On July 4th we will celebrate our most important national holiday, marking the anniversary of the United States’ declaration of independence from Great Britain. This holiday is marked by outdoor gatherings, BBQ, and, in most of the United States, firework celebrations once it gets dark. Have you ever stopped to consider exactly what it is that we are celebrating? I would suppose that if we polled our congregation we would get many different answers to this question. Perhaps we are celebrating the idea of “freedom,” or maybe the right to “self-determination,” or even the fact that we live in a democracy rather than a constitutional monarchy. None of these reasons are necessarily wrong, but neither are they perfect - a country built upon the backs of a race-based slavery system is definitely not perfect, and cannot possibly celebrate “freedom” and “self-determination” with a straight face. But this is not the main imperfection that I am referring to. My main point, and the reason for this short article, is that without Christ we do not really have anything to celebrate. What good is freedom if we remain bound by our passions? What good is self-determination if we choose a life that separates us from God? Freedom, in and of itself, is not a virtue, nor is “democracy” or “capitalism”. While we can, and should, be grateful for all of these aspects of American society, we should not conflate them with Godliness. A person living under an oppressive Communist regime has the same opportunity to know and love Christ as we do. While we celebrate the freedom to worship as we choose, we recognize that we do not always use that freedom wisely, as we should. July 4th is a fun day to be together and to consider the sacrifices that so many have made over the past two-hundred years to shape and preserve a society that at least purports to be free. However, more importantly is the calling to find true freedom - freedom in Christ, freedom from the passions, and freedom of the spirit. Is it great to be an American? Yes it is, for most. Is is great to live in a country that, for now, allows free worship? Yes it is. But it is an even greater thing to be a Christian and to belong to a Church that is not two-hundred years old, but two-thousand! So while we gather together to celebrate the 4th of July, and while we thank God for the freedoms that we enjoy as citizens of the United States, let us also thank him for the freedom to know and love Him, and ask for the grace to use our self-determination in a way that draws us closer to His will, so that we can experience true freedom: Freedom in Christ!
Happy 4th of July!
-With love, Fr Vasili