During this past year, we have been exploring father Thomas Hopko’s 55 Maxims for Christian Living. As we explored the first 27 of these, I most commonly found articles and blog posts from other writers to expand upon these important precepts. Maxim 28 is no less crucial than the other 54 if we are to live healthy Christian lives: Be Grateful.
A few years ago, I reflected on the powerful nature of gratitude in the spiritual life, comparing it to a “silver bullet” which, in our modern nomenclature, is a single action that can have a multitude of positive effects in a variety of situations and conditions. So allow me to offer you my reflection once again on the awesome power of gratitude. It will be of no surprise to you to know that it was written on the eve of Thanksgiving Day and concludes with the poignant and beautiful Thanksgiving homily, the last homily given by the late Father Alexander Schmemman. However, as we all reflect each Thanksgiving, this action is something we all need much more of in our lives, not just on one day a year.
THE SILVER BULLET
The term “silver bullet” in now a common term in popular usage, referring to something that’s a simple but very effective solution to a complex problem. No one is really sure if the origins go back to the Lone Ranger radio broadcasts of the 1930’s, or much farther back into werewolf killing lore of the 1800s. Either way, we love finding “silver bullet” solutions to big problems.
We might imagine that our spiritual lives are way too complex for silver bullet solutions, but thankfully, there actually are some. One of them is something that our nation is pausing to do tomorrow – at least in theory if not in action. Our national Day of Thanksgiving was instituted to give us time away from our busy schedules to pause and give due glory and thanks to God for all of His richness and Providence toward us (whether or not this actually happens in the midst of turkey, football and pumpkin pie is a topic for another day). The more important reality for us is that the act of giving thanks is a silver bullet. Having hearts filled with gratitude, guided by eyes looking for things for which to be thankful, is the solution to much of the anxiety, depression, and lethargy which affect all of us, and weigh heavily on many of us. Giving thanks has two necessary components: 1) the recognition of benefits given to us, and 2) an object for our gratitude: our good and loving God. When we recognize both of those – our countless blessings and the One who blesses us – we are not only thankful beings, we are happy ones.
Too often, we see the difficulties of life and too much of our focus gets fixated on those, to the exclusion of seeing the magnitude of our blessings. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Fr. Alexander Schmemann was the Dean of St. Vladimir Seminary for many years, and a world-renowned author and speaker. He was also, in his final months of life, a victim of the disease of cancer. He gave his final sermon on Thanksgiving Day, 1983, just days before his departure from this life. His message is a beacon, calling us from the stormy ingratitude in which we spend too much of our time, and bringing us into the peaceful harbor of thankfulness.
I will close with the words of that homily, which calls us all back to the “attitude of gratitude” that is the silver bullet for so much of what troubles us. Happy Thanksgiving!
The Homily on Thanksgiving Day of Fr. Alexander Schmemann
Everyone capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation and eternal joy.
Thank You, O Lord, for having accepted this Eucharist, which we offered to the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and which filled our hearts with the joy, peace, and righteousness of the Holy Spirit.
Thank You, O Lord, for having revealed Yourself unto us and given us the foretaste of Your Kingdom.
Thank You, O Lord, for having united us to one another in serving You and Your Holy Church.
Thank You, O Lord, for having helped us to overcome all difficulties, tensions, passions, and temptations, and restored peace, mutual love, and joy in sharing the communion of the Holy Spirit.
Thank You, O Lord, for the sufferings You bestowed upon us, for they are purifying us from selfishness and reminding us of the “one thing needed,” Your eternal Kingdom.
Thank You, O Lord, for having given us this country where we are free to worship You.
Thank You, O Lord, for this school, where the name of God is proclaimed.
Thank You, O Lord, for our families: husbands, wives, and, especially, children, who teach us how to celebrate Your holy Name in joy, movement, and holy noise.
Thank You, O Lord, for everyone and everything.
Great are You, O Lord, and marvelous are Your deeds, and no word is sufficient to celebrate Your miracles.
Lord, it is good to be here! Amen.