November 13/26, St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople
American Thanksgiving Day
Despair is a temptation when life loses its purpose and the threat of an untimely death threatens to shorten that purposeless existence. As the worldwide coronavirus continues to rage with the possible hope for medical relief still months away, it is difficult to find cause to give thanks. Yet the lives of the saints show us how to find joy under all circumstances and the saint we remember this year on the feast of American Thanksgiving especially teaches how to give glory to God for all things.
Saint John Chrysostom the Golden-mouthed Archbishop of Constantinople (347-407) not only lived a life of thanksgiving, he is the principle author of the Divine Liturgy, the means by which the Church communes the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, the medicine of immortality and the mystical union of humanity with God. The Liturgy is also called the Eucharist from the Greek verb eucharisto which literally means “to give thanks” or to say thank you. When the church celebrates the Liturgy, She is thanking God, returning the gift received to the Giver of all good things in an eternal circle of reciprocal thanks.
When one witnesses the beauty and pageantry of Orthodox worship, it might be easy to think that it was composed by a person who lived a charmed life, perhaps a member of the Emperor’s court with a generous portion of leisure time to contemplate such lofty themes. But the 4th century Archbishop of Constantinople lived most of his life as a man on the run. Like his closest protege St. Apostle Paul, he was constantly,
“…on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” (II Corinthians 11:26-28)
Metropolitan Nicholas of Amissos of the Carpatho-Russian Diocese of the USA describes in his sermon how St. John finished his earthly sojourn in a similar way:
St. John Chrysostom reposed in the Lord 1600 years ago. He died from exhaustion in a small, out-of-the-way village called Comana. Earlier that day he had collapsed, out of breath, while stumbling between two armed guards. They had been hiking on a long twisting path in the wilderness. The sixty-year-old St. John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople, had been exiled out of his cathedral, his city and his home by a jealous gang of politicians. He was forced to march the whole way, from the civilized neighborhood of Constantinople for hundreds of rocky miles into the wilds of bandits, enemies, severe weather and unfriendly land…
He was exhausted, and his body was broken by exposure to the wind and rain, the rocks and thorns, strong enemies and a weak body. But he wasn’t brokenhearted, and he was not bitter. He was not depressed or hopeless….
Only a man who had given his heart solely to the Lord Jesus, who had sacrificed his everything to the Holy Trinity, who had soared to the heights of the Church and earthly power, who had it all taken away and spent his last years on dusty, forgotten roads … only such a man could say such things, giving God all the glory, Who gave this last sermon such golden, eternal wings.The Last Words of St. John Chrysostom by Metropolitan Nicholas
Now on this great holiday of thanks, we too join with Saint John the Golden-tongued in giving thanks to God for all things, good or bad and especially for the bad. For it is in difficult, seemingly impossible circumstances that the Lord of Glory can show through his greatest deliverance. Happy Thanksgiving and Glory to God for all Things!