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,
Each year, on the feast day of Saint Photios the Great (February 6), we honor the work and ministry of our Saint Photios National Shrine in Saint Augustine, Florida. We do this because our Shrine is not only the location of some of the earliest Greek settlements in America, but also because this vital institution of our Holy Archdiocese seeks to perpetuate a spiritual and cultural heritage that was brought to this land by Greek immigrants.
It was in 1768 that approximately 400 Greeks settled in the colony of New Smyrna having endured the hardships of persecution and an arduous voyage to America. Within ten years, due to oppressive environmental conditions and inadequate provision for their basic needs, the Greek community relocated to Saint Augustine. It was here that a structure known as the Avero House, built in 1741, became the center of the religious and social life of these early immigrants. Today, this building is the home of the Saint Photios Shrine having been purchased by the Archdiocese in 1966.
For each one of us as Greeks, Greek-Americans, and Orthodox Christians, this saga of struggle, community, and faith is significant because it speaks of the immigrant experience as generation after generation sought to establish homes, businesses, Hellenic organizations, philanthropic societies, and Orthodox parishes throughout this country. As we have done this, our cultural heritage and our Orthodox faith have been perpetuated and shared within the larger American society; and in our vital efforts to understand, cherish, and transmit all that is true, honorable, just pure, lovely, and gracious (Philippians 4:8), the Saint Photios National Shrine offers a ministry that is worthy of praise.
As both a chapel and a museum the Shrine represents two essential qualities of our Greek Orthodox communities. First, it accentuates the primary role of worship and faith in each of our lives. Second, it affirms the significant contribution of our Greek heritage to our parishes and organizations in America. This coalescence of faith and history, this inseparable and enduring link between our spiritual and cultural heritage assists us in offering a crucial witness of the inheritance that has been granted by the Father, revealed by the Son, and preserved by the Holy Spirit. In his Epistle to the Colossians the Holy Apostle Paul refers to this gift of redemption, transformation, and life as the inheritance of the saints in the light (Colossians 1:12). Thus, our Saint Photios National Shrine is properly named, not only in commemoration of a great luminary of the Church who has been proclaimed Equal-to-the-Apostles, but also in affirmation of our calling to let the radiant light of our inheritance shine before others so that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).
It is with these words in our hearts and minds that each of you is asked to contribute to the work of our National Shrine through an offering to be taken in the parishes of our Holy Archdiocese on Sunday, February 11. All donations should be sent directly to the Saint Photios Shrine in Florida, as your gifts will assist in the programs and maintenance of a ministry that is a faithful steward of our history, our culture, and our faith.
May the pure light of Gods divine knowledge shine in your hearts, and may your homes and parishes be blessed with peace and abundant mercy.
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America