GOARCH - November 11, 1997
Thanksgiving Encyclical *)
To the Reverend Clergy, the Presidents of the Parish Councils, Monks and Nuns, the Philoptochos Societies, the Youth and all devout Christians of the Holy Archdiocese of America
Greetings to you in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!
The uniquely American feast of Thanksgiving is a wonderful opportunity for us to gather as a nation before the Lord to thank Him for the blessings which he has graciously bestowed upon us. If we think about it, these blessings -- the freedoms, the abundance, the opportunities -- should be things for which all people in the world can give thanks. But this is not the case.
In some countries, people cannot worship as they choose. In others, the right to free speech is silenced. In some places, starvation is the norm. In yet others, life itself hangs in a perpetual balance. True, as Americans we are very fortunate. But do we ever think about why we are so fortunate? Or rather, what it is that our good fortune obligates us to do?
After all, it is not that the grace of God shines on us any more brightly than it does on others; God's grace is given equally to all people, and His blessings come in many forms.
Nevertheless, the particular blessings we enjoy, and for which our country is admired by the entire world, compel us -- while giving thanks -- to make these same blessings, since they are indeed gifts from God, tangibly present in other peoples' lives.
Take for example, the abundance of food on our tables. Are we not compelled by our holy Orthodox Faith to share it with those who are hungry? And the homes in which we find shelter. Are we not asked by our Lord and Master to give refuge to those who are in need? And what of the opportunities that have come our way? Are we not required to give others the same chances we have had?
We all know the answers to these questions. But have we answered them as our Faith requires?
This year we, as a Church, had a visitor that challenged our answers to these questions. His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, our spiritual father, who sits on the most glorious throne of Christendom and at the same time lives in the most humble of surroundings, came to ask us as an Orthodox community to give an accounting of our faith, and of the use we have made of the blessings God has given to us.
In essence, in whatever forum he spoke, he asked: in a land of religious freedom, do we give thanks for being able to freely celebrate the Eucharist? In a land of plenty, do we share with those in poverty? In a land of opportunity, do we choose wisely? In a land of excess, have we been good stewards of creation? In a land of "liberty and justice for all," do we always stand up for what is right?
By challenging us in this way, His All Holiness directed us anew toward a more enlightened understanding of our Orthodox Faith.
Therefore, let us indeed come together at this time of thanksgiving, and give thanks first and foremost for this spiritual reawakening. It is only from such a vantage point that we can then give proper thanks for the good fortune we enjoy, and for the opportunity we have to share this good fortune with others, which is nothing other than the opportunity for salvation.
With paternal blessings,
Archbishop of America
*) Protocol No. 163/97
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