In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Last month in this country we suffered terrible gales. Many people had their electricity and telephones cut off. Seven people were killed in accidents, mainly by falling trees. Indeed, it seems that not a day goes by without some natural catastrophe happening and lives lost – here floods, there a hurricane, here a volcano, there an earthquake. Insurance companies with an almost blasphemous attitude call such events ‘Acts of God’. But since they are not caused by God, who actually is to blame?
Some people blame governments for not being prepared. Other people blame big companies which drill for oil and shake the earth’s crust or cut down forests and alter the climate and cause floods. Whatever the truth, never does anyone say – ‘I am to blame’. We accuse others, but never ourselves. Like children who play and then argue, we shift the blame – ‘it wasn’t me, it was him’, ‘it wasn’t my fault’, ‘I didn’t do it on purpose’.
Such a way of thinking is not the way of the Gospel.
Thus, in today’s Gospel, Lazarus did not blame anyone for his poverty and misery. Unlike insurance companies, he certainly did not blaspheme against God for his situation. He did not even reproach the rich man for his meanness. No, he accepted in humility his situation. And because of his humility he went to heaven, to the bosom of Abraham.
As for the rich man, to whom tradition gives the name of Dives, he on the contrary never once thought of thanking God for his wealth. He did not show his gratitude to God by caring for the poor men at his gate. No, he feasted at sumptuous banquets and lived for his belly. No doubt he attributed his wealth to his own imagined cleverness. For he possessed no humility, he had only hard-heartedness, allowing Lazarus to die at his gates, surrounded by stray dogs who licked Lazarus’ sores, while he made merry. And because of his hard-heartedness he went down to hell.
Dives’ attitude is rather like that of those clever people who imagine that with their computers and satellites no ill thing will ever befall them. ‘Saved’ by modern science, they imagine that no electrical failure will cause their satellites to fall out of the sky, and that no power cut will ever put their computer out of operation.
Why did God not allow the rich man in Hades to send a message to his brothers to warn them to repent? Because it would have made no difference. God in His foreknowledge knew that they would not have reacted. Since they did not believe the greatest men of their people, Moses and the Prophets, why would they believe their own brother who had led such a futile and superficial life. Prophetically, Christ says in the Gospel, that they would not even have believed one who had been raised from the dead. And indeed, we know that this was so, for Christ was speaking after He had raised the son of the widow of Nain from the dead. Moreover he foreknew that His own death on the Cross and His Resurrection would not by far convince all. And indeed we can add from ourselves that if Christ were to come back and repeat all that He has already done for us, dying and rising from the dead again, there would still be those who would not accept this.
In this way, we can now answer the question we asked at the beginning of this sermon. If God does not cause such natural catastrophes, why then does He allow gales and tornadoes, floods and earthquakes to happen? Who is to blame?
Man himself is to blame, simply because man does not ask God for catastrophes not to happen, because man does not accept God’s power. Man does not seek God’s protection through prayer and repentance, through confession and communion. Man has persuaded himself through modern technology that he is so clever that he can do without God. But modern man has so blinded himself with his cleverness that he has forgotten that he can do nothing to protect himself from the natural elements, only God can do that. Modern man has so blinded himself that the like Dives the rich man, he cannot see Lazarus starving in agony at his gates.
On the other hand, it is also true that there could be many more natural catastrophes. Why have whole cities and lands not been destroyed by earthquakes? Why have whole countries not been consumed by tidal waves? Why has the earth survived for so long despite the accumulation of human sin? Why has God been so patient that He has not allowed all these things to happen?
Only because there are those who have prayed and continue to pray. The Mother of God and the saints and righteous people continue to pray for ‘the peace of the whole world’ and for the salvation of all. This is the only reason why we are still here. The world hangs by the thread of prayer.
For example, exactly sixty years ago, there took place a great and vital battle, the Battle of El Alamein. It was a battle which pitted the forces of the Nazis against the Allied Army, an Army composed not only of English, Scottish and Welsh, but also Irish, Australian, Indian, Polish and Greek forces. I know, for my own father was there. This was a battle which was vital, for had the Allies lost it, then the rest of the war could easily have taken a completely different turn and we might not have had the freedom to be here today and worship as Orthodox Christians in English or in any other language. It was the turn of the tide, the first ever Allied victory against the seemingly invincible enemy. Churchill was to call it ‘not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning’. Many soldiers there, on both sides, saw on the first night of the battle a mysterious light in the sky, seemingly a white figure in the sky, sowing panic among the Afrika Corps. And then among the Greeks, there were those who recalled that they were positioned at El Alamein, the ancient monastery of the Great Martyr St Menas, whose feast-day it is this very Sunday sixty years on. It was St Menas, called on in prayer, who won the victory, sowing confusion among the German forces and putting them to flight.
The world is run not by armies, or politicians or generals or businessman. In reality it is run by prayer and lack of prayer. There will no peace in the world until there is prayer. And we too shall perish like the rich man until we pray to Moses and the Prophets and the One Who is truly Risen from the dead, Christ our True God.