Breaking the Cycle of Sin and Pain: A Letter To My Parishioners

Last night I attended a prayer service in the street in front of the Coptic Orthodox Church that was burned down early Monday morning. Although some evidence points toward arson, arson has not been proven and no motive has yet been identified. However, there has been a recent spike in violence against churches (vandalism, arson and threats), some sources report over 200 significant incidents in Canada since June. Many of us may be wondering what we should do. Well, I think we should do what our Coptic Orthodox brothers and sisters are doing. We should pray and love.

Yes, we can do other things too. We are looking into our fire insurance to make sure it will cover our replacement costs if it is needed. We could also set up a video surveillance system around Holy Nativity Church—but to tell the truth, I’m not particularly drawn to that idea. And there may be other things that we can do on a merely human level. And let us not despise the merely human. Merely human matters affect our spiritual life and visa versa. Merely human matters are important.

However, the Church is more than merely human. You and I are more than merely human, more than merely biology and psychology, merely conditioning and training, merely stimulus and reaction. You and I in our relationship with Christ can transcend the merely human. We do not have to be determined by what happens to us. If the martyrs of the Church (and Jesus Himself) teach us anything, it is that we do not have to give in to anger and hate and fear. We can even love our enemies.

Last week I wrote a bit about how sin and pain are transferred from one person or group to another; how the pain of being a victim can be used as a sort of weapon, or a kind of motivation or even a justification to oppress and victimize others. This cycle of anger and fear and hate, of oppression and victimization leading to more oppression and victimization can only be broken when we entrust our lives to Christ. When we entrust our lives, our families, our Church to Christ, then whatever happens, we know that Christ will be with us in it. This is how the martyrs were able to stay faithful through every trial and temptation. This is how you and I will be able to overcome fear and to love even those who are, or seem to be, our enemies. And when we are able, somehow with God’s help, to respond to anger with peace and respond to evil with good, then the cycle of sin and pain begins to be broken, then you and I are actually becoming like Christ.

May God grant you peace as we live through these crazy times. Crazy, yes. But no more crazy than other times that the faithful people of God throughout history have lived through. How did they make it through? The same way that you and I will make it through, by “commend[ing] ourselves, and each other and our whole life to Christ our God.” This is how the Divine Liturgy teaches us to pray. And if we do indeed pray this way, then like our spiritual ancestors before us, we too will shine as lights in the darkness of our own crazy generation.


  1. Here, in faraway Australia, I am shocked and saddened by this dreadful news and cannot believe what is happening in Canada with the arson attacks on churches. All those beautiful icons, thousands of hours of prayerful writing, all gone. The widespread nature of these attacks means they cannot be easily dismissed as the work of a single or few sick individuals.
    I hope your local authorities and Prime Minister Trudeau makes investigating these church arson attacks a high priority.
    My condolences to you and my prayers that you will have wisdom in responding. In my humble opinion there is a time for Christian outrage and a time for loving and forgiving after the matter has been investigated and resolved.

  2. The truth is, it is not for the Prime Minister to investigate. It is up to local police authorities. Christians are not a persecuted minority in Canada and therefore don’t warrant special attention, even if it was motivated by hate. (I would say the same about Muslims in Muslim-majority countries, Hindus in India, and Jewish people in Israel.) In terms of forgiveness, Christ forgave His killers AS they were killing Him, not after. You can’t forgive while dead. Christians are not supposed to reflect on motive or causes or amount of remorse before we forgive. All of that is irrelevant: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

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