Orthodox America

  A Sign of Hope in the Heavens

While NATO bombs were raining down upon Yugoslavia, Washington DC was hosting NATO's 50th anniversary celebration. At noon on April 24, in Lafayette Park, directly opposite the front door of the White House, an estimated 9,000 people gathered to speak out against NATO's unrelenting bombing of Yugoslavia, to pray for the suffering Serbian people, and to ask God to grant rest to the souls of NATO's innocent victims. The scene was quite remarkable: One could see a multitude of people - Serbs, Greeks, Russians, Arabs, Americans - not only demonstrators carrying signs protesting the acts of barbarism being perpetrated on the Serbian people, but many others holding Serbian, American, and Russian flags, religious banners, processional crosses, and holy icons. Throughout the crowd stood many clergymen, representatives of a number of Orthodox jurisdictions. On and around a central platform stood priests of the Serbian Orthodox Church, together with His Eminence Archbishop Christopher and His Grace Bishop Mitrophan.

With the chanting of "Christ is risen from the dead," a moleben began. After a prayer for the salvation of the Serbian land and its Orthodox people, a litya was served. The priest intoned the final petition, asking God to grant eternal rest to the souls of His newly-reposed servants, and to make their memory to be eternal. As he did so, hundreds of black helium balloons were released, and slowly floated across the White House. There followed a collective gasp, and then loud applause, hardly the usual response to "Memory Eternal." One of the organizers of the demonstration stepped to the microphone and said, "If anyone wants to know whether God is with us, let him look to the heavens." The sun, which was almost directly overhead on that bright sunny day, was encircled by a 360 degree rainbow! After the services were concluded, an exuberant Orthodox multitude, with the clergy at their head, marched peacefully through downtown Washington. Seeing the heavenly sign, who could doubt that God was with us and had heard our prayers.

Curiously enough, although the rainbow/halo was clearly visible and was successfully photographed, and although television and newspaper reporters and cameramen were in abundance at the service and demonstration, neither the television news nor the Washington newspapers made any reference to the miraculous sign in the heavens.

Perhaps this should not be surprising. When 500,000 Serbs were driven from their homes in Bosnia-Herzegovina and when their medieval churches and monasteries were destroyed, the media seemed not to notice. In 1995, when 270,000 Serbs were "ethnically cleansed" from their homes in the Krajina, the media seemed not to notice. When the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army intensified its attacks upon civil servants, military authorities, and monastics in the heartland of Serbian history, the media seemed not to notice. If they were incapable of seeing those events, how could they be expected to notice something as simple as a rainbow around the sun?

One person to whom I related the story asked me how I could believe that it was a miracle if the bombs were continuing to fall, how I could find a cause to rejoice if evil was still flourishing. Yes, the bombing continues, the Serbian people continue to suffer and to be vilified, and many people continue to freely choose evil over good. Yet, while one could choose to focus on grief and bitterness over the fact of so much evil, one can choose instead to show love for the suffering people, and to pray. For many people in Lafayette Park, the sight of the rainbow, appearing during an expression of love and concern for the souls of the deceased, was a clear response to those prayers, was a sign that He has not departed from His people.

Deacon Leonid Mickle

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