Encyclical of His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco on the Feast of the Annunciation and the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights March in Selma, Alabama


Dearly Beloved,

The Feast of the Annunciation is a celebration of freedom. It is a Feast of God's promise to deliver His people from the chains of mortality. When the angel Gabriel told the young Mary that she would give birth to the Messiah of the world, the angel said that her son would sit on the throne of David and rule forever (Luke 1:32-33).

Mary understood this to mean that Israel would be restored and that the people would be free from their captivity. She assented to the message, "let it be to me according to your word."(Luke 1:38), and the process of salvation of the world began.

As Christians, we see more in the Annunciation than political freedom for an oppressed people. In Christ's ministry, He proclaimed that the Messiah would bring liberty to captive people when He read from the scroll of Isaiah, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" (Luke 4: 18-19).

Fifty years ago, on March 21, 1965, our beloved Archbishop Iakovos of blessed memory marched with Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, demonstrating our Church's commitment to freedom and civil rights within American life. His participation in the march reflected a statement he made just a year earlier, that, "the church in America must place itself in the center of American life." But Archbishop Iakovos knew the Civil Rights Movement was more than just a "political move" for the Church for greater visibility. He knew that freedom and justice were core principles of the Gospel. He knew that the Greek people had proclaimed their freedom from oppression on March 25, 1821. He knew the pain of being denied basic human rights first hand from his life and experience in Turkey.

Fifty years later, freedom and human rights are still the challenges of our age, especially for our persecuted and martyred fellow Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East and parts of Africa. We who live in freedom must proclaim and become agents of freedom for those who live in captivity. This great Feast of the Annunciation, this feast of freedom, calls us to act on their behalf.

In that spirit, I invite you to begin every church meeting you attend from now on until Pentecost (May 31,2015) with a conversation around the question: "How shall what we are doing here now advance the cause of freedom in our world today?" Use a few minutes to study the issue of freedom, especially religious freedom, its philosophical and theological foundations, its consequences, and the challenges it poses to our attitudes and actions in the world. Hopefully, the discussion will bear long-term fruit, because the true measure of our efforts will be found in the months and years ahead. Use the Feast of the Annunciation-our feast of freedom from the bondage of death - as the springboard for beginning a new level of reflection and action.

Wishing you and your beloved families the blessings of God's Grace and Mercy, I remain

With Love in Christ,
+Metropolitan of San Francisco G E R A S I M O S