the peace that she had inside. While the entire world was falling apart around her, she was able to remain the source of peace to those around her. We need to find that peace that dwells within each of us; we need to pray for that peace. Some of us sitting here today are in a struggle with others and with ourselves. Tradition tells us that before we even enter the Church we should be reconciled to those around us so we can truly pray to the Lord in Peace. If we are harboring any animosity toward our fellow human beings then we cannot pray in peace as our soul will not be at rest. When we try to pray, the evil one will use those thoughts as a distraction and call our attention away from that peace that we all so desperately need. The Theotokos can be that example for us in the world gone mad. She stands as the great reconciler bringing back to her Son those who have been lost. I feel sorry for those who have reduced her role to just the mother of Jesus or who do not even pay her any respect at all and believe we have set her us as the fourth member of the Trinity when this is so very far from the actual belief we hold.
Behind our altar is an Icon of the Theotokos that one can usually find behind altars in the Orthodox Church. She is there, arms wide open, with her Son sitting on her lap. Her arms are lift toward heaven in a prayer posture that many of us do not use, but she is also holding her arms open wide to welcome us to her Son our Savior, the one that she gave birth to so that all of us might find eternal life, not through her, but through her Son that she is holding. It is for this reason that the Theotokos is never depicted in Icons alone, she points the way and guides us toward her Son, just as John the Baptist does in Icons. The point the way toward the one who is and always has been and will be. Jesus the Christ!
As our Patriarch reminds us on this day, we have a moral obligation to pray for peace, for peace and for safety of all those involved. As Orthodox Christians we pray for those who have been set over us to rule us, that in their calmness we may lead religious and reverent lives. We need to pray for the safety of those in Syrian and Egypt as well as the entire Middle East, but we also need to pray for the safety of those that are in or will be sent into harm’s way. The soldiers, sailors, airman, and marines of the military that will be asked to carry out what will be asked of them. We need to pray for not just our leaders, but all of the world’s leaders, that they find wisdom to think of the repercussions upon the innocent that always are harmed in these situations.
In a letter sent to the President of the United States by Him Eminence Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese, His Eminence says, “Mr. President, we appeal to your humanity, and compassion for people to halt consideration of any U.S military action against the Syrian government. This would be a deadly and costly action, and nothing can be gained by it.” We appeal to your humanity! This is what it has come too that we have to appeal to humanity.
The Bishops of our Church have asked each and every one of us to call our Representatives and ask them, beg them, appeal to their humanity, to not give the go ahead to this war. Even if you think they have their minds made up and they will not listen, this is a time when the American people need to be heard from. I have never asked you, from this pulpit, to do something like this, but these are extraordinary times that call for extraordinary measures. It is time that we stand and be counted on the side of peace and reconciliation and not on the side of war and killing. “This madness has to stop! It is time that we Christians, and other peace loving people, make our voices heard and draw a ‘red line’ in the sand and say no to the sin of war and destruction and pray for peace!”
I pray that you all will join me in the coming days and pray earnestly for peace. Peace in the world as well as peace within our own hearts. We ask for the intercession of our Most Holy, Most Blessed and Glorious Lady the Theotokos that a peaceful solution might be found, and in the event that we do attack, that all those involved remain safe and that innocent citizens in Syria will be protected.