Feast of the Annunciation Encyclical by His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios
Mar 15, 2000
Feast of the Annunciation
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
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 and Afternoon Schools, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth, the Hellenic Organizations, and the entire Greek Orthodox Family in America
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
For freedom Christ has set us free! (Gal. 5:1). With these words the Apostle Paul encapsulates the paramount place of freedom in the mind of the Church. Freedom is both the seed and the fruit of life in Christ. We are born of the Spirit through an act of emancipation from the power of sin and death and the devil; we live in the Spirit for the purpose of exercising and extending the glorious liberty of the children of God (Rom. 8:21).
As Orthodox Christians, we cherish freedom precisely because we believe that humanity was created in the image of God, who is absolutely free and beyond all limitation or circumscription. In the mind of the Church Fathers, human nature without freedom ceases to reflect fully the glory of its Divine Maker, and ceases therefore to be fully human. For instance, Saint Gregory of Nyssa asserts that humankind could not be constituted without the gifts of freedom, independence, and self-determination (Great Catechism, ch. 5):
How can that nature which is under a yoke and bondage to any kind of necessity be called an image of God? Was it not, then, most right that that which is in every detail made like the Divine should possess in its nature a self-ruling and independent principle, such as to enable the participation of good to be the reward of virtue?
Freedom, then, is an absolute criterion for the realization of our potential according to the will of God. Freedom is the mother of every human virtue; and virtue in turn must serve to nourish and foster the cause of human freedom. For freedom Christ has set us free!
This foundational idea—that freedom is a constitutive and dynamic element of authentic personhood—is the principle that unites our two-fold celebration of the Feast of the Annunciation and the Day of Greek Independence. On the one hand, we rejoice in our liberation from death through union with the immortal God in the person of Christ, a union which was inaugurated in the womb of the Theotokos at the Annunciation. Set free from the bonds of corruption and sin, our human nature could once again be renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator (Col. 3:10), so that we might truly realize the freedom, the authentic personhood, and the divine destiny for which the Lord created us.
On the other hand, we do not receive our freedom in Christ as an abstract principle with eschatological consequences alone. Rather, as those who have been liberated by the Spirit of God and restored to His image in holiness, we resist any diminution of our humanity by forces of depravity, greed, and oppression. We therefore also celebrate and rejoice in the Day of Greek Independence, which inaugurated the emancipation of the enslaved Hellenic peoples and the restoration of their God-given dignity, independence, and self-determination as bearers of the image of God.
For freedom Christ has set us free! The freedom that we receive in Christ is not a sterile property: it is a dynamic and powerful agent in our lives as Orthodox Christians. For where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Cor. 3:17)—a freedom that engenders freedom, a liberty that advances liberty for all humankind. The bravery, the fortitude, the tenacity, and the nobility that the freedom-fighters of 1821 displayed were the fruits of their faith in Christ the Redeemer; these virtues in turn were the seeds of courageous deeds that led to their political liberation from the hands of their oppressors.
In the Feast of the Annunciation and the Day of Greek Independence we celebrate the glorious gift of freedom in every aspect of human existence, both in things temporal and eternal. But it is not sufficient to celebrate this two-fold feast merely by paying lip-service to the idea of freedom. We receive the gift of freedom truly only when we also determine in our hearts and minds to share the gift as well, by actively promoting the spread of the Gospel, by vigorously working for the deliverance of the oppressed, and by openly advancing the cause of human rights and liberties in accordance with the Gospel of Jesus Christ our Saviour and Liberator.
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America