The Feast of Thanksgiving

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, 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,

It is the time of the year when we once again anticipate beautiful and joyous gatherings with family and friends. We commemorate various holidays and feasts with prayer, fellowship, and love, acknowledging the communal bonds that we have in our homes and throughout this country.

Certainly, this is the significance of the feast of Thanksgiving, a national holiday that had its beginnings in the trials and triumphs of a group of people who, in the early seventeenth century, found a home and freedom in America. Leaving behind religious persecution, those early settlers faced the hardships of perilous travel, uncertain accommodations, and harsh weather to establish their new community. First and foremost they knew that none of this would be possible without the help of God. Through their faith and communal bonds they found the strength to endure many difficulties. As a consequence, they were inundated with a feeling of immense gratefulness to God. Thus, the first celebration of Thanksgiving was born.

The first commemoration of Thanksgiving in the year 1621 was truly a celebration of the life as a gift from God and a thankful acknowledgment of His providence. It was also a celebration of the bonds of fellowship and love that brought together distinct peoples who each shared in a recognition of the dignity of the other. It is evident that these things were in the mind and heart of President Abraham Lincoln when over two centuries later he would proclaim Thanksgiving a national holiday.

When Lincoln issued his presidential proclamation on Thanksgiving in 1863, this country was engulfed in a brutal civil war. The communal bonds of the United States had been broken, and the fellowship and trust that had characterized the founding of this country had been discarded and replaced by bloodshed and destruction. In calling all Americans both here and abroad to a day of "Thanksgiving and Praise," President Lincoln asked all to "fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and Union."

Since that time, Thanksgiving has been a national holiday, one that is not only rooted in our thankfulness to God for His abundant blessings and grace, but also one that affirms the bonds of love and fellowship that unite us as families, communities, and as a nation. In addition, through our Orthodox Christian Faith we know and experience the necessity of community as we gather for worship and offer faithful service to one another and to anyone in need. Through our parishes we offer a witness of the life and love of Christ, in Whom true community is founded.

On this feast of Thanksgiving, may we give thanks to Almighty God for the abundant life granted to us and for the peace, harmony, love, and joy that we share with our families, friends, and our brothers and sisters in Christ. May we also affirm our commitment to strengthening the communal bonds within our homes, cities, and nation through our selfless and sacrificial acts of love and fellowship. In so doing, many more will join us in expressing gratitude to God for the great blessings He has bestowed upon us.

With paternal love in Christ,

Archbishop of America

Archive: Archbishop Demetrios' Encyclicals