Thanksgiving Encyclical 2012
It is with great joy that I greet you on the occasion of this great American holiday of Thanksgiving. In 1621, after their difficult journey to the New World, the Pilgrims and Puritans celebrated this festival as a special thanksgiving to God for a bountiful harvest. President Abraham Lincoln established it as a national holiday in 1863, as a way of healing the devastating division of the Civil War. Today, it continues to be a special time of thankful remembrance and national unity.
For Orthodox Christians, too, this holiday provides a significant opportunity for spiritual edification. As we are constantly thankful for “every good and perfect gift which comes from God the Father of lights” as we affirm at every Divine Liturgy, we remember during this holiday all the blessings in our life in a unique way.
St. Nicholas Cavasilas, who lived in 14th century Thessaloniki, offers spiritual instructions that are particularly notable this time of the year. In his book On the Life in Christ he advises that “nothing is more appropriate to the thinking mind than thoughts concerning Christ . . . to reflect on Christ and the things which He in His loving-kindness has devised for my salvation. This contains the very life that we seek and in all aspects makes us blessed.” In a society that was seemingly overwhelmed by political turmoil and religious fervor that prompted people to focus on personal sinfulness, this great saint prescribed a spiritual way of life for the average working person, a spirituality based on constant remembrance of all that God has blessed us with for our salvation.
Today, my beloved in the Lord, such a discipline is needed more than ever. On the one side, the United States is still suffering the effects of a divisive national election. The people of Greece are suffering tremendously under a faltering economy. While our own economy is slowly improving, many hard working Americans are still feeling the effects of high unemployment and decreased productivity. Our thoughts and prayers are also with those who lost much in the recent storms. On the other side, as we chant in the service of the Great Compline, throughout our times of suffering “God is with us – Ὅτι μεθ’ ἡμῶν ὁ Θεός.”
It has become a venerable tradition in this country, before beginning our Thanksgiving Dinner, to remember publicly those things for which we are thankful. I would encourage you to take this simple exercise seriously, to recall the significant yet overlooked blessings in our lives, and to remember that we are not thankful in general, but thankful to God. Without a doubt the thing for which we should be most thankful is that God, in His great love and mercy, became as we are through His incarnation. God knows our sufferings and our joys because He Himself became human and experienced humanity in all its depths and great heights. Because of this God is able to assist us to strengthen us along our own life journey.
St. Nicholas Cavasilas advises us to constantly remember in thanksgiving all that God has done and continues to do in our lives. The Holy Spirit is “a Treasury of blessings . . . present in all places and filling all things,”completing our existence with true love which is God Himself. St. Nicholas prescribes this because he is confident that constant remembrance and thanksgiving will fill us with joy and inspire us to share God’s merciful love with those around us. Therefore, I exhort you to extend Thanksgiving beyond this one day, beyond the dinner table, beyond your homes. As a sign of thankful gratitude, reach out to those in need, whether it be material, spiritual or emotional. Share with them the blessings you have received; share with them the love with which God has blessed you. As Christ healed our broken human lives, practice patient and forgiving love (cf. Eph. 4:2).
On a personal note, I wish to publicly reaffirm that I am thankful to God for all of you and for the love and support you have shown to all those in your parishes. It is my prayer that the Giver of every good and perfect gift richly bless you, your families, your parishes and your communities this Thanksgiving holiday and all the days ahead.
P.S. In these difficult times you may wish to offer assistance to those in need through the good works of the IOCC (www.iocc.org) and your local food bank.