O Give Thanks to the Lord

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“… we are led to give thanks to our Benefactor through the good things of this world, by which I mean

                                                     health,

                                                prosperity,

                                            strength,

                                        rest,

                                    joy,

                                light,

                            spiritual knowledge,

                        riches,

                    progress in all things,

                a peaceful life,

            the enjoyment of honors,

        authority,

   abundance and

all the other supposed blessings of this life.

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We are led to love Him and to do what good we can, because we feel we have a natural obligation to repay God for His gifts to us by performing good works. It is of course impossible to repay Him, for our debt always grows larger. On the other hand, through what are regarded as hardships we attain a state of patience, humility and hope of blessings in the age to be; and by these so-called hardships I mean such things as

illness,

discomfort,

       tribulation,

               weakness,  

          unsought distress,  

                             darkness,

                                 ignorance,

                                           poverty,

                               general misfortune,

                                            the fear of loss,

                                                           dishonor,

                                                                  affliction,

                                                                       indigence,

and so on. Indeed, not only in the age to be, but even in this present age these things are a source of great blessing to us.”  (St Peter of Damaskos, THE PHILOKALIA ,   Kindle Loc. 28948-67)

In the quote above, St. Peter of Damascus (whose Namesday it is today, February 9) gives us a long list of blessings which lead us to God.  These are blessings in this world and in this life – blessings even monastics, who are not supposed to live for this world alone, recognize and appreciate.  Even hardships (of which he also makes a long list, and monastics and non-monastics alike can agree they are things we want to avoid) become a blessing because they can increase certain virtues in us as we deal with them in faith, hope and love.

All of the above  was simply an introduction to the good news I can share about my own health.  First, let me thank all of your for your continued prayers as indeed the last 4 years have been difficult with 4 major surgeries plus chemotherapy for cancer.  This week I had both an oncology appointment and a 3-month post operative appointment with my neurosurgeon.    The good news in oncology is no news – labs continue to show no change (I continue to be anemic but that seems expected due to the surgeries and the on-going chemo).  I will have my next CT scan in about a month as they keep vigilant watch for any new tumors.  There have been none since the lung resection surgery in May of 2015.

The neurosurgeon is totally happy with the spinal fusion which seems to be holding in place.  I can walk without a cane and have none of the crippling back pain that led me to accept surgery.  I will have to live with a number of physical limits, but I no longer need the back brace (pictured above, in case you can’t recognize what it is).  That back brace first hugged me on November 8  and embraced me like a python 23.5/7 ever since.   My cane (pictured here) – I was able to lay aside immediately after surgery.   It now stands in a corner awaiting a new walking partner.  The good news is for the time being I need neither of those devices, though I have a handful of other tools and devices which help me pick up things, reach things, get my socks and shoes on and the like.   My back will never be what it was years ago, and will never be “normal” (though it is now a “new normal”) but I am able to continue to function, for which I am grateful daily.

I have learned to rejoice in the blessings of life and to see blessings in the hardships as well.   I have learned to admire those who cope with and even overcome disabilities.  I am ever thankful for those who have invented the medical devices that made my surgeries possible as well as those who improved them through engineering.  I am grateful for all of those who have learned to use technology in the medical sciences – doctors, nurses and technicians.

I give thanks to God that God has entrusted such wisdom in the sciences to help us all.  God has made it possible for us humans to remove all obstacles to our being healed by God.  Medical science removes the physical obstacles to our healing, and repentance removes the spiritual obstacles to our becoming whole and human.  Medicine and confession are thus both gifts from God which make healing possible.  Both require human help and intervention.

I have accepted that in this life there are trials and illness.  A few have asked me as to why instead of healing us, God doesn’t just prevent disease and injuries in the first place.  I can only speak about reality – in this world, we have sickness, sorrow and suffering.  Perhaps in some other world it doesn’t exist, but in our world it does, and it can serve a purpose, even be beneficial to us, though it doesn’t always seem so.    I can ask why is grass green instead of being orange or purple?  Maybe in some other world it is, but in this world, the only reality I know, it is green and must be so of necessity.  Photosynthesis requires it, we and animals depend on it for food and oxygen.  I also am reminded of a quote from St. John Cassian:

“Do not pray for the fulfillment of your wishes, for they may not accord with the will of God. But pray as you have been taught, saying: Thy will be done in me (cf. Luke 22:42). Always entreat Him in this way – that His will be done. For He desires what is good and profitable for you, whereas you do not always ask for this.”  ( THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 1326-29)

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President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation 1863

Lincoln2The recent U.S. presidential election was particularly rancourous and divisive.  There was unrest after the election as some were so shocked by the results that they couldn’t even accept it.  Even through the Thanksgiving  Holiday, some were still unsettled by the results of the election.  All of that made me call to mind President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863.  Talk about a divided nation – at that time we were in a civil war.  Yet, despite the war and the divided country, Lincoln still could see there were plenty of things for which the American people could be thankful.

And though Thanksgiving is already past us, I felt it is good for us, as Americans, to remember those things for which we owe our Creator thanksgiving, even in times of uncertainty or unrest or dissatisfaction.   Whatever our differences, however politics push us in polar opposite directions, we Americans also need to remember those gifts from God which we all enjoy and which make us the great nation we are.  Let us never forget our blessings and let us always remember that to be an American is to be thankful at heart, and to have gratitude for those gifts whether of nature or of freedom that we hold in common.

Here is what President Lincoln wrote to the nation:

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

In All Circumstances Giving Thanks

The Gospel lesson of Luke 17:12-19 –

Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed.

And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner? And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.

As God’s own children, we are to “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).  Yet, we often need to be reminded to thank family, friends, co-workers, those who serve us and those who love us.  “Thank you” does not automatically flow from the hearts of many Christians even when others are kind to them.  And, God who constantly showers us with gifts of life, love, the world, is often taken for granted and we do not have the constant thankful and grateful hearts which we should have for our Creator.

 “Parents always want their children to be happy, content, and thankful to them for all their work and sacrifice. So when they see their children in a bad mood and unthankful, they’re saddened. It’s the same with our Heavenly Father. He has given us everything, but we are unsatisfied and gloomy. Instead of thanksgiving and praising God for everything, we only express our thankfulness with our lips, and our hearts remain cold. Joy is thankfulness, and when we are joyful, that is the best expression of thanks we can offer the Lord, Who delivers us from sorrow and sin.” (Ana Smiljanic in Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: The Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, p 97)

Every Divine Liturgy is a Eucharistic Liturgy – our thanksgiving to God.  Every Sunday we gather together exactly to give thanks to God for all things.  We should come to the Liturgy with joy and rejoice throughout the Liturgy, for this is our communal thanksgiving to the Holy Trinity for creating us, sustaining us, and redeeming us.   The Divine Liturgy is not the time for our personal petitions to God, it is rather the time for us to join our fellow Christians in giving thanks to God.

A Thanksgiving Prayer

I saw the prayer below in a New Skete News email, and thought it worth sharing with those looking for a prayer of thanksgiving:

O generous Lord be mindful of our loved ones and all who are away from home; and for members of the military, for aid workers, and peace-keepers: for those who will travel this week, that God will guide their travels, preserve them from harm and lead them home safely. Gracious God, for the preoccupations that burden our minds and for all that we keep in our hearts, accept our thanksgiving on this day. Keep us ever mindful of those who lack the necessities of life and make us generous in sharing all that we have. Grant us rest and relaxation of this moment spent with family and friends. Bless the food, friendship, and hospitality we will share and fill our hearts with gratitude and love through Jesus Christ our Lord… Amen

[from an Ecumenical Vespers of Thanksgiving celebrated yearly in the village of Cambridge, NY]

Thanksgiving (2016)

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St. John of Kronstadt says, ‘Prayer is a state of continual gratitude.’ If I do not feel a sense of joy in God’s creation, if I forget to offer the world back to God with thankfulness, I have advanced very little upon the Way. I have not yet learnt to be truly human. For it is only through thanksgiving that I can become myself. Joyful thanksgiving, so far from being escapist or sentimental, is on the contrary entirely realistic – but with the realism of one who sees the world in God, as the divine creation.” (Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, p 55)

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Give Thanks Always

 

Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

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“One of the fathers told the following story, saying, ‘I was in the room for receiving strangers, and some poor folk came to receive charity at eventide on the Sabbath, and there was among them only one man who had a mat to lie upon when they lay down; and he threw it down under him, and then reclined upon it. Now it was exceedingly cold, and he took a half of the mat from under him and covered himself over therewith, and he reclined on the other half. And I went out during the night and heard him complaining about the cold, and then the man turned to himself and said, ‘I give thanks unto You, O Lord, because how many are the rich men, and the owners of possessions who are at this present moment lying in irons, and in afflictions, and in prisons, and there are, moreover, others whose feet have been put into the stocks, who are unable to turn round to any side, while I, like a king, can spread out my feet and lie down, and besides this, I can go wherever I so please.’ And when he had said these things, now I was standing up listening to him, I went in and told them to the brethren, and they benefited by the words of that poor man.” (The Paradise of the Holy Fathers, pp 218-219)

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Lenten Wisdom

As we continue our sojourn to the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, here are some words from the Old Testament Scriptures for us to consider about how to keep the lenten season.  In America we are moving through the season of family gatherings, dinners, Thanksgiving and Christmas parties, festal baking, spiked eggnogs and punches.  So what should we Orthodox in America be thinking about?

Prayer with fasting is good, but better than both is almsgiving with righteousness.  A little with righteousness is better than wealth with wrongdoing.  It is better to give alms than to lay up gold. For almsgiving saves from death and purges away every sin. Those who give alms will enjoy a full life, but those who commit sin and do wrong are their own worst enemies.  (Tobit 12:8-10)

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Nevertheless, be patient with someone in humble circumstances,
and do not keep him waiting for your alms.
Help the poor for the commandment’s sake,
and in their need do not send them away empty-handed.
Lose your silver for the sake of a brother or a friend,
and do not let it rust under a stone and be lost.
Lay up your treasure according to the commandments of the Most High,
and it will profit you more than gold.
Store up almsgiving in your treasury,
and it will rescue you from every disaster;
better than a stout shield and a sturdy spear,
it will fight for you against the enemy.   (Sirach 29:8-13)

 

Blessed is the Generous Giver

This I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, have abundance for every good work. As it is written: ‘He has dispersed abroad, He has given to the poor; His righteousness remains forever.’ Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God.”  (2 Corinthians 9:6-11)

 St. John Cassian reflects:

 “It is more blessed to give than to receive. More blessed than the poverty of the receiver is this generosity of the giver, which does not come from money that has been stored up through lack of faith or confidence, and which is not dispensed from the accumulated hoards of avarice, but which is offered from the fruit of one’s own work and from loving toil. And ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’ because, although the person who has given may be as poor as the one who receives, he nonetheless strives by his own effort to procure not only a sufficiency for his own needs but also, with loving solicitude, something to give to the needy. In this way he is adorned with a twofold grace, both because he possesses the perfect poverty of Christ through his renunciation of all his goods and because by his labors and his disposition he exhibits the liberality of a rich man. He it is who honors God from his righteous labors and gives to him from the fruits of his righteousness.” ( The Institutes, p 230)

All Things Bright and Beautiful (2)

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,

All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

Sequoia National Park by Seth Bobosh

The purple headed mountains,
The river running by,

The sunset and the morning
That brightens up the sky.

The cold wind in the winter,
The pleasant summer sun,

The ripe fruits in the garden,
He made them every one.

Cecil Alexander wrote this hymn for children in 1848.

Previous Blog:  All Things Bright and Beautiful (1)

Next Blog:  All Things Bright and Beautiful (3)

 

Thanksgiving (2015)

St Basil the Great (d. 379) gave a sermon that is a wonderful meditation for those of us celebrating Thanksgiving Day today.

“In more fortunate circumstances will we speak the words of David, What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?

He has called us into being out of nothing; he has endowed us with reason, bestowed on us skills to help us preserve life; he has caused food to grow from the ground and has made beasts subject to us.

For our sake it rains, the sun shines, there are mountains and plains, and he has prepared for us places of shelter in the mountains even up to the highest peak.

The rivers flow for our use, springs bubble up, the sea is open to us for trade, the mines for treasure. All that we enjoy, bestowed on us in all creation, we have around us through the rich and marvelous good of the creator.

But why limit examples to these small things? It was for our sake that God himself came to walk among humankind. For the sake of the corruptible flesh the Word became flesh and lived among us. The creator tarried for the sake of the ingrates; the sun of righteousness to those who sit in the shadows; the impassible went to the cross, life in death, light in the underworld, resurrection for the sake of those who had died, the adoption of the Holy Spirit, the promised allotment of God’s grace, the promises of crowns.

In short: everything beyond number, upon which fits the Prophet’s utterance: What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?

And these are not things our great Benefactor has simply given, but rather given back, as part of a grand cycle of giving. The thanks we render to him, he regards as so many good deeds, and holds us accountable. These assets that are given to you, advance them to the Benefactor by your alms through the hands of the poor, and although he has received his own property, so it is a perfect thanks, as if you have given from your own goods.

Parable of poor Lazarus

What shall I return to the Lord, for all his bounty to me?

I cannot let go of this saying of the Prophet, which sums up so well our present circumstances, as he sees his poverty and the deserving countergift of the Lord. Yet such magnanimous charity is nothing compared to the greater promises: the delights of paradise, the grandeur of heaven, angelic honor, the vision of God, the greatest good of all, honor, whatever each reasonable being desires, which portion we shall share after we put off the desires of the flesh.” (On Fasting and Feasts, pp 118-119)

I wish everyone a Blessed Thanksgiving Day!

Oh, give thanks to the LORD!
Call upon His name;
Make known His deeds among the peoples!
Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him;
Talk of all His wondrous works!
Glory in His holy name;
Let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the LORD!
Seek the LORD and His strength;
Seek His face evermore!
Remember His marvelous works which He has done,
. . . . .

Sing to the LORD, all the earth;
Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.
Declare His glory among the nations,
His wonders among all peoples.
For the LORD is great and greatly to be praised;
He is also to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
But the LORD made the heavens.
Honor and majesty are before Him;
Strength and gladness are in His place.
Give to the LORD, O families of the peoples,
Give to the LORD glory and strength.
Give to the LORD the glory due His name;
Bring an offering, and come before Him.
Oh, worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness!
Tremble before Him, all the earth.
The world also is firmly established,
It shall not be moved.

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
And let them say among the nations, “The LORD reigns.”
Let the sea roar, and all its fullness;
Let the field rejoice, and all that is in it.
Then the trees of the woods shall rejoice before the LORD,
For He is coming to judge the earth.
Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good!
For His mercy endures forever.
And say, “Save us, O God of our salvation;
Gather us together, and deliver us from the nations,
To give thanks to Your holy name,
To triumph in Your praise.”
Blessed be the LORD God of Israel
From everlasting to everlasting!
And all the people said, “Amen!” and praised the LORD.

(1 Chronicles 16:8-36)