Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
It’s been over 20 years since my neighbor asked me the famous question, “Why is this happening to me? I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t kill anybody.” When I told people I was to go to the seminary they started to look at me differently and started to ask me these “serious” questions. I was a 14 year old boy and didn’t know how to answer that. Needless to say, after nine years of seminary training and nine years of service as a parochial Priest I still don’t know much. But just the other day it dawned on me, I might have an answer. So let me tell you about my journey from the time that I was asked this question until today when I think I have an answer.
It was 1994– Great Friday. It was a war time. Regardless of the noise of the ongoing war, we kids were happy about dying eggs for Pascha (Easter), happy that we are going to eat eggs because eggs were sort of a luxury at that time. That day a few of my friends decided to go and visit some abandoned front lines to collect some trophies. Trophies were guns, ammunition, unexploded grenades, etc. Well it was their “lucky” day. They found an unexploded grenade. I was told that as soon as my friend picked it up, the grenade went off, blowing my friend into pieces. It was miracle itself that I was not with them since we were always together, before school, same classroom, and after school. So the day after Pascha there was a funeral, a lot of people, a lot of crying, and that is when the cousin of my friend asked me, “Why did this happen to him? He did not do anything wrong, he was just a kid, his father just got killed a year ago”, a lot of good questions that I could not give an answer to. And that is when it all started…
Year of 1999– I graduated from the seminary. Out of 52 students that were enrolled with me, only twenty of us graduated. I felt so good. I thought I was smart. That there is nothing I couldn’t do. Well, God decided to humble me with the above mentioned question. So, after I graduated I went to visit some relatives, an old aunt and uncle of my dad’s. When I got there they had some friends over that were their age. So when my baba started boasting how I was smart, how I was to become a priest, etc., one of her friends turned to me and asked me, “So, you are gonna be a priest?” I said, “Yes”, with the proudest voice I could produce. He looked at me and asked, “Why is this happening to us and what is going to happen to us?” They asked me this question because they themselves were confused. They were refugees who lost everything in the war. They were scared of what tomorrow was going to bring. They knowing that I was to be a priest thought I could offer an answer. Of course, I could not give an answer to that because I did not have one! What a humbling moment for me. That old man put me right where I belong, on the ground at the end of the line of knowledge. It is a reminder for all of us that before God helps us to find some answers He first makes sure we are humble and aware of our unworthiness. Boy, was I reminded of that.
Year of 2015– I recently had a young married couple over at our Church office for some talks. They were both Orthodox. The husband was Serbian and wife belonged to another Orthodox group. As every marriage has its rough patches, so this one was going through some hard times as well. So this young couple went and visited some monasteries for some advice. And they got lot of advice and part of that advice was that they should do fasting, Confession, and Communion. So a monk from one of the monasteries first called the wife for Confession and after she was done he called the husband for Confession. The husband would not confess to the monk and said that we Serbs don’t do confession. The monk could not believe what he was hearing. The young husband said he had to check with a Serbian priest first. I have to add that this young couple are not our parishioners and not from St. Louis. How they found me, only God knows. After the initial shock, the monk agreed to the young husband’s request. So they came to me and I told the husband that there was the Holy Sacrament of Confession even in the Serbian Orthodox church to which he was surprised. After I proved to him that there is one, he went back with his wife and did Confession and everything else that was requested of them.
And that is when I realized that I might have the answer to this particular question “Why me?”
I realized that we are ignorant as Orthodox Christians. As a priest, I witnessed how ignorant we are from clergy to laity. I witnessed that many people do not even know the Our Father by heart. That we don’t know the basics of our faith as simple as the Creed that we read in Church every Sunday. We might know the words but have no clue what means what. We don’t know when major Church feast days are. When your priest reminds us that we should fast we turn to him and say “Father it is o.k. or I can’t because I’m hungry all the time.” Well let’s just hope when we die and when God ask us why didn’t we fast and we give Him the same answer as we did to the priest, God will say, “Oh okay, why didn’t you say so, please enter into Heaven.” It seems that we can’t find time for prayer, contemplating about God, reading scriptures. But as far as Facebook goes and other social media, for that we have time, all the time in the world!!!!
But believe it or not this is not the worst part. Being ignorant of our faith is not the worst part. One would say, many martyrs and saints of early Church were illiterate. They didn’t know much and yet they are in Heaven. Yes, that one would be right but none of us are illiterate. We are smart and we have all the access to information yet spiritually we are illiterate. Let’s just remember that as it says in Bible, “For from everyone to whom much is given, much shall be required.”
So back to the worst part, the worst part is not only are we ignorant but we became arrogant, so arrogant that we just demand and demand but not giving anything in return! When God does not fulfill our request we become angry and start questioning God’s existence. When something “bad” happens to us we instantly ask “Why me?” The “bad” we should see as God’s love because He wants us with Him in Heaven, the “bad” is just a simple reminder of who we are and where we belong. A reminder that we are mortal and we don’t belong in this world but are created for the world to come. We are so arrogant that we forget about all those people that have so much less than us.
Let me offer a few examples:
- The Homeless – When negative temperatures hit St Louis vans go out to collect them so they don’t freeze to death. At that moment we are in our warm bed, probably asking something from God instead giving thanks. To me that’s arrogant.
- I recently saw picture on the internet, somewhere in the world, of a toddler sitting and crying because there are multiple guns pointed at them. Most of us probably complain how we need more things for our children even though we all know our kids have waaaaaaaaaay more than they need. Our children are safe and we still complain to God about them – to me that is arrogant.
- How many people are out there in the world, hungry, naked, and poor who do not even have enough clean water to drink and who even live in our communities? And we still have something to complain about and are even asking for more. That is us being arrogant of God daring to say that He is doing things to us that we don’t “deserve”.
Everything that God does has an educational purpose, to teach us that we are created for so much more than this world. When I see innocent people suffer, struggle even in my own surroundings, I should witness that as God’s love toward us. Personal tragedy is not the end of the world, it hurts but it will hurt much more if we end up in hell and won’t just hurt us but it will hurt God as well because according to the Holy Bible, God wants all man to be saved.
So here is the remedy for these two illnesses – ignorance and arrogance: Come to Church, Fasting, Praying, taking Communion, reading Scripture, doing good deeds, taking time for ourselves just to contemplate about God even if that is only five minutes of your day. I send out weekly messages from Spiritual elders. Do we just delete them or do we think about them when we read them? We have a Prologue from Bishop Nikolaj Velimirovic . You can buy the book or you can go to our website for the daily readings. It takes ten minutes to read about the saint of the day and there is a short sermon as well. This is nothing but a cup of Divinity per day until we come to the Divine Liturgy to taste from the Cup of Salvation. There are so many other books from the saints of the recent years that lived in our times, experienced similar temptations that we can benefit from.
My dear ones, when are we going to come to our senses and realize that we first must give thanks for everything to God and only then dare to ask for what we think we need and only then if it’s going to benefit us for our personal salvation?
After all this, the answer that I think I have is- Why not me? When I see something unfortunate happen to someone maybe I should say, “I’m surprised that it wasn’t me.” If I am ignorant and arrogant of God and my personal salvation why am I surprised if something bad happens? If I truly have faith, when something bad happens then I should realize that God may be tempting me to see if I have the faith that I think I do. Let us always refer to the book in Old Testament – Book of Job. If you haven’t read it yet it might be good that you do. God loves me and He wants me – either good or bad, God wants me to correct myself or to strengthen my faith and that I believe is somewhat of the answer to the question “Why me?” – because of the Love of God.
I pray that we are going to change for sake of our salvation.
Yours in Christ