We celebrated Thanksgiving today in our usual way of traveling to Nativity of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church (OCA) in Chelsea, MA for their annual inter-Orthodox Thanksgiving Liturgy. What a tremendous occasion for inter-Orthodox activity, especially the celebration of the Eucharist which in Greek actually means “Thank You” or “Thanksgiving”. The Orthodox Church in America has written a wonderful service designed especially to honor this great American holiday.
The homilest at the Liturgy was an Orthodox priest from St. Michael’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Woonsocket, RI. His radiant smile and genuine countenance masked the shocking news he delivered this morning, as he reported that after celebrating the patronal feast of their beloved St. Michael yesterday (November 21 on the Old Calendar), an accidental fire broke out late in the night and burned their 70 year old sanctuary to the ground. Words always have more meaning when spoken by one fresh in the throes of such a calamity.
His message was not just about being thankful but about developing a “deeper kind of thanksgiving.” For many in America, today’s holiday is merely a chance to consume good food which we always have in great abundance, and being thankful for it is a little bit like an Olympic athlete being thankful for his health. It is just a given. But for a person who is truly hungry, receiving a feast like today’s meal would bring out of his heart a deep thankfulness, a deeper thankfulness than one who takes it all for granted.
And we in America are more hungry and poor than we think, if for no other reason than we think that we have it all. The Lord said to the Pharisees, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” They forgot as we have forgotten the source of every perfect gift which comes down from above and not from the cleverness of our own machinations. May we all, starting this day and hour, seek to discover our true need and not settle for the smug, but false assurance of the pharisee; may we learn the deeper thanksgiving that comes from being poor in spirit, but nevertheless attaining the Kingdom of heaven; and finally, may we never forget the transitory nature of this world and everything in it which is here today, but may so easily be taken from us tomorrow.