Thursday, July 25, 2013

Compassion is the Heart of Christ


We hear the word “compassion” tossed about a lot these days. So much so, that I think we take it for granted. We speak of compassion in terms of the poor and the homeless, the sick and suffering, and all those in a state of need and difficulty. We Christians especially throw the word around in just about every conversation that takes place about Jesus. But do we really know what compassion is? Do we practice it as Christians like we are supposed to? Are we even aware of the fact that if one is not compassionate one is not a Christian? Compassion is the heart of Christ. If we are truly intent on living our lives as Christ did, if we are intent on living in Christ, then compassion must be in our hearts also. If we do not have compassion for others, then we have no right to call ourselves Christians. The same is true if we do not love as Christ taught us to love or forgive as He practiced forgiveness. Compassion, love, and forgiveness are actually intimately intertwined, because you cannot have one without the other, but compassion is what we shall discuss today.
 
Compassion is a word of action. It is not just a feeling; it is not just sitting in the bleachers watching the game as a spectator. No, compassion is the heart of a person in action. It is our physical response to the needs of others. Compassion is Christ working through us.
 
Compassion is a characteristic of God. We first learned of God’s compassion in Scared Scripture. The Old and New Testaments are full of examples where God’s compassion is revealed through His acts of kindness, mercy and concern for His suffering children. From the very beginning, when He created Adam and Eve and set them in the Garden of Eden, God showed Himself as a God of love and compassion. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, He nevertheless showed mercy and compassion upon them. We see this, for example, in God’s clothing of Adam and Eve after their fall.
 
After Adam and Eve lost their state of grace, they were expelled from the Garden of Eden. By removing them from Eden, God cut them off from access to eternal life. In spite of the fact that Adam and Eve had sinned, and that all mankind after them suffers the consequences of that sin, God has not withheld His compassion and mercy and love from His creation.
 
For example, we see in the Old Testament again further evidence of God’s compassion toward His people in the very relationship He has with the people of Israel. God’s steadfast love and mercy toward the people of Israel is manifested by the covenant He establishes with them. This is a covenant of love, a relationship which entails obligations and mutual service. The covenant established between God and Israel is by no means one-sided. On the contrary, the covenant requires action on the part of both parties, wherein each party has responsibilities to the other; responsibilities which have their foundation in love.
 
Israel was God’s chosen people and because of this, the Israelites strongly believed that because of their covenant relationship with God they could expect His kindness and readiness to help them in times of need. At the same time, God expected Israel to love Him with all their heart. In this covenant relationship between God and Israel, God leads, guides, provides for, and protects His people. All these acts of God toward His people are acts of love. The covenantal love of God is joined together with His compassion. God’s compassion shown to Israel is more of a practical nature than an emotional one. In the covenant relationship between God and His people Israel, God’s loving kindness is manifested by the sympathy He shows for their distress and the desire to alleviate their suffering. “And the Lord said, ‘I have surely seen the affliction of My people which are in Egypt, and I have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters.’”(Exodus 3:7)
 
The compassion shone by God to His people resulted in the understanding that the Israelites were to treat others - family members, friends and even strangers – with the same compassion which God showed to them. We see examples of this in Isaiah 1:17; Proverbs 19:17; and Micah 6:8.
 
In the Old Testament, compassion is an expected duty among the people of Israel. It is a defining characteristic of Israel as the chosen people of God - a holy nation, a people set apart – and is primarily set in the context of family relationships. But compassion wasn’t something just to be shared among family members; it was a duty of each family member to show mercy and compassion to those outside the family unit as well. Again, we see the practice of compassion on a more practical level rather than on the emotional level. It is a duty, but it is a duty nevertheless motivated by love.
 
Showing compassion to another is part of the broader duty of keeping God’s commandments. One of the Ten Commandments says that we are to love our neighbor. The compassion that causes an individual to help the poor, the marginalized, the homeless, and the sick; to protect the vulnerable and the weak among us; and to promote justice and maintain peace is not limited in the Old Testament just to the people of Israel. It finds its perfection in the God-man Jesus Christ, Who showed compassion to all people, Jew and Gentile alike. With its perfection in Christ, compassion becomes one of the cardinal virtues expected of the people of God in the New Testament and the New Covenant made between God and His people through and in Jesus Christ.
 
In Jesus Christ, all the fullness of God dwells (Colossians 1:19). Therefore, Christ demonstrates fully by His life on earth the indescribable and limitless compassion and steadfast love of God. Because compassion is a characteristic of God Himself, we who are His children by baptism and adoption must also have compassion as one of our character traits.
 
Jesus clearly showed compassion in the way He treated people from every walk of life. It made no difference whether a person was rich or poor; slave or freeman; prostitute or person of virtue; Jew or Gentile; believer or non-believer. Jesus did not deal with God’s chosen people, the Jews, exclusively, but rather He dealt with all people without exception, even to the point of loving one’s enemies (Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 10:30-37).
 
Too often today, when we use the word compassion, we do so in the context of speaking about the poor and the marginalized. But a significant aspect of Christ’s ministry is to those who are suffering. This raises the question, “Who are those who suffer?” Is it just the poor who suffer? Is it just the homeless? Are not those who are unemployed and having trouble paying their bills the suffering as well? Is not a person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol a person who suffers? What about a person who suffers from depression or some other clinical or chronic illness or disease? Are these not the suffering too?
 
Jesus’ model of ministry focused on God’s concern for the overall physical, social, and spiritual needs of all people, not just a certain group or class of people. God’s love is not exclusive, but inclusive. His compassion is given not just to this or that group of people but to everyone who is in need and chooses to accept what He has to offer. What is truly amazing about Jesus’s earthly ministry is the way He delivered His message so that people of all walks of life could easily understand and receive it. Yet, no matter how He delivered the message, the end result of the message was always the same…that we must be servants to one another.
 
During His earthly ministry, Jesus called all people to love unconditionally, to be kind and compassionate, to forgive without reservation, to give without measure, and to be servants of one another in joy and charity. The uniqueness of Jesus’s ministry lies not in the actions of a mere human being, but in the actions of God Himself. In the person of Jesus Christ, we see how God truly loves His people and has a genuine concern for them. God considers all people worthy of respect and compassion because of who and what they are – beings created in His image and likeness.
 
The compassion of Christ carries within it the qualities of tenderness and affection. Compassion flows from the heart of Christ in unimpeded abundance. Compassion is a fundamental and distinctive quality of God. “Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful” (Psalm 115:5) and “Blessed be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; the Father of all mercies and the God of all consolation…” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).
 
The compassion of Christ knows no limits; it is boundless. Christ cares nothing about a person’s station in life. He doesn’t care where we came from, where we are, or what we do for a living. He cares only about us. He shows us all deep love and profound compassion, despite our weaknesses and utter sinfulness. To those who seek Him with a sincere heart, He opens His arms and welcomes and embraces them with a unfailing love that defies all human description.
 
In the Gospel of St. Luke we are told the story of an encounter Jesus had with a lawyer. If you remember, a lawyer asks Jesus the question, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” After some back and forth, Jesus finally tells the man, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The lawyer, in typical lawyerly fashion, asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus then proceeds to tell the story of the Good Samaritan.
 
Why did Jesus tell the story of the Good Samaritan? In order to answer this question, we must first look at the society and times in which Jesus lived. During Jesus’ time, there were definite rules regarding how the Jews should treat outsiders, namely Gentiles and Samaritans. There were also set rules about how the priests and elders should relate to others, about how men should treat women, about what a person could do and not do on the Sabbath, etc. Such rules ultimately ended up segregating people into specific groups or classes. It also allowed some of these groups to establish themselves in positions of power and privilege, which resulted in a disconnect with and mistreatment of those groups which were considered inferior or lacking in some way.
 
During the time in which Jesus lived, the command to love one’s neighbor was actually a religious obligation (Leviticus 19:18), so the lawyer who posed the question to Jesus did so to find out exactly who he was to consider as his neighbor in order to fulfill his religious duty. But Jesus wasn’t going to be baited. On the contrary, Jesus took the opportunity to make clear that one’s neighbor was every person the lawyer came into contact with, regardless of whether or not that person was of his tribe or class.
 
Christ’s response to the lawyer’s question made no distinction between persons nor did it consider a person’s ethnic or social background as being a deciding factor as to who is worthy of one’s compassion, mercy and love.  The Lord’s message was indeed very clear – you cannot love God and not love those whom God loves. And we can even stretch that further by saying that you cannot call yourself a Christian if you do not live exactly and fully as Christ lived.
 
It stands to reason that if we love God, then we must love our neighbor. It is also true that if we love our neighbor, then we love God; for love of our neighbor is borne out of our love for God. There can be no separation or distinction between our relationship with God and our relationship with one another because they are intertwined together in the person of Jesus Christ.
 
Because the fullness of God is in Jesus, then it stands to reason that Jesus is truly God. And because Jesus lived among us, then we must say with all certainty that we have seen the face of God. Many of our kind knew Him personally, have walked with Him, have eaten with Him, and have touched Him. Their personal experiences of God on earth have been handed down to us through the ages, even to this day. Jesus Christ is not some mere historical personage. No, He is more than that. He is God Himself, the compassionate and all-merciful One.
 
While He was among us on earth, we saw Jesus do many wonderful things. We watched as He ministered to those in need: comforting the bereaved, healing the sick, caring for the oppressed and down-trodden. Whatever their problem was, Jesus cared for them unconditionally. But these were not the doings of just a human being, but they were also the doings of God Himself.
 
In Jesus Christ, we are able to experience the love and compassion of God in real and tangible ways.  And that life which He lived on earth is still with us today, continued in the Church which He established by His Blood. It is the Church’s responsibility to minister to all people without exception or partiality. Our mandate is not only to care for and comfort the poor and the marginalized, but those who are suffering from alcoholism, drug addiction, unemployment, and depression; or who are divorced, forgotten or abandoned. In short, the Church is to care for all those who suffer or are in need in any way.
 
Sadly, however, we can look at the Church and see that there is a general lack of compassion and mercy in the body of believers, a society which is called to be a “holy nation, a people set apart.” This lack of compassion does not come from Christ, Who is the Head of the Church but rather from the fact that many within this holy nation we call the Church do not even know Christ other than by name and a few historical facts. Most believers do not intimately know Him or the more detailed elements of His life, which are easily learned by reading Sacred Scripture, especially the Gospels, and the writings of the holy Fathers.
 
Rather than fully embracing Christ and making His life ours many of us have embraced indifference and a self-serving life. We are more concerned with looking out for ourselves than for others. And, if we do give attention to others in need, it is only to the extent we are comfortable and not inconvenienced. Many of us will never step outside our comfort zone. For example, many people will involve themselves in some kind of charitable work during the holiday season or during a crisis or disaster, but in the life of Christ this is not enough.
 
Living a truly Christ-like life means that compassion must be in our hearts each and every day. Compassion is the heart of Christ and therefore it must be our heart also. We must live compassion and mercy every day of our lives. Christ’s compassion knows no limits or boundaries. As Christians, our compassion must know no limits or boundaries as well.
 
We are called to live a life of mercy and compassion because of the mercy and compassion God extends to us every day through Jesus Christ. God expects us to be like Him in every way. In the Gospel of St. Matthew, we hear Jesus say to us, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). What this means is that we are to be like God in every way. In fact, our primary purpose in this world is to be a reflection of the character of God.
 
It is interesting to note that the word “perfect” also means “complete” and “mature.” In the context in which Jesus used it when He said, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”, the word perfect can be taken to mean complete. Therefore, we can say that Christ expects that our compassion and mercy will be complete and full just as God’s mercy and compassion toward us is complete and full.
 
The Lord expects us to walk in compassion, mercy and love every day of our lives. Yet, many of us pick and choose who we want to love and how we love them; who we want to show compassion toward and be merciful to, and when. In this regard, I am as guilty as anyone else. But we can all overcome this by making sure we stay grounded in Christ.
 
Living in Christ is a continual spiritual journey. It is a journey during which a little of our old self dies more and more each day and Christ becomes more alive in us. As sin dies within us, the Light of Christ burns brighter in us and we become more God-like. As Christ becomes more alive in us compassion and mercy become more and more our character traits.
 
Jesus tells us in the Gospel of St. Luke: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.  Do not judge others, and you will not be judged; do not condemn others, and you will not be condemned; forgive others, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Your gift will return to you in good measure – pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. For the measure you give, will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 636-38). Jesus is not speaking here of money, but of compassion and mercy. These are more important to God than money. God has no concern or interest for money except as a way to provide and sustain His children in this world, where money is needed for the basic necessities of life as we know it.
 
As Christians, we are called to a better way of living. As Christians, we have been established as a holy nation, a people set apart. As Christians, we are called to be leaders and examples of moral excellence to our fellow men. Our mandate is clear: don’t be selfish; don’t be arrogant; and don’t try to impress others. Be humble, seeing others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others too. (Philippians 2:3-4).
 
You must have a heart of compassion like Christ. Compassion is the heart of Christ. It is a characteristic of God. Showing compassion and love for those who are suffering or hurting in any way accompanied by a sincere desire to help alleviate their suffering and pain is what it means to have the heart of Christ within us.
 
As much as compassion, mercy and love must be fully within each of us, these same characteristics must reside in the heart of the Church. If any one or all of these virtues is absent from the Church, the Church ceases to be the mystical body of Christ and becomes nothing more than another human institution. The Church can only be the body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, if it possesses within itself, all that Christ is.
 
The Church will not make a difference in this world, will not change lives for the better, and will not positively influence the people of God, believers and non-believers alike, if it does not have the heart of Christ. The Church must always be of the mind and heart of Christ.
 
As individual Christians too, we cannot be mediocre in our compassion, mercy and love. For if we are lukewarm in the practice of these then Jesus will vomit us out of His mouth. Nothing less than living a full life in Christ will save us from being rejected by Him on the awesome Day of Judgment.
 
Compassion is the heart of Christ. It requires humility and unselfish giving. One cannot be selfish and compassionate at the same time.  When God showed us His compassion and mercy, we were saved. He washed away our sins and gave us new birth and life through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
 
Since we are created in the image and likeness of God, we must, therefore, clothe ourselves with the same tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility and patience that He possesses.  We must make allowances for one another’s faults and shortcomings. We must forgive everyone who offends us and wounds us without exception, no matter how much we have been hurt. This may be hard to do, but it can be done if we look to Christ and draw our strength from Him.
 
We must be able to set aside our own personal pride and feelings in order to truly be compassionate. This requires humility on our part. It’s very easy to hold a grudge and be unforgiving. It’s a lot harder to let go of the anger, resentment and hurt that we feel and forgive those who have wronged us. God knows this, but He makes available to us the grace that we need to do what is right. So, whatever you say or whatever you do, always remember that you will be judged according to the same standards by which you judge others. There will be no mercy for those who do not show mercy to others, but if you have been merciful in your dealings with others, especially when it comes to their sins and transgressions against you, God will be merciful when He judges you.
 
In all things, we must be of Christ. If we act contrary to what we profess, then what we profess is a lie. In other words, we cannot say that we are Christians if we do not live the life of Christ and bear faithful witness to that life in real and tangible ways. Our hearts must be the heart of God. When our heart is God’s heart, compassion and love will flow abundantly from us; and we shall find life at its best and build a legacy which is worth leaving to those who come after us.

 

 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Donors and Donations


 
 
As many of you know, we have been trying for quite some time to raise money to restore our Cathedral in Utica. In the process of going about raising funds, however, several issues, concerns and questions, all of which are related to basically a single topic, have come to light and which I feel must now be addressed, especially given the Church’s current difficulties. The two topics which seem to be of major concern to many of you looking to give financially to the Church relate primarily to the question of donor privacy and anonymity, and the obligation of having to give.
 
Let me begin by saying that the Italo-Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of the Americas and Canada is deeply committed to its donors, patrons, benefactors and supporters and remains dedicated to treating them with the highest level of care and respect.  It is been our long-standing policy to ensure that our relationship with those who provide financial and material support to the Church is governed at all times by Scriptural precepts and mandates.
 
Raising money is never easy. The past several years have seen our economy take a downward turn and this has resulted in a tightening of the fiscal belt on the part of many. There is less money to go around, especially when it comes to charitable donations, and giving priorities have changed. The unique challenges our Church has faced over the past several years has not made the fundraising effort any easier. Several of our funding sources have taken a “wait and see” attitude regarding our future or have withdrawn completely. The financial situation of others has changed to the degree that they have had to cancel or withdraw their pledges or giving activity indefinitely.  I want those of you who have stopped your giving, withdrawn or suspended your pledges; or paused your giving, for whatever the reason or reasons, to know that we are still very grateful for what you have done for us. We hope and pray that we may be able to regain or resume those relationships in the near future.
 
To those of you who are considering or desirous of giving a financial or other gift to the Church, I want to make clear the following point: No one who desires to give a financial or other gift to the Church is "obligated" to do so. Giving is an act of love, freedom and generosity, not an act of obligation, duty, or social expectation. Even for those of us who are members of the Church, our “obligation” to support the works of the Church should be motivated by love, and nothing else.
 
When or if you give to the Church, you give only what your individual financial or economic circumstances will allow. If those circumstances do not allow you to give financially, that’s ok. Don’t worry about it. There are other ways to support your Church. You can give of your time and talent. If your present life circumstances do not permit you to give of your time and talent, then give of your prayers, for they are just as precious, necessary and important to the life and work of the Church.
 
If you have made a pledge to the Church for a specific financial amount and find that your financial circumstances have changed and you are unable to fulfill that pledge, again, don’t worry about it. We understand. We understand that the economy is not good and that people are having a hard time making ends meet. You should never  feel guilty or embarrassed because you cannot fulfill your pledge. God understands and we do too!  And if you have taken pause in your discernment or decision to give to the Church because of our present situation, please do not, and I repeat DO NOT, feel pressured to move on your decision because of our difficulties. Nobody can force you to part with your hard-earned money and you have no obligation whatsoever to donate to the Church or make a gift to it of any amount. No one in the Archdiocese will ever make you feel guilty or ashamed if you cannot follow through on a promised financial gift. And, no one outside the Archdiocese has any right whatsoever to make any demands of you to donate to the Church.
 
Many of you are well aware of our financial needs. Currently, the Archdiocese has total outstanding debt of $633,584, of which $383,000 is for the restoration work done thus far on the Cathedral. The outstanding restoration bills of the Cathedral are an “urgent need,” which we need to pay as quickly as possible. The payment of the restoration bills is our priority but that does not mean that if you have given or want to give money for another purpose, we will use what you give us to pay off the restoration bills, any other bills, or for another purpose. We will use your money ONLY for the purpose and intent for which it was given.

You have the right to restrict your donation for a specific use and if there is any doubt in your mind that your money will not be used for the purpose for which it is given, then by all means withdraw or cancel your donation. In addition, if you have already given money and feel your donation will not be used as desired, then you have the right to ask for your donation back. We will only use gifts earmarked as “Undesignated” for general purposes and in no case, unless we have the express written permission of the donor, will such funds be used for salaries or other administrative expenses. These costs will always be covered by other sources or through our Annual Metropolitan’s Appeal. Undesignated or general donations will only be used for the ministries, programs and services of the Archdiocese or any of its parishes, missions or fellowships. Again, not one dollar of your donated money will used for administrative or salary expenses without your permission.
 
At the heart of the Archdiocese lies a faithful and uncompromising commitment to the teachings of Christ and His Gospel of life as well as to religious freedom, whereby we are able to fully live and practice our faith without any restriction, hindrance or interference. The Archdiocese values and safeguards its autonomy and religious freedom and does not accept gifts when a condition of such acceptance would compromise these fundamental principles. Additionally, neither the Archdiocese nor any person in a position of authority in the Church, will be forced, coerced or intimidated by any person, entity or government agency to do anything which goes against or compromises the faith we are sworn to uphold and defend.
 
So that there is a clear understanding of what our position is regarding donations and our relationships with donors, past, present or future, I restate here our Donor Bill of Rights and other Archdiocesan policies regarding the Church’s relationships with its donors and benefactors.
 
Our donors have the following rights:

  1. To be informed of the Church’s mission; of the way we intend to use donated resources, and of our commitment to use donations effectively for their intended purposes.
  2. To be kept informed of the impact of their philanthropy and the Archdiocese’s evolving needs and priorities.
  3. To be informed of the identity of those serving on the Church’s governing boards and to expect those boards to exercise prudent judgment in their stewardship responsibilities.
  4. To have access to the Archdiocese’s most recent financial statements.
  5. To be assured that their gifts will be used for the purposes for which they were given.
  6. To be informed whether those seeking donations are volunteers or employees of the Archdiocese or hired solicitors.
  7. To be assured that a donor’s right to privacy will be respected at all times.
  8. To receive appropriate acknowledgment, recognition, and publicity for their donation in consultation with the donor.
  9. To be assured that all information about their donation and identity is handled with respect and with confidentiality, and to respect and ensure anonymity, if requested.
  10. To receive progress reports on supported activity.
  11. To have the opportunity for their names to be deleted from any and all mailings lists of the Archdiocese or its affiliates.
  12. To feel free to ask questions when making a donation and to receive prompt, truthful and forthright answers.
In addition to the above, the Archdiocese has the following policies in place regarding donors and gifts to the Church:

  1. Financial and other gifts will only be used for the purposes for which they are given.
  2. The Archdiocese will not place any donor’s name on any mailing list of the Archdiocese or any of its affiliates without the express written consent of the donor.
  3. The Archdiocese will maintain the confidentiality of all donor information and records. The Diocesan Bishop shall be particularly responsible for ensuring the confidentiality of all donor information.
  4. The Archdiocese will not accept any donation which, in the opinion of the Church, is contrary to the Church’s mission or which may, if accepted, compromise the Church’s integrity or image.
  5. Unless specifically given “In Memory Of” or “In Honor Of”, the Church shall not accept any gift from any individual, corporation, business or other entity in which there is an expectation of something to be given in return.
  6. “Restricted Gifts” are only to be used for the purpose or purposes for which they are given. If such purpose no longer exists, gifts are to be returned to the respective donors.
The Italo-Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of the Americas and Canada is grateful for the support it has received from its donors, benefactors, friends and supporters over the years. We would like that support to continue and hope that others will come forward to help us in our mission and vision.

To those of you who have or had concerns regarding the issues discussed in this letter, I want to say to you all that you have my solemn promise and personal assurance and guarantee (backed up by my resignation, if necessary) that we will always treat your financial and material gifts to the Church with the utmost respect; that we will never use your designated donation for any other purpose for which it was given; and that we will never betray your trust or privacy, nor your desire or need for confidentiality or anonymity.
 
I hope this public statement alleviates the concerns and questions raised by some of you - past, present and potential donors – and that we may continue together in our work of rebuilding the Italo-Greek Church. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me at any time.

 

Your unworthy servant in Christ,

+Archbishop Stephen

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Memory Eternal!


My Dear Friends,

As you know, 19 firefighters were killed this past Sunday, June 30th, while fighting a wildfire in Yarnell, Arizona. We share in the grief and loss of the Prescott Fire Department and the families of the victims during this difficult time. May God send them the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to lighten their burden and comfort them in their grief and sorrow. It is of little consolation at this time, I know, but all affected by this tragedy should keep in mind that these 19 men are heroes and that their sacrifice will never be forgotten.
 
Most of the victims, members of an elite firefighting force known as Hotshots, were in their twenties. These were young, vibrant and energetic men who had the zeal to serve their fellow human beings and communities a commitment that sometimes escapes the average person. Indeed, these men were not “average”, they were exceptional! They made the ultimate sacrifice trying to save the property and lives of people they probably never met before. But, this is what firefighters do every day of their firefighting careers, and it doesn’t matter whether one is a paid firefighter or a “volley”, they still put their lives on the line for us every day. They give of themselves unconditionally to a life of service and protection that asks for nothing in return.
 
This tragedy affects us all. It fills our hearts with sorrow no less than those who knew them, loved them, lived with them or worked with them. No matter how far away we live from the scene, we still feel the loss because we are all bound together as the children of God.
 
This devastating loss is a constant reminder to us all of the risks and dangers our firefighters face every time they respond to an alarm, whether it be a fire or EMS call. No two calls are ever the same, each presents its own unique challenges, risks and dangers. While we mourn the loss of those who died, let us also give thanks to God for each one of them and for their dedication and commitment. Let us inscribe their names forever in our hearts and remember them always in our prayers.
 
The 19 killed were Andrew Ashcraft, 29; Kevin Woyjeck, 21: Anthony Rose, 23; Eric Marsh, 43; Christopher MacKenzie, 30; Robert Caldwell, 23; Clayton Whitted, 28; Scott Norris, 28; Dustin Deford, 24; Sean Misner, 26; Garret Zuppiger, 27; Travis Carter, 31; Grant McKee, 21; Travis Turbyfill, 27; Jesse Steed, 36; Wade Parker, 22; Joe Thurston, 32; William Warneke, 25; and John Percin, 24.
 
May the Lord grant them rest in a place of light, a place of rest and a place of refreshment, whether there is neither sickness nor pain, sorrow or suffering, but only life-everlasting.
 
As is the custom in our Archdiocese, their names will be inscribed in the Book of Remembrance in the Firefighter and Police Memorial in the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Theotokos and they will be remembered always in our prayers and the Divine Liturgy.
 
May your memories be eternal, dear brothers, for you are worthy of blessedness and everlasting memory.