In a homily from the Prologue of Orhid, St. Nikolai Velimirovich shared these important words: “Be not proud, be not angry, be not fainthearted; for these are unworthy of a Christian calling.” With everything going on in the news today, it is way too easy to fall into one of these three traps. Perhaps more so, we should be aware of them in our personal lives. It is easy for us to be boastful of achievements at work, school, or even something as distant as our favorite football team having a successful record. The holiday season is a time when old grudges and wounds come to the surface, sometimes triggered by past major trauma or the wrong type of cranberry sauce on the table. Depression is no stranger to this time of year either with the loss of loved ones, failure of high expectations, and other things that never seem to go our way.
Thanksgiving is not a holy feast day of the Orthodox Church. Some of us who are on the modern calendar use the day as a way to indulge in things we shouldn’t eat during the Nativity Fast (always check with your priest and avoid gluttony). There are a few who argue against the holiday considering what has happened to the Native American population. In our consumerist society, all of the goodness of the last Thursday of November seems to get thrown away as Black Friday shoppers stampede the stores without care or concern for others (especially the retail workers). It is not my place to judge how anyone observes the holiday. But, I see the virtue of it, thanksgiving, as a cure for the spiritual ailments St. Nikolai identified.
All good things come from God. As seen in the book of Job, He could have easily allowed Satan to cast all sorts of ruin on us to our very health. Indeed, “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). Who am I to be proud of what I have? It is only by the Lord’s mercy that I exist. It is better to give thanks.
St. John Cassian notes that leaves of lead placed over a person’s eyes causes the same blindness as leaves of gold*. “Righteous” anger is no different than any other form and does nothing to bring back the dead or heal the wounded. As vengeance is the Lord’s business**, our calling is to repentance no matter what goes on around us***. We have the right to petition and protest. However, it is right to give thanks that God has not done to us as we deserve.
There are people who suffer with mental illness who need therapist and medications. May God bless them to find the right treatments. The Christian should always see hope even in the most dire circumstances. The late Deacon Henry L. Holmes of Trinity Baptist Church was a veteran of the D-Day operation of WWII. He saw death and carnage all around him and dealt with the harsh racism of the Jim Crow era. Yet, he used to sing these words of his favorite spiritual with a thankful heart: “There’s a bright side somewhere, O there’s a bright side somewhere, Don’t you rest until you find it, There’s a bright side somewhere”
May the Thanksgiving holiday lead us to humility to God, love to our fellow man, and hope for the kingdom of Heaven.
- * Philokalia Vol. 1, On the Eight Vices
- ** Romans 12:19
- *** Luke 13:1-5