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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Most people in the world have by now heard of the Russian town of Beslan. The dreadful atrocity that took place their last Friday has shocked everyone. It is a pity therefore that some aspects of this tragedy have been overlooked, and even deliberately distorted, by the anti-Russian Western media. What are these aspects?

Firstly, although there have been well over three hundred victims - and the final total may be far more than that - we should not forget that a miracle has taken place in Beslan: Of 1,100 hostages, a great many have survived. This is against all human logic. Human logic says that all should have died amid the huge arsenal of explosives and weapons of the fanatical, but well-prepared, terrorists. Amid the monstrous horror of what has happened, it is all too easy to forget that it is a miracle that anybody escaped at all.

We do not forget of course that it was the same when three years ago now, two aeroplanes hit the Twin Towers in New York, claiming over three thousand lives. There too was a miracle amid the horror, the miracle being that, if the two planes had struck the towers two hours later, there could well have been not three thousand, but fifty thousand, victims. Human beings forget that amid horror, there are always miracles.

Secondly, the Western media have tended, as usual, to come to an atheistic conclusion regarding the events in Beslan. They conclude that, since this appalling tragedy has taken place, there is no God. If there were a God, they say, this tragedy could never have taken place. Such a view supposes that the imaginary god of the Western media must be some sort of dictator. He must be one who continually intervenes in human affairs, to such an extent that human-beings in fact have no freedom, that they are mere slaves or robots of their dictator-god. This is not the case, because a dictator-god does not exist.

However, the God Who does exist, the God Who Is, the God Whom we know, is the God of Love, revealed to us by the New Testament, unknown to the peoples of the Old Testament. And wherever there is Love, there is also freedom. Without Love, there is no freedom. Without freedom, there is no Love. Without Love and therefore freedom, there is only darkness and chaos, as before the Creation. The presence of Love and the presence of freedom are always signs of the presence of God. Where there are neither, there are the places where men have rejected God, nothingness.

We know of the existence of Love and freedom from our relationship with the God of Love. He does not want slaves to love and worship Him, but free sons and daughters. This is true also of relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, families and friends. Wherever there is Love among human-beings, there is also freedom.

But with freedom, there is always choice, and the freedom to choose between good and evil. Love or hate are a choice we make. If I may use the words of today's Gospel, God calls all, but often only a few choose to follow Him. The terrorists chose the path of evil, because they did not choose the path of God.

Thirdly, the view of this tragedy in the media is almost entirely negative, because the media almost entirely lack faith. The media believe that the victims are all dead, that they have lost everything. On the other hand, for the believer, however tragic, however awful this monstrous crime is, there is still no reason to despair. For the believer, the victims are not dead, but have left this life and evil and the shadow of death, for another life. As innocent victims of evil, they have gone on to a greater and fuller life than this one, on the other side of death. Their lives have not ended, they have begun afresh. The parents weep and wail, as all we parents do naturally when we lose our children, but the victims themselves weep not; we weep for ourselves. 'Weep not for me, O My Mother', said Christ from the Cross.

I began by talking about a miracle that happened in Beslan. This was the miracle that many of the 1,100 hostages survived, many of them even physically unharmed. Given the situation of fanatical, inhuman terrorists, this was a miracle. But how did this miracle happen? How can we explain it?

Here are the words of explanation. They come not from me, but from one of the survivors:

'People were praying the whole time and those who didn't know how to pray - we taught them'.

As we, in our Russian church in England, pray today for all the innocent victims in Beslan, and a wave of solidarity sweeps across the Orthodox world, let us learn from the above words.

To the victims of evil, cruelly tormented and slain in Beslan - Eternal Memory!


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