Orthodox Observer - July 1997
Archiepiscopal Encyclical on the Fourth of July
To the Reverend Clergy, the Presidents of the Parish Councils, Monks and Nuns, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth and all devout Christians of the Holy Archdiocese of America
My Beloved Spiritual Children,
The warmth of Summer has arrived again and we are fast approaching that quintessential American holiday, the Fourth of July. This day forms in our national consciousness the one shared event which every American, regardless of ethnic origin or cultural heritage, holds in common, the birth of our nation. July 4, 1776 is not the date of a clamor of arms; rather it is the roar of an idea, that all men are created equal, endowed by God with certain inalienable rights -life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. For Greek Orthodox Christians, many of whose fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, came to this land through the portal guarded by that sentinel of freedom, the Statue of Liberty, this day has extraordinary significance.
America has provided for us, as it has for millions of others who yearned to be free, the wondrous opportunity of living in a prosperous, secure, and open society. We may hail from different shores and continents, but we all possess the uniquely American privilege of these inalienable rights, chief among them, the freedom to worship God as our conscience dictates.
Let us never, even for one moment, take this freedom for granted. To a great extent, America was founded by people fleeing religious persecution in Europe. Our ancestors had no such opportunity and endured over four centuries of religious persecution in their own lands. Those who ultimately came to these shores came as free men and women, who had proclaimed their own Day of Independence on March 25, 1821. They arrived with the Greek Orthodox Faith branded into their very souls. They came to America seeking the freedom of opportunity which can only be found where all people are welcome in every aspect of public life.
In America, they discovered and we can re-discover every day the two great legacies of the Greek Orthodox people. As Hellenes, we are the descendants of the first democratic society on earth. The surge of brilliance in Periclean Athens which illuminated the world nearly five centuries before the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, lives on in the Fourth of July. As Aristotle said: “Democracy arose from men’s thinking that if they are equal in any respect, they are equal absolutely.” (Politics. Bk. v, ch. , sec. 2.)
And if the world’s subsequent democracies (even down to our own) have been imperfect, let us never forget that this principle, the innate equality of all people, is fundamental to the Christian Gospel.
As Orthodox Christians, we are the children of “Romaiosyne,” the heirs of the Byzantine Empire. Like America, Byzantium was a complex society made up of many ethnic and even racial communities. However, they were unified above all else by the Orthodox Christian Faith, for the Empire was a true Christian Commonwealth. In America, it is our freedom to be different that unites us. It is truly wondrous how God, precisely at the moment in history when we endured the most brutal persecution: in Asia Minor, the Balkans and all of the former Soviet Union, provided a home for the Orthodox Faith in this country. Paradoxically, here in a land where the “State” and the “Church” are divided by an insurmountable wall, the Holy Faith found protection and shelter, just as each immigrant found refuge in their adopted homeland.
Therefore, let us give thanks for this great land, America, for all that it has given to us and our families. And let us give thanks and praise to God for His providential wisdom which has planted Orthodoxy on these shores. On this Day of American Independence, may we recognize the benefits we have received and the responsibilities that history has entrusted to us.
With heartfelt fatherly blessings in Christ,
[ signed: † Archbishop Spyridon ]
ARCHBISHOP OF AMERICA
[ Orthodox Observer, Vol. 62 - No. 1131, July 1997, pp. 1 and 3 ]
*) Protocol Number 95/97