Thanksgiving and Ascetical Thinking

Every week in Orthodox churches in which the Divine Liturgy is celebrated, we give thanks to God.  Eucharist – the word we use to refer to Communion – is the Greek work for thanksgiving.  Every Liturgy is thus a thanksgiving service.  That is the primary purpose of the Liturgy – it is how we Christians give thanks to God.  We assemble together exactly for the purpose of celebrating our thanksgiving, every week, not just once each year.  For us Orthodox thanksgiving is really a way of life, not a holiday we do one day in November.  Our country’s thanksgiving holiday is just another chance for us to give thanks to God.

A eucharistic ethos means, above all, using natural resources with thankfulness, offering them back to God. Such an attitude is incompatible with wastefulness. Similarly, fasting and other ascetic practices make us recognize even the simplest of foods and other creature comforts as gifts, provided to satisfy our needs. They are not ours to abuse and waste just so long as we can pay for them.

We worship as a community, not as individuals; so a liturgical ethos is also one of sharing. Long before the earth was seen as a whole from space, the Church knew that we stand before God together, and that we hold in common the earthly blessings that He has given to mankind and all creatures. “Not to share our own wealth with the poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life; we do not possess our own wealth but theirs,” Saint John Chrysostom reminds us.

This principle, applied to the whole range of natural resources, is particularly relevant because the global environment is squeezed on two sides: by the over-consumption, greed and waste of the affluent, and by the pressing needs of the poor, often forced to deplete the land around them for the sake of food or fuel in short term. (Dr. Elizabeth Theokritoff, “‘Thine Own of Thine Own’ Orthodoxy and Ecology,” Orthodoxy and Ecology Resource Book, p. 15)

St. Cyril of Alexandria and the Sower of Seeds

In Luke 8:5-15, the Lord Jesus tells the following parable:

“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it. But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold.” When He had said these things He cried, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Then His disciples asked Him, saying, “What does this parable mean?” And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that ‘Seeing they may not see, And hearing they may not understand.’

Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.


St. Cyril of Alexandria writes about the types of persons represented by the three types of ground upon which the seed of the word fell. Concerning those of the first kind he says:

No sacred or divine word will be able to enter those who have minds that are hard and unyielding, for it is by the aid of such words that the joyful fruit of virtue can grow. Men of this kind are highways that are trodden by unclean spirits, and by Satan himself, and they shall never be producers of holy fruit, because their hearts are sterile and unfaithful. (Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke, Homily 41)

The second kind have

a religion without roots…when this kind of person goes out of the church, he immediately forgets the holy teachings he has heard there. And as long as Christians are left in peace, he keeps the faith, but as soon as persecution arises, he will be ready to take to flight in search of safety.

This holy Father finally exhorts us not to allow the cares of this world to choke the tender shoots of faith and commitment as soon as they sprout from the soil of our hearts and minds. We must not be deceived, thinking that thorns and new shoots can exist side by side.” (Archbishop Dmitri, The Parables, p. 14)

Great and Holy Monday (2012)

Fasting, abstinence and self denial are not the goal of Great Lent nor are they   the Spiritual Fruit which we seek to produce.  Rather they are the labor we apply to the garden of our hearts – they are the gardening we do in order to enable the spiritual gifts of God to produce the abundant spiritual harvest in our lives.  We do not fail at Great Lent if we fail to fast.  Rather we fail if our fasting and attendance at the Lenten services doesn’t produce the fruits of love, peace, patience, kindness and humility in our lives.  Strictly keeping the  fast without producing the fruits of the spirit, is like the tree that blossoms with beautiful and fragrant flowers but never produces any fruit.

“If we do not see abundantly present in ourselves the fruits of love, peace, joy and meekness, of humility, simplicity and sincerity, of faith and long-suffering, then we have labored without profit and in vain: for the whole purpose of our labor and toil was to gain these fruits. If the fruits of love and peace are not in us, then our entire labor has been useless and in vain.

The Wise and the foolish Virgins

Those who toil in such a way, on the day of judgment will prove to be like the five foolish virgins who were called foolish because they did not yet have in the vessels of their hearts the spiritual oil, that is, the virtues which we mentioned; and so they were shut out from the marriage feast, gaining no profit from their virginity. Husbandmen who work in a vineyard undergo all their labor and care in the hope of obtaining fruit, and if there is no fruit all their work proves to no purpose; and in the same way, if we do not see in ourselves, through the action of the Spirit, the fruits of love, peace, joy, humility, and all the other virtues enumerated by the Apostle (Gal. v. 22), if we do not feel in full assurance and spiritual perception that they are present within us, then all the labor of chastity, prayer, psalmody, fasting, and vigil will prove in vain and profitless.” (St. Theophan the Recluse in The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology, pgs. 131-132)

Thanksgiving (2011)

Dear Friends,

Wishing all of you a happy Thanksgiving Day.  May God bless you always!

“Labor to acquire thanksgiving toward God for everything, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, and then you will find peace.” (Sts. Barsanuphius & John, Guidance Toward Spiritual Life, pg. 94)

“O benevolent and beneficient God:  When you sent the Word of truth and the sanctifying Spirit into this world, you revealed the great mystery of your godhead.  So now, on this, the beginning of another Thanksgiving holiday, and as the darkness of night overtakes us, teach us how to be truly grateful for all we have been given.  Let the brilliance of your divine light illumine our lives and lead us to know, love, and serve you in the Spirit and the Truth of Christ.  For you are indeed our God, and we give you glory, three divine persons, eternal in glory, one God, incomparable in majesty: now and forever, and unto ages of ages.   Amen.”   (From New Skete’s Thanksgiving Vespers)

See also:  Thanksgiving Prayers of Hippolytus, The Mystery of Thanksgiving on Behalf of All Things and For All Things, Thanksgiving is Prayer, Strangers & Neighbors: Christian Thoughts on Thanksgiving (1989), Thanksgiving (2009), Thanksgiving Day (2008) , Thanksgiving Meditation and Prayers,  Thanksgiving Bears Fruit in the Giving

Thanks be to God!

Generous and Cheerful Giving

St. Paul the Apostle wrote:

 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 an 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 Chrysostom said:

St. Julianna the Merciful

“Having said, therefore, when, and from whom, and how this money must be collected, the Apostle Paul entrusted the question of how much to those who contribute. He did not say: ‘Contribute such and such an amount,’ so that the command would not become burdensome, and would not give opportunity to the rich who are reluctant to give to cite poverty and cause the truly poor to say: ‘What shall we do now if we are incapable of giving?’ Rather, he confined the measure of each contribution to the ability of those who contribute. ‘Each of you,’ he says, ‘(by himself) is to put something aside and store it up, whatever he has prospered.’ And he did not say, ‘whatever he can,’ or ‘whatever is found,’ rather, ‘whatever he has prospered,’ to show that he will have the influence and favor from above as his assistants. Paul’s purpose was not only for money to be contributed to the poor, but for it to be contributed with great eagerness. Likewise, God appointed almsgiving not only for the needy to be nourished, but also for the providers to receive benefit, and much more so for the latter than for the former. For if he considered only the interest of the poor, he would have commanded solely that the money be given, and he would not have asked for the eagerness of the providers.  But now you see the Apostle in every way ordering by will first and above all for the givers to be joyful: the suppliers to furnish in a cheerful manner. And at one time he says, ‘Everyone must do as he has chosen in his heart, neither out of grief nor necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver,’ not simply a giver, but the one who does this with pleasure. And again elsewhere he says, ‘…he who contributes in liberality; he who gives aid with zeal, he who does acts of mercy with cheerfulness.’ Almsgiving is precisely to give joy and to believe that you receive more than you give.”  (St. John Chrysostom, ON REPENTANCE AND ALMSGIVING, pgs. 141-142)