First Observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a Federal Holiday
National Ecumenical Service
Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia
January 20, 1985 10 A.M.
Prayer of Archbishop Iakovos, Primate, Greek Orthodox Church in the Americas
"This is the day which the Lord hath made: we will rejoice and be glad in it." Today is not just another national holiday to be celebrated with the ringing of bells, loud rhetoric and patriotic applause. Such a commemoration would only blur our vision and concept of the true meaning of the day. For the 15th of January, 1929 --- the day when God blessed our Nation with the birth of a child named Martin Luther King, was meant to inscribe in the minds and hearts of all, the real understanding of the American dream: the dream that is so gloriously articulated by our oath of allegiance -- and which still waits to be translated into a happy realty.
It is, however, a day to be celebrated with thanksgiving, with prayers and with joy, for God in His providential love and concern, gave us in the life and death of Martin, a new hope that evil will one day be crushed by good will, and that injustice, prejudice, bias, violence and hatred will come to an end if we vigorously pursue the struggle through effective legislation and the enactment of God's commandment that we love one another.
Yes, today, is a day for rejoicing because we have seen the results of one man's efforts to change not only the course of events, but the course of history. We all have access today to real democracy, as well as those four freedoms so nobly articulated by Franklin Delano Roosevelt during World War II, which, if enacted, would indeed make that war, the last world war in human history.
Today is a day when we can be glad; for it is a day which gladdens the hearts of all men and women throughout the world with the reaffirmation of the truth that goodness can, indeed, conquer malice, and that death can make life immortal. Martin lived with that faith and in Memphis he sealed --- with his own blood, a new covenant between God and humans: that the Kingdom of God may, at last, come to earth and that the generations to come may live in a world where freedom and dignity will reign supreme for the benefit of all. As he fell to the floor of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, we might have heard Martin softly whisper, to his orphaned admirers, these words of Jesus: "he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life"(John 8, 12). There is yet a long way to be walked; and it must be walked with fidelity and courage, with persistence and perseverance, if it is to be successfully completed.
Martin Luther King, Jr. is not gone. And he cannot be memorialized by a bust or a statue. Only by followers, all of us, who share the same dream and the same determination to see our beloved American society, become a model society where humaneness, Christianity and solidarity will be the cardinal values and principles. Martin died so that unborn generations may enjoy their God-given birthright of equality, justice and liberty.
This is the day which the Lord hath made for us to rejoice and be glad in. May His name be blessed and glorified forever. Amen.