July 4, 2009
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 Distinguished Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Day, Afternoon, and Church Schools, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth, the Hellenic Organizations, and the entire Greek Orthodox Family in America
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The Fourth of July is a day when we join with people across this nation and around the world in the celebration of an historic achievement that exalted the necessity of human freedom and initiated a political and social environment filled with opportunity and potential. The United States of America, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, was “conceived in liberty,” dedicated to the ideal of justice and equality for all, thus becoming a nation that broadened the scope and function of citizenship and of the meaning of belonging and community.
As Orthodox Christians, in addition to our American citizenship, we know and experience community also through our worship, fellowship and ministry in our local parishes. In these communities of faith and love we are connected to a much larger and eternal community, the Kingdom of God. In God’s Kingdom, we are citizens of a realm of life and being, in which we follow His will, and are recipients of His grace. As citizens of His Kingdom, we are called to an awareness and response to the needs of others during the course of our lives on this earth. Our Lord affirmed this in His ministry and His teaching, even emphatically stating that the inheritance of the Kingdom and of eternal life is intertwined with our response to the needs of one of the least of these my (i.e. Christ’s) brothers (Matthew 25:40). Thus, an essential characteristic of our heavenly citizenship is our active care on earth for those in need.
The responsibility for others, especially in their time of want or crisis, is also critical to the strength and viability of a free society. Our citizenship and our belonging in this great American nation implies the presence of a nurturing community that advances the ability for all people to experience life, liberty, and happiness. It also implies the presence of a community that itself is nurtured by the free response of its members to the needs of their fellow citizens and residents. With discernment but without discrimination, we respond to any person in need, knowing that our ideals of freedom, justice, and equality are related to the well-being of each and every person in our society.
In our celebration of Independence Day, may we take a moment to reflect upon the meaning of our citizenship and our belonging as an American people, and as members of the Kingdom of God, affirming that compassion for and assistance to others is essential to both. May we also remember that our calling as Orthodox Christians is to share the Gospel of love and truth, so that all may know the grace of God and may find salvation in Jesus Christ. Our sharing and heralding the message of the Gospel enhances our responsibility as Americans to care for our neighbors. When we respond to others in need, we strengthen the general welfare of our society; and we sustain the freedom, justice, and equality that we cherish, and that we enjoy as a superb gift of God.
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America