“BLESSED IS THE NATION WHOSE GOD IS THE LORD”
By Metropolitan Philip
As the United States of America embarks on its third century of proclaiming Liberty and Justice to, and for all mankind, I would like to share a few brief thoughts with you before we conclude this Convention and disperse to our communities throughout North America.
In the Book of Deuteronomy, chapter eight, verse seven, we read:
“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks, of water, of fountains and springs, flowing valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills, you can dig copper. And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord, your God, for the good land He has given you.”
On November 19, 1620 after a perilous journey, during which the Mayflower encountered a number of dangerous storms, the pilgrims woke to the shout of “Land.” One of them, William Button, died during the journey and was buried at sea. Another, John Howland, was carried overboard by a wave, but was rescued; and Steven and Elizabeth Hopkins became parents of a son, named “Oceanus” for his birth place. Thus, led by the star of freedom, about one hundred pilgrims dropped anchor off Provincetown, Massachusetts.
It was this love of freedom which motivated the early pioneers to take such risks and suffer hardships. They did not want riches or fame; it was their ambition only to build themselves homes, to educate their children in the traditions of the motherland, and to worship God as their conscience dictated. They decided that in all the world America was the one place which offered them these opportunities. It is evident, therefore, that the first era of our early history was marked by fierce struggle for mere existence.
The second and most brilliant era of national life was marked by a tremendous struggle for freedom and independence. The search for liberty—religious, civil or personal, brought thousands of early settlers to these shores and peopled the young America with a race of men to whom liberty was more precious than life. We are very indebted to these courageous individuals who were ready at any moment to sacrifice their lives so that the future American generations may enjoy freedom, justice, prosperity and human dignity. If we examine carefully the Declaration of Independence, we find that the authors of this declaration had a strong faith in God who created all men equal with unalienable rights to live freely, happily and to worship God according to the dictates of their consciences. Thus, from the very beginning of our national life, there was a strong emphasis on the right of the individual. Such emphasis is deeply rooted in our religious heritage. In the Book of Psalms, we read the following:
“What is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him? Yet thou hast made him little less than the angels, and dost crown him with glory and honor. Thou hast given him dominion over the works of thy hands. Thou hast put all things under his feet.” 8:4-6.
Based on this divine revelation, the right of the individual to seek freedom, justice and equality, regardless of creed, race or color is very sacred. We must thank Almighty God that we Americans are enjoying a great measure of freedom, justice and equality. Because of our human weakness, however, we have a tendency to use our freedom to the detriment of others. My freedom ends where your freedom begins. Freedom must not become a license to deprive others of their God-given rights. Freedom does not give us the right to suppress others and monopolize the wealth of the world at the expense of the poor. If there is a starving child in America, this means that all Americans are starving. And if there is a starving child in this world, this means that the entire world is starving. St. Paul said: “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?” II Corinthians 11:29. Man has never been an island unto himself. The shores of his concern have expanded from his neighborhood to his nation, and from his nation to his world. Free men have always known the necessity for responsibility. This responsibility should weigh heavy upon the hearts of all free men. Dostoevsky realized this when he wrote:
“I tell you man has no more agonizing anxiety than to find someone to whom he can hand over the gift of freedom with which the unhappy creature is born.”
Freedom without responsibility is chaos. Only responsible freedom is a divine gift which we must preserve and cherish, and responsibly pass on to the next generation.
In October, 1973, Alexander Solzenitsyn wrote:
“The most important part of our freedom, inner freedom, is always subject to our will. If we surrender it to corruption, we do not deserve to be called human.”
During the past two hundred years, we have made the greatest contributions to mankind in the fields of science, technology, medicine, economics and social concerns; and we Orthodox can be justly proud of our important role in these developments. We must be cautious, however, lest we become arrogant and self-sufficient. Arrogance and self-sufficiency bear the seeds of our own destruction as individuals and ultimately as a nation. Many nations and empires have risen, flourished and collapsed because of arrogance and moral decadence. Edward Gibbon in his famous work, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” cited five reasons why the great Roman Empire withered and died. Here are the factors he cited:
1. The undermining of the dignity and sanctity of the home—the very basis of human society.
2. Higher and higher taxes; the spending of public money for free bread and circuses for the populace.
3. The mad craze for pleasure; sports and other entertainment becoming every year more and more exciting, more brutal and more immoral.
4. The building of great armaments when the real enemy was within . . . the decay of individual responsibility.
5. The decline of religion—faith fading into mere form; losing touch with life, losing power to guide the people.
Can we read in America, today, some of these signs which Edward Gibbon painted hundreds of years ago about the collapse of the Roman Empire? Let us pray that our Great Republic will never have the same fate. As we plunge into a new century, let us resolve that the greatness of America lies within you and me; within the individual. America cannot grow taller and stronger than the individual who makes America. Walt Whitman, the poet of America, summed up this reality as follows:
“It is not the earth, it is not America, who is so great; it is I who am great, or to be great—it is you up there or anyone. It is to walk rapidly through civilizations, governments, theories, through poems, pageants, shows, to form great individuals.”
Let us affirm our deep faith in God, the Lord of History who controls with His mighty hand the destiny of nations and empires. Without God, everything which we have built throughout the years will be consumed by fire and turn into dust and ashes. Let us never forget God’s words in Deuteronomy:
“You shall remember the Lord Your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth; that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as at this day. And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you this day that you will surely perish.” 8:18-20.
Metropolitan Philip delivered this speech during the banquet of the Archdiocese Convention this year in San Francisco.