We are coming up to the part of the year that we associate with thanksgiving and joy. This year, for many of us, there seems to be less to be thankful for and less joy to go about. Is there a way for us to emulate St. John Chrysostom and “give glory to God for all things”?
Fr. Stephen Freeman tackles the topic of thanksgiving often in his writing and he wrote about giving thanks in times when it is difficult. His list of “suggestions of how we might build and maintain a life of thanksgiving” especially in “times when giving thanks is difficult” is fairly short:
1. I must believe that God is good.
2. I must believe that His will for me is good.
3. I must believe that the goodness of God is without limit.
4. I must believe that God is good and know this on the deepest personal level.
Each point begins with “I must believe” emphasizing belief not just as a mental assent (“Yes, I think this statement is true”) but as a foundational element of life. Fr. Stephen makes it clear that it can be a struggle to live in the belief that God is good. The practical implication of believing that God is good is that we are never abandoned and that, in many cases, the difficulties in our lives are (in ways often unknown) for our salvation. Being able to give thanks in those circumstances - in these circumstances in which we find ourselves living - is essential to being a Christian.
One thing that we may be able to give thanks for this year is the opportunity to focus on that which is needful. Indeed Christ reminds us that there is one thing needful, and Martha’s sister Mary is blessed for having chosen it. Drawing near to Jesus is something that can be done regardless of circumstance. And, as St. Paul reminds us,
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:35-39).
If thanksgiving is difficult, let us begin by giving thanks to God for His faithfulness and He will plant in us a spirit of thanksgiving.
What of joy? I think it is helpful to look at some of the prayers of the Church. During Orthros, the following are two of the priest’s prayers.
At night our spirit rises early to you, O God, for your commandments are light. Teach us your justice, O God, your commands and your statutes. Enlighten the eyes of our understanding, lest we ever sleep unto death in sins. Drive away all gloomy darkness from our hearts. Give us the grace of the sun of justice and by the seal of your Holy Spirit keep our life free from harm. Direct our steps in the way of peace. Grant that we may see the dawn and the day in joy, that we may offer your our morning prayers. For yours is the might, and yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and for ever, and to the ages of ages.
Lord our God, who have granted humankind forgiveness through repentance and shown us an image of acknowledgement and confession of sins: the repentance leading to pardon of the prophet David, in accordance with your great mercy have mercy on us, who have fallen by many and great offences, and, in accordance with the multitude of your pity, wipe away our offences. For we have sinned against you, Lord, who know, too, the hidden and secret things of the human heart and who alone have authority to forgive sins. Create a clean heart in us and by your sovereign Spirit establish us and make known to us the joy of your salvation. Do not cast us away from your presence, but be well pleased, as you are good and love humankind, for us to offer you until our last breath a sacrifice of justice and an offering on your holy altars. By the mercy and compassion and love for humankind of your only-begotten Son, with whom you are blessed, together with your all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now and for ever, and to the ages of ages.
Both prayers make a connection between faithfulness to God and joy. The first asks God for joy, but only after asking for understanding and purification. The second asks that God make us know the joy of His salvation, but after confessing sins and asking again for purification. These connections are not accidental. Purification and confession are essential to our ability to understand and receive God’s joy. If our lives are dedicated to the Lord, thanksgiving and joy can be ours at any time. Forl, “having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:1-5).
With love in Christ,