Ecumenical Prayer Service on the First Anniversary of September 11th

Livonia - St. Mary Orthodox Church

September 11, 2002

 

"Almighty Father.  Bless us with thy wisdom in our counsels and with success in battle, and let our victories be tempered with humanity. Endow, also, our enemies with enlightened minds, that they become sensible of their injustice, and willing to restore our liberty and peace.  Thy will be done. Amen."

 

George Washington prayed those words during the American Revolution, and to me they seem fitting on this first anniversary of September 11th.

 

Over the past year, Michelle and I have prayed fervently for the victims of 9/11 and their families; for the rescue workers; for our men and women in uniform; for our President and his advisers and the men and women who serve in Congress.

 

Always in our prayers we are thankful to be Americans, and to have the privilege of raising up our three daughters in this great nation.

 

Many people have asked how September 11th changed our lives and our nation. It's a good question, but it is also important to ask how September 11th ratified the constancy and nobility of the American spirit.

 

Looking back on that tragic day - the first major marker of the 21st century - I see many things for which I am grateful.  Let me offer three instances that reveal how the American spirit shone through the black, smoke-filled skies over the city of New York, the District of Columbia, and the fields of Pennsylvania.

 

First, like so many of us, I think of the New Yorkers who met that tragic day with a courage and heroism that have won the admiration of the world.

 

Consider the story of a 33-year-old woman named Florence. Florence was five months pregnant when she left her home that sunny morning and went to the World Trade Center. About 8:50 she was walking off the elevator on the south tower's 55th floor when she looked out the window and saw huge concrete chunks and flaming debris falling from the north tower.

 

An announcement advised people in the south tower where she was to stay put; they were safe. But Florence had a strong will to live and wasn't taking any chances.  She instinctively went to the stairway and made her way down 35 floors - to the 20th floor - when United Flight 175 slammed into the South Tower where she was. The building swayed violently, but she made it out, and she and her baby escaped serious injury.

 

When Florence realized that this was no freak accident - but that she and thousands of others were caught in the middle of a terrorist attack - she was seized by the thought: I must have this child. Why let horrible people fill the world? It is vital that we fill the world with good people.

 

She went on to give birth to a healthy daughter, Emily, last February 18th. I thank God for Americans like Florence, who believe that good can overcome evil.

 

Second, something highly symbolic occurred in Washington on the evening of September 11th, something for which I am also extremely grateful. As you know, Capitol Hill had been cleared out that morning after the Pentagon was hit. Downtown Washington was like a ghost town.

 

But you know what? All through the night of September 11th and September 12th, the lights shone on the Capitol Dome, with its allegorical "Statue of Freedom" on top, lit up as ever. That bright dome and statue were visible for miles - a beacon of light on a terrible, dark night.

 

The fact that the "Statue of Freedom" was illuminated broadcast a clear message to the terrorists, as well as to our allies, that American democracy would not be broken. Our government and institutions would endure, and our generation would stay true to this nation's great charter of freedom. I thank God for the lights on that statue, that night and every night since, because it shows America's commitment to free institutions and self-government under the rule of law.

 

The third thing I think back to is what happened on United Airlines Flight 93, which went down in the field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. When Todd Beamer and fellow passengers voted to take back that airplane, when they refused to submit to the terrorists and instead rushed the cockpit, they fought the first battle in the War against Terrorism.

 

Their spirit of sacrifice is a riveting example of one of the national traits that have made our nation great. A spirit expressed by our Founders when they made a flag that said, "Don't Tread on Me." A spirit expressed at Yorktown at the Alamo at Midway at Omaha Beach and a thousand other places that are the hallowed ground of liberty.

 

I thank God for that spirit of sacrifice, and pray that it always endures. A mother named Florence, a statue named Freedom, a businessman named Todd - I thank our heavenly Father for such as these. May we always remember them.

 

God bless America!