Encyclical of Archbishop Demetrios for July 4 - Independence Day
Jun 23, 2006
To the Most Reverend Hierarchs, the Reverend Priests and Deacons, the Monks and Nuns, the Presidents and Members of the Parish Councils of the Greek Orthodox Communities, the Day, Afternoon, and Church Schools, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth, the Hellenic Organizations, and the entire Greek Orthodox Family in America
My Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
On July 4, 1776, the United States of America boldly and firmly declared its Independence. In so doing, it articulated a cherished phrase in the text of the Declaration of Independence, which is today enshrined in the hearts of every student and admirer of American history and in the fabric of our national conscience: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Today, on July 4, 2006, we as Greek Orthodox Christians in America find ourselves blessed to live and prosper in this great nation. Today, we bring to this nation an important witness and a valuable perspective, and we can expand upon the relatively free- standing phrase "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," as used by our founding fathers of the 18th century Enlightenment era. An Orthodox theological interpretation of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" would be presented as an inalienable right to live in conditions of love and relationship with others marked by the very real and continuing presence of God. This stands in harmony with St. Paul's words to the Corinthians: "where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (2 Corinthians 3:17). Similarly, the principle "that all men are created equal" stands in harmony with the teachings of our Orthodox Christian faith that all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God.
Based on these perspectives offered by our Orthodox faith, the saga of American Independence, which tells a story of resolute determination to stand against the destructive forces of tyranny, is not at all alien to us. On the contrary, it resembles the dramatic account of our own history as Greek Orthodox Christians. It calls to mind our Hellenic forebears who fought successfully for liberty against Ottoman domination in the 19th century; it recalls the struggles of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents who left their countries of origin over a century ago in search of a better life, in search of the life that today we proudly enjoy as citizens and residents in America.
Like all struggles for national independence, the story of American Independence continues to hold important lessons for us as people of faith and as lovers of liberty. The first of these lessons is that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were so important to our American forefathers that they were willing to risk the consequences of fighting for them. Indeed, as the text of the Declaration concludes, they "mutually pledged to each other [their] Lives, [their] Fortunes and [their] sacred Honor." A second lesson is that the source of confidence in our founding fathers derived from nothing less than their unshakeable faith in God. Accordingly, they signed their names to the text of the Declaration "with a firm reliance upon the protection of divine Providence." Thus, our national holiday of American Independence naturally raises the question of how genuinely we ourselves stand committed, like our founding fathers, to the defense of these ideals even in the face of those who have difficulty understanding our way of life and its importance to us. It also asks us to consider how firmly we place our reliance upon God as our protector in this life.
In our contemporary world, which continues to witness the ravages of natural catastrophe, poverty, war, and terrorism, the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, are as important today to affirm as they were in the 18th century. Our celebration of these inalienable rights on this day, enhanced by our Orthodox Christian understanding of them, is best expressed when we insist through peaceful and Christian means that other people in other nations must never be denied access to these precious rights. For, as the signers of our Declaration of Independence understood, whenever people are denied access to these rights, they are ultimately deprived of that which God in His love has freely and lovingly endowed upon them and upon us all.
I pray that as we celebrate this Fourth of July holiday with all our heart, we may remember the sacrifices of our forefathers. I pray that we may remember with joy and gratitude how they turned their dream of liberty into the reality that we today live and breathe. May God keep us always in His infinite protection and mercy, and may God bless the United States of America.
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America