Thanksgiving Day 1999
O give thanks unto the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever (Psalm 136: 1)
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,
One of the finest American customs is the annual observance of Thanksgiving Day. There is something special about this day which we set aside for expressions of gratitude in our family gatherings. For the holiday of Thanksgiving is more than a gracious acknowledgement of God’s bounties at the close of the harvest: it is also a demonstration of our faith and hope for the future, even in the face of the winter months ahead. This national readiness to thank the Lord for His abundant blessings, to see His hand at work even in difficult circumstances, and to look towards tomorrow without cynicism or despair is an element of the American heritage that is in profound accord with the traditions of Orthodox spirituality. As Greek-Americans who are Orthodox Christians, therefore, we find a double joy in the observance of this day.
Many families have a Thanksgiving tradition of giving every person at the table an opportunity to express a reason for gratitude in the year that has passed. How fitting it would be for our family in Christ—the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America—to follow this tradition! As a Church, as brothers and sisters in the Faith, and as fellow communicants at the table of the Lord, we surely have found many causes for thanksgiving to God in the past year.
Yet on this Thanksgiving Day 1999, we have a special obligation to voice our gratitude. Our generation stands, according to the common reckoning, on the threshold of the third millennium since the birth of Christ. Poised as we are at this unique vantage point in the history of humankind, it behooves us to look back with thanksgiving, not only on the previous year, but also on the century and the millennium that now come to a close.
If we cast our gaze over the last one thousand years, one outstanding feature meets our eye: the inexorable spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the entire world, passing beyond the borders of the ancient Roman Empire into more distant lands and even into parts unknown to the earliest generations of Christians. When the Apostle Paul spoke of the Gospel bearing fruit in all the world (Col. 1:6), he meant the Mediterranean world of the Pax Romana. Yet in our times we can truly see the Word of Life bringing forth fruit on every inhabited continent on the globe, such that men and women of every tribe and nation and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. In this last millennium, every event in the life of the Church—even the most tragic—has served ultimately to advance the proclamation of the Gospel and the progress of the human family. Times of oppression and persecution have paradoxically worked for the dissemination of the Good News, just as in the earliest days of the Church (cf. Acts 8:1, 4).
Moreover, we as Greek-Americans have received a special measure of grace in recent times. Though our community began humbly as a collection of poor immigrant families, we now at the end of the twentieth century have become one of the most prosperous and highly educated ethnic groups in the country. This is undoubtedly a blessing of God. But above all, as Orthodox Christians, we have preserved the unity of the faith until now, despite serious threats of schism on various occasions in the past two centuries. This unbroken unity with one another and with our Mother Church is surely the most precious gift of all that the Holy Spirit has bestowed upon us, and we as a community of faith are bound to express our gratitude for this inestimable blessing.
The Psalmist tells us, “Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who have pleasure in them” (Psalm 111:2). As we study the previous thousand years of our life as a Church, we see without hesitation or doubt that it has been a millennium of the richest heavenly blessings. Strengthened in soul by these thoughts, with hearts of thanksgiving and praise, let us magnify the name of God, Who has given His only begotten Son to us and to the whole world, along with every blessing of this life and of the life to come.
May the Lord grant to all of you a truly Happy Thanksgiving and a blessed closing to this year and this millennium of grace.
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America