Lord, have Mercy

Bishop Seraphim : Article
Lord, have Mercy
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Winter 2001/2002]

The horrifying events of 11 September, 2001, the attacks by terrorists on major symbols of the American society, have affected and changed the whole world. They have shown us all our vulnerability. They have reminded us, now more than ever, of the fragility of life.

Americans, once seemingly isolated, have been touched by what so many people around the world have felt, some continually, for a long time, and they have been filled with fear. Canadians have been touched and filled with fear also, because not only did Canadians perish in the evil events, thus affecting their families, but many others have been affected through the media, and through the multitude of personal and other relationships which Canadians have with Americans.

The work of terror on that day was in part successful, because so many people immediately responded in deep fear. They expressed it in many ways, such as deep anger, and a blood-thirsty desire for revenge. As a result, many innocent people (Muslims, Sikhs, even Christians) were “punished” by various persons. Thus, the demon of blood-thirst, a ravenous, insatiable being, inflamed passions and incited violence. Not recognising the activity of the demon, people fell prey, and unwittingly fed it. In the days after the attacks, we saw this not only in the USA, but in Canada and elsewhere. Now there is war.

At the same time, we also saw that there is still compassion on the earth. People immediately rushed to help, and they continue to volunteer help of all kinds to the bereaved and to the damaged communities. Canadians have sent aid in substantial amounts, for Canadians are, characteristically, peaceable and peace-making. We have also seen many turning once again to God, as persons often do in times of great trouble and need. Unfortunately, this turning is often short-lived. This is so not only because people are typically quick to forget God’s help (see 2 Moses [Exodus], 4 Moses [Numbers] and some Psalms), but also because we Christians have not managed to address the greatest need in their hearts, and because, in fact, we have often not addressed it within ourselves.

What is this need ? We know what it is, for we say it every time we say the “Our Father”. We hear it also every time we hear the “Beatitudes” (see Matthew 5:3-12), in that they introduce the “Sermon on the Mount” (see Matthew, chapters 5 to 7). It is the need to forgive. If we do not find the way to forgive (yes, even forgive enemies as our Lord did), we will be left with a festering wound of hatred within our hearts. This wound will only corrode our own hearts, and not at all touch those who are enemies. As Orthodox Christians, we have the great responsibility to show everyone around us, by our example, Who Christ is, and how His love works for life and health of body and soul. We cannot do so unless we have learned to love as He loves us, and to forgive as He forgives us. Sometimes we show this love, as did the heroic firefighters, police, rescuers, and hospital workers. It comes from our depths in emergencies, and it is clear evidence of the Image of God that is within us. However, showing this love has to go far beyond emergencies, into daily living.

We must, in due time, live in and give expression to this selfless love in our daily relationships. It is crucial that we immerse ourselves in Christ’s love, so that we may bear much greater fruit. Hanging on the Cross, He forgave those who were killing Him (see Luke 23:34). Our love in Him must develop so that we may be able to do likewise. Not all of us are being killed, but many of us suffer slander, as well as various sorts of gossip and twisted talk. These give great pain to the heart. If we do not find the way to forgive the perpetrators, then our bitterness becomes a distorting and deadly poison in our hearts, which will kill our very selves as persons. This is why our Saviour calls us in the “Our Father” and in the “Sermon on the Mount” to forgive — yes, even as he told the Apostle Peter, to seventy times seven, and more (see Matthew 18:21-22).

How do we accomplish this ? How do we pray for our enemies ? Archimandrite Sophrony, of blessed memory, gives the solution : “Kyrie, eleison” ; “Gospodi pomilui” ; “Duomne milueste” ; “Seigneur, aie pitié” ; “Lord, have mercy”. This simple prayer, he says, covers everything. It does not tell the Lord what to do, since it recognises that He alone knows what is best. Instead, in this prayer we offer to Him our pain, our anger, our suffering, our anguish, and our fear. We also offer to Him those who have inflicted the pain. In so doing, we allow the Lord to heal our broken and fearful hearts. In so doing, we give Him the opportunity to bring the evil-doers to repentance — which is, after all, the main point of everything.

God alone is the Judge of all, and He alone is the administrator of His own justice and righteousness. He alone knows the hearts of all. He alone can correctly deal with those who commit evil. Just as He is the Good Shepherd who sought us out in our fallenness and united us to His love, so He can seek out even the evil-minded. It is not for nothing that we, in the Anaphora of the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great, ask the Lord to “make the evil be good by Your goodness”. All this is embraced by, and accomplished in the prayer “Lord, have mercy”. Let us ask the Lord to have mercy on us, to heal us, to bring repentance to all, to stop the cycle of violence and retribution, to bring peace — and to let it begin with us, the faithful in Christ, to His glory.