July 4, 2010
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,
On this annual observance of Independence Day, we give thanks to God for the spiritual freedom we have in Christ and for the freedom we have in this nation in which we live. As people of faith we are recipients of the grace of God, which frees us from the bondage of sin and death and enables our ascent to restoration and eternal communion with Him. As citizens and residents in the United States of America, we are beneficiaries of a form of government that recognizes both the political and social freedoms inherent to each of us as human beings.
One of these freedoms is religious liberty. Over two centuries ago, many of the framers of our political system realized that this was a necessity for the stability and function of the new government and that it was a right belonging to all in relation to freedom of conscience and the pursuit of truth. In the process of establishing the new nation, it was apparent to the framers that the country had many different religious groups. They were well aware of the dangers of adjoining one religious tradition with the power of the state. These modes of governance that were based on coercion often resulting in oppression and exclusion, had led many to leave their homelands and come to America. The framers also believed that freedom of conscience expressed in religious belief, speech, and association was not a threat but a right of each and every person and should be protected from the power of government. None of this was an attempt to inhibit the vitality of religion, as in fact many of the framers recognized the moral and communal role of religious faith in contributing to a strong citizenry. The primary motivation was religious liberty—the freedom of each and every person to choose, to believe, to practice, and to offer and share with others without fear of the interference or oppression of government.
As Orthodox Christians living in this nation, we have and continue to share in this freedom. We gather as communities, worship and minister freely, build churches and schools, and share our faith with others. In addition to our faithfulness to God and our determination to cherish and share what He has given us, religious liberty has contributed to the vitality of Orthodox Christianity in America. May we give thanks for this, and may we use our freedom as an opportunity to participate fully in our faith and to share the Gospel with all.
May we also be mindful of those who labor for faith and ministry within societies that have a problem with religious liberty either as a right or as an essential element of a free society. This is the political context that continues to challenge and heavily press our beloved Ecumenical Patriarchate and especially His All Holiness our Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Governments, commissions, and world leaders have addressed these issues and continue to champion the necessity of religious freedom for the Ecumenical Patriarchate. However, more must be done.
As Orthodox Christians in America and as beneficiaries of religious liberty, many of you have offered warm prayers and precious services to our Ecumenical Patriarchate recognizing its needs as well as the importance of religious freedom. I give thanks to God for your precious contribution and pray for His continued guidance and strength in these efforts. Let all of our faithful throughout the United States, all of us who live in a free society and cherish religious liberty, pray and continue to increase our assistance. Now is a critical time to voice our support, to encourage leaders in government, and to guide awareness into action. May we do this in gratitude for the freedom we have, for the sake of the Church and the Gospel which we are called to share, and for the glory of God.
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America