February 6, 2015
Feast of Saint Photios
Saint Photios National Shrine Day
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 blessed Feast of Saint Photios, we offer our gratitude and support for our beloved Saint Photios Greek Orthodox National Shrine in St. Augustine, Florida. For almost four decades, our National Shrine as been a place that honors the earliest roots of our Greek American experience, affirms the value of this experience and the role of our Hellenic heritage in this country, and offers a beautiful witness of the power and grace of our Orthodox faith.
The Saint Photios Shrine is located in the Avero House, a building that served as a place of worship and refuge for Greek immigrants who came to this country in the 1770s as indentured servants. These forbears made this arduous journey hoping for opportunity and freedom. However, they arrived to the harsh and deadly conditions of the settlement of New Smyrna and the suffering and torture of servitude. In 1777, three hundred survivors fled and settled in St. Augustine. In preserving this history and sharing this story, the Shrine carries the memory of our brave ancestors and honors their sacrifice and hopes.
The Shrine is also a vital place among many institutions and programs that highlight the significant place and contribution of Greeks in the history of this country as well as the uniqueness of the Greek American experience. This has been an important part of the annual program of the Shrine, from the experience offered to visitors to the community, regional, and national events in which the Shrine directors and staff participate. For example in 2014, the Shrine was invited to participate in the installation of the Middle Passage Marker, one of twenty-four places on the Eastern seaboard designated by UNESCO’s Slave Route Project for remembrance of those who arrived and died during the slave trade. In addition, the Shrine was represented in the events marking the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act and the influence the march and violent events of June 9, 1964 in St. Augustine had on the passage of the legislation.
From its founding under the leadership of Archbishop Iakovos and with the support of many faithful of our Church in America, the Saint Photios National Shrine has offered a witness of our Orthodox faith. Thousands of visitors have seen the beauty of the chapel and have offered prayers and lit candles. Regular educational programs have brought children and youth to this very sacred place. Also, the ongoing programs, church supply service, and bookstore offer support to the ministries of our parishes and a faithful testimony of our rich spiritual heritage and our mission to share the Gospel. In addition, the Shrine helps to preserve and share the legacy of our Greek Orthodox Church in America.
On this weekend of the Annual Pilgrimage, a new exhibit will open. Sponsored by Leadership 100, the exhibit “Pioneering Priests of America” will focus on the presence of Orthodoxy in America prior to 1922. Also as an addition to the permanent icon exhibit at the Shrine, eleven new icons will be added to an existing gift from Mr. Alfred Funai.
These events and programs of our beloved Saint Photios National Shrine represent the many facets of the ongoing work and witness of dedicated staff, directors, and benefactors. This ministry on behalf of all Greek Orthodox Christians in this country needs your prayers and support. On this Feast and the weekend of the Shrine’s Annual Pilgrimage, I ask that you express your support for this historic place and vital institution of our Holy Archdiocese. We must also follow the example of our Shrine by remembering our past and our unique experience in this country, sharing it with our children, youth and others, and offering a powerful and loving witness of the faith and life we have through Jesus Christ our Lord.
With paternal love in Him,
Archbishop of America