Giving Thanks in Hard Times

By Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos.

The Editor of the St. George website thought that Father Ted’s Thanksgiving 2011 message was worth printing again. The St. George community extends our warmest blessings to you and your family on Thanksgiving and we hope that you have much for which you are thankful.

We are living in times of unceasing turmoil. The stream of daily news is filled with reports about wars between and within nations, political divisions at home and abroad, and economic crises in the world over. Humanity on planet earth is caught in a continuous cycle of discord, strife and self-inflicted ills that seem beyond the wisdom and capabilities of leaders. Unfortunately many honest and good people suffer the consequences of political and economic ebbs and tides. Most of us know people who have lost their jobs, and some who have lost their homes as well, and others who cling desperately to the basic means of survival. How then can we celebrate the true meaning of Thanksgiving in hard times?

We learn from the Scriptures that the foundation of our hopes and aspiration are grounded in the love and goodness of God. “O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His steadfast loves endures forever” (Psalm 118:1). As long as we keep our minds and hearts on our loving Father in heaven, and utilize the capacities and opportunities that God has given us with wisdom, patience and courage, we will pass through hard times by God’s grace.

The first Pilgrims faced more dire circumstances. Sailing the Atlantic was a frightful trial. Many got sick and others died. During the winter of 1620-1621 half of the survivors perished of exposure, scurvy and other ailments . . . “sometimes two or three a day,” wrote William Bradford in his journal. Yet, as the community gained life and hope in the new year, and they gathered their crops of the summer and fall, the Pilgrims turned to God in thanksgiving because of their unshakeable faith in God’s goodness. Their thanksgiving was an expression not only of faithful courage to endure through trials but also of gratitude for the gift of life and God’s many blessings which are neither cancelled nor should be overlooked because of hard times.

In his classic assessment of the human condition (Romans 1:18-32), St. Paul attributes the spiritual chaos and moral degradation of universal humanity to willful defiance of the true God and scornful failure to acknowledge and give thanks to God. “For although they knew God they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened,” falling to idolatry and all manner of moral corruption. For St. Paul, the chaos and depravity of ancient society was no surprise but the expected result of what happens when men and women turn away from God as the source and measure of goodness, and suffer the consequences of their own evil passions and devices. Without proper acknowledgment of God in worship and thanksgiving, as the foundation of thought and conduct, the world and everything in it turns upside down because human beings cannot escape their corruptible nature through presumed self-sufficient reasoning and endeavors.

St. Paul encountered personal and apostolic sufferings. Nevertheless, he exhorted Christians “to give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18) and, again, “always and for everything to give thanks” to God (Eph. 5:20). This does not mean that we give thanks literally for everything, certainly not for such things as terrorist acts, earthquakes, killings in war, debilitating sickness, divorce, the break up of the family, but only that even in the worst circumstances we must find the wisdom and courage to cling to God in faith and thanksgiving. The deepest form of gratitude is rooted in the reality of life in all its joys and sorrows. That is an important lesson we derive from the Scriptures and the example of the first Pilgrims.

Orthodox Christians celebrate thanksgiving at each Divine Liturgy which is also called Holy Eucharist (“Thanksgiving”). Jesus gathered the disciples around Him on the eve of His arrest and death, He offered thanks to God and said: “Take eat, this is my Body . . . Drink of [this cup] all of you, for this is my Blood of the new covenant, for the forgiveness of sins.” So also we gather around the table of the Lord, again and again, and partake of Holy Communion, sharing in the mystery of the risen Christ by receiving within us Christ’s glorified humanity (which is what “Body and Blood” mean). Celebrating Christ’s death and resurrection, the great events of salvation, and receiving within us the very life of God unto eternity, we have the highest reasons for giving thanks and living thankfully throughout our lives.

Thanksgiving is not only an annual celebration but also a way of life. It is a way of loving God, being thankful for the gift of salvation in Christ, being thankful for our life together in the Church, truly honoring God through worship and service, and with sober awareness of those in need around us in these difficult times. It is our Christian privilege and an expression of the true spirit of Thanksgiving to show our gratitude to God both by means of prayer to Him and generosity to our needy brothers and sisters together with whom we call God “our” Father.

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