Homily on Thanksgiving

In anticipation of national Thanksgiving Day in the US, and the homilies which must be written and preached this coming Sunday, we offer wisdom from St. Basil, aptly called ‘The Great.’ 

by St. Basil the Great

1. You have heard the words of the Apostle, in which he addresses the Thessalonians, prescribing rules of conduct for every kind of person. His teaching, to be sure, was directed towards particular audiences; but the benefit to be derived therefrom is relevant to every generation of mankind. Rejoice evermore, he says;

Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks (I Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Now, we shall explain a little later on, as far as we are able, what it means to rejoice, what benefit we receive from it, and how it is possible to achieve unceasing prayer and give thanks to God in all things.

However, it is necessary to anticipate the objections that we encounter from our adversaries, who criticize the Apostles injunctions as unattainable. For what is the virtue, they say, in passing ones life in gladness of soul, in joy and good cheer night and day? And how is it possible to achieve this, when we are beset by countless unexpected evils, which create unavoidable dejection in the soul, on account of which it is no more feasible for us to rejoice and be of good cheer than for one who is being roasted on a gridiron not to feel agony or for one who is being goaded not to suffer pain?

And perhaps there is someone among those who are standing among us here who is ailing with this sickness of the mind and makes excuses in sins (Psalm 140:4, Septuagint), and who, through his own negligence in observing the commandments, attempts to transfer the blame to the law-giver for laying down things that are unattainable. How is it possible for me always to rejoice, he may ask, when I have no grounds for being joyous?

For the factors that cause rejoicing are external and do not reside within us: the arrival of a friend, long-term contact with parents, finding money, honors bestowed on us by other people, restoration to health after a serious illness, and everything else that makes for a prosperous life: a house replete with goods of all kinds, an abundant table, close friends to share ones gladness, pleasant sounds and sights, the good health of our nearest and dearest, and whatever else gives them happiness in life. For it is not only the pains that befall us which cause us distress, but also those that afflict our friends and relatives. It is from all of these sources, therefore, that we must garner joy and cheerfulness of soul.

In addition to these things, when we have occasion to see the downfall of our enemies, wounds inflicted on those who plot against us, recompense for our benefactors, and, in general, if no unpleasant circumstance whatsoever that would disturb our life is either at hand or expected, only then is it possible for joy to exist in our souls. How is it, therefore, that a commandment has been given to us that cannot be accomplished by our own choice, but depends on other antecedent factors? How am I to pray without ceasing, when the needs of the body necessarily attract the attention of the soul to themselves, given that the mind cannot attend to two concerns at the same time?

2. And yet, I have been commanded to give thanks in everything. Am I to give thanks when I am strapped to a rack, tortured, stretched out on a wheel, and having my eyes gouged out? Am I to give thanks when I am beaten with humiliating blows by one who hates me? When I am stiff from the cold, perishing from hunger, tied to a tree, suddenly bereft of my children, or deprived even of my very wife? If I lose my wealth as a result of a sudden shipwreck? If I run into pirates on the sea, or brigands on the mainland? If I am wounded, slandered, wander around, or dwell in a dungeon?

Raising these objections, and more besides, our adversaries find fault with the lawgiver, thinking that, by slandering the precepts that we have been given as impossible to fulfill, they furnish themselves with a defense for their own sins. What, therefore, shall we say in response to them?

That, while the Apostle is looking elsewhere and attempting to elevate our souls from the earth to the heights and to transport us to a heavenly way of life, they, unable to attain to the loftiness of the lawgivers mind, and preoccupied with the earth and the flesh, crawl around in the passions of the body like worms in a swamp and demand that the Apostle issue precepts which are capable of being fulfilled. For his part, the Apostle summons not just anyone, but one who is as he was to rejoice always, no longer living in the flesh, but having Christ living in himself, since union with the highest good does not in any way allow sympathy for the demands of the flesh (cf. Galatians 2:20).

And even if an incision is made in the flesh, the disintegration occasioned by its continued presence remains in the part of the body that suffers it, since the pain is unable to spread to the noetic part of the soul. For, if, in accordance with the Apostles precept, we have mortified our members which are upon the earth (Colossians 3:5) and we bear in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus (II Corinthians 4:10), necessarily the injury suffered by the mortified body will not reach the soul which has been freed from contact with the body. Dishonor, losses, and deaths of our nearest and dearest will not rise up to the mind, nor will they incline the sublimity of the mind to sympathy with things below.

For, if those who fall into difficulties have the same attitude as the virtuous man, they will not cause annoyance to anyone, seeing that not even they themselves endure sorrowfully what befalls them; but if they live according to the flesh (Romans 8:13), not even in this way will they annoy anyone, but will be reckoned pitiable, not so much because of their circumstances, as because they do not choose to react properly.

In short, a soul which has once and for all been held fast by the desire for its Creator and is accustomed to delighting in the beauties of the heavenly realm will not alter its great joy and cheerfulness under the influence of carnal feelings, which are varying and unstable; but things which distress other people it will regard as increasing its own gladness. Such was the Apostle, who took pleasure in infirmities, in afflictions, in persecutions, and in necessities, counting his needs an occasion for glorying (II Corinthians 12:9-10); in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness, in persecutions and distresses (II Corinthians 12:10; 11:27), conditions in which others endure only with difficulty, bidding farewell to life: in these he rejoiced. Therefore, those who are ignorant of what the Apostle has in mind, and do not understand that he is calling us to the evangelical way of life, dare to accuse St. Paul of laying down things that are impossible for us. Well then, let them learn how many legitimate occasions for rejoicing are made available to us through Gods munificence.

We were brought from non-being into being; we were made in the image of the Creator (Genesis 1:27); we have the mind and reason to perfect our nature, and through them we have knowledge of God. And perceiving the beauties of nature carefully, we thereby recognize, as if through letters, Gods great providence and wisdom concerning all things. We are capable of discerning good and evil; we are taught by nature itself to choose what is beneficial and to avoid what is harmful. Having been estranged from God through sin, we have been called back to kinship with Him, being released from ignominious slavery by the blood of His Only-begotten Son. We have the hope of resurrection, the enjoyment of Angelic goods, the Kingdom of Heaven, and promised goods, which transcend the grasp of mind and reason.

3. How is it not proper to think that these things are sufficient reasons for unending joy and unceasing gladness? How is it proper to suppose that one who is a glutton, who delights in hearing flute-playing, and who lies on a soft bed and snores, is living a life worthy of joy? I would say that such people are worthy of lamentation on the part of those who are endowed with intelligence, whereas we should call blessed those who endure the present life in the hope of the age to come and who exchange present joys for eternal joys. Whether they stand amid flames, as did the three Youths in Babylon, who were united with God (Daniel 3:21), or are shut up with lions (Daniel 6:16-23), or swallowed by a whale (Jonah 2:1), we should call them blessed, and they should pass their lives in joy, not being distressed over present sufferings, but rejoicing in the hope of what is in store for us in the next life. For, in my opinion, a good athlete, once he has stripped down for the arena of piety, should valiantly endure the blows of his adversaries in hope of the glory that comes from crowns of victory. Indeed, in gymnastic contests, those who have become inured to pain in wrestling schools are not depressed at the prospect of suffering pain from blows, but advance to close quarters with their foes, disdaining momentary pains in their desire to be publicly proclaimed victors.

Thus, even if some misfortune befalls a virtuous man, it will not cast a shadow over his joy. For tribulation worketh patience, and patience, experience, and experience, hope; and hope maketh not ashamed (Romans 5:3-5). Hence, in another place, Saint Paul enjoins us to be patient in tribulation and to rejoice in hope (Romans 12:12). It is hope, therefore, that makes joy to dwell within the soul of a virtuous man. But the same Apostle bids us weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15); and, writing to the Galatians, he wept over the enemies of the Cross of Christ (Philippians 3:18). And what need have I to speak of the tears of Jeremiah (Lamentations), of Ezekiel writing lamentations over the rulers of Israel, at Gods command (Ezekiel 2:9), or of many other Saints who mourned? Alas, my mother, that thou hast borne me (Jeremiah 15:10); Woe is me, for the godly man hath perished from the earth, and there is none among men that ordereth his way aright (Micah 7:2); Woe is me, for I am become as one gathering straw in the harvest (Micah 7:1).

So, in a word, scrutinize the sayings of the righteous, and when anywhere you find one of them emitting a rather doleful expression, you will be convinced that all who are of this world bemoan the misery of the life that is led therein. Woe is me, for my sojourning is prolonged (Psalm 119:5, Septuaginta). For the Apostle has a desire to depart, and to be with Christ (Philippians 1:23). He is, therefore, vexed at the prolongation of this earthly sojourn as an impediment to his joy. David, too, bequeathed to us a lamentation in song for his friend Jonathan, in which he also mourned for his enemy: I am grieved for thee, my brother Jonathan (II Kings 1:26); and: O daughters of Israel, weep for Saul (II Kings 1:24). He mourns for Saul, as one who died in sin, but for Jonathan, as one who shared his life in every respect. Why should I speak of the other examples? And yet, the Lord wept over Lazarus (St. John 11:35) and He wept over Jerusalem (St. Luke 19:41), and He calls blessed those who mourn (St. Matthew 5:4) and likewise those who weep (St. Luke 6:21).

4. But how, you say, are these things to be reconciled with the words: Rejoice always? For weeping and joy do not derive from the same source. Weeping, for example, is naturally engendered as a result of some blow, in which the involuntary impact strikes and constricts the soul, while the spirit surrounding the heart is depressed; but joy is like a leap of the soul, as it were, which rejoices at things that are under its control. Hence, the physical symptoms are different. For, in the case of those who are distressed, their bodies are sallow, livid, and cold, whereas in the case of those who feel joyous, the condition of their bodies is efflorescent and reddish, while their souls all but leap outwards, propelled by delight.

To this we will say that the Saints lamented and wept on account of their love for God. And so, ever beholding Him Whom they loved and increasing the gladness that they themselves derived from Him, they provided for the needs of their fellow-servants, mourning for those who sinned and correcting them through their tears. Just as people who stand on the shore and feel sympathy for those who are drowning in the sea do not jettison their own security in their concern for those in peril, so also, those who are distressed at the sins of their neighbors do not efface their own gladness; on the contrary, they increase it, being vouchsafed the joy of the Lord by virtue of the tears that they shed for their brothers. This is why those who weep and those who mourn are blessed, for they themselves will be comforted and they themselves will laugh. By laughter, one means not the sound which is emitted through the cheeks when the blood boils, but the cheerfulness which is pure and unmixed with any sadness. Therefore, the Apostle allows us to weep with those who weep, because tears of this kind are like the seed and pledge of eternal joy. Ascend with me in mind, please, and behold the Angelic estate and consider whether any other condition befits them than that of rejoicing and gladness; for they are vouchsafed to stand before God and enjoy the ineffable beauty of the glory of Him Who created us. And so, it is to that life that the Apostle urges us on, bidding us always to rejoice.

5. Now, as for the fact that the Lord wept over Lazarus and the city, we have this to say: He ate and drank, not because He needed these things Himself, but so as to leave you with measures and limits by which to control the unavoidable emotions of the soul. Thus, He wept in order to correct the propensity to excessive emotion and dejection among those given to mourning and lamentation. For if there is anything that needs to be moderated by reason, it is weeping: that is, over what things, to what extent, when, and how it is proper to weep. For that the Lords weeping was not emotional, but didactic, is clear from this verse: Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep (St. John 11:11). Who among us mourns for a sleeping friend, whom he expects to awake after a short while? Lazarus, come forth (St. John 11:43). And the dead man was brought back to life; he who was bound walked. This is a miracle within a miracle: that his feet were bound with grave-clothes and yet were not prevented from moving. That which strengthened him was greater than that which impeded him.

Why, therefore, did the Lord, Who was about to accomplish such things, judge the incident worthy of tears? Is it not clear that, disregarding our infirmity in every way, He contained the necessary emotions within certain measures and limits, avoiding a lack of sympathy, on the one hand, as something appropriate to wild beasts, and, on the other hand, refusing to give way to excessive grief and lamentation as something ignoble? Hence, in weeping over His friend, He both displayed that He Himself shared in our human nature, and freed us from either kind of extreme, allowing us neither to indulge our emotions nor to be unfeeling in the face of sorrows.

Therefore, just as the Lord accepted hunger, after digesting solid food, submitted to thirst, after the moisture in His body was consumed, and felt weary, when His muscles and nerves were strained from travelling–although it was not that His Divinity succumbed to weariness, but that His body accepted its natural attributes; so also, He accepted weeping, permitting a natural property of the flesh to supervene.

This occurs when the hollow parts of the brain, filled with vapors arising from grief, discharge the burden of moisture through the opening of the eyes as through some kind of duct. Hence, one experiences a certain ringing in the ears, dizziness, and darkening of the eyes when he hears about unexpected sorrows, and ones head is set in a whirl by vapors which are emitted by compressed heat deep inside him.

Then, in my opinion, just as a cloud dissolves into raindrops, so also the thickness of vapors dissolves into tears. Hence, those who grieve feel a certain pleasure when they lament, because the burden that weighs on them is secretly evacuated through weeping. Experience of events proves the truth of this account. For we know many people who, in desperate straits, forcibly restrain themselves from weeping; then, in some cases, they fall into incurable sufferings, either apoplexy or paralysis, while in other cases, they completely faint, their strength having been broken down, like a weak support, by the weight of sorrow. For, what is observable in the case of fire, that it is stifled by its own smoke if it does not escape, but rolls around it–this, it is said, occurs also in the case of the faculty that governs a living creature; that is, it wastes away and is extinguished if there is no way for it to ex-hale.

6. Therefore, let those who are given to mourning not adduce the Lords tears in support of their own weakness. For, just as the food which the Lord ate is not an occasion of pleasure for us, but, on the contrary, the highest criterion of restraint and sufficiency, so also, His weeping is not an ordinance prescribing lamentation, but is a most fitting measure and an exact standard whereby we may, with proper dignity and decorum, endure sorrows while remaining within the limits of our nature. Thus, neither women nor men are permitted to indulge in mourning and excessive weeping, but only to the extent that it is fitting to grieve over sorrows; they are permitted to shed a few tears, but this must be done calmly, without bellowing or wailing, without rending ones tunic or sprinkling oneself with dust, or committing any of the other improprieties that are typical of those who are ignorant of heavenly things. For one who has been purified by Divine doctrine must be fenced around by right reason, as by a strong wall, and must manfully and strenuously ward off the onslaughts of such emotions; he must not accept any crowd of emotions that flows in, as it were, to some low-lying place, with a submissive and compliant soul.

It is the mark of a craven soul, and one that is lacking in the vigor that comes from hope in God, that it utterly collapses and succumbs to adversities. For, just as worms are particularly inclined to breed on more tender pieces of wood, so also sorrows grow in men of lesser moral fiber. Was not Job adamantine in heart? Were his inward parts not made of stone? His ten children fell dead in one brief moment of time, overwhelmed by a calamity in the house of their gladness at a time of enjoyment, when the Devil brought down their dwelling upon them. He saw the table drenched with blood; he saw his children, who had been born at different times, but who had ended their lives together. He did not wail aloud; he did not pluck his hair out; he did not let out a degenerate cry; but he uttered that thanksgiving which is renowned and acclaimed by all: the Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away; as it seemed good to the Lord, so hath it come to pass; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21). Was this man not lacking in sympathy? How could this be so? For about himself, at any rate, he says: I wept over every man who was afflicted (Job 30:25). But was he not lying when he said this? But here, too, the truth bears witness to him that, in addition to his other virtues, he was also truthful: …That man was blameless, righteous, godly, and truthful (Job 1:1).

Yet many of you keep on wailing in dirges that are designed to express dejection, and you deliberately waste away your soul with mournful melodies; and, just like the make-believe and paraphernalia with which they adorn theatres to typify tragedies, so, also, you suppose that the proper outfit for a mourner consists of black clothing, squalid hair, dirt, and dust, complete with a darkened house and lugubrious chanting, which preserves the wound of grief ever fresh in the soul. Let those who have no hope do these things. You, however, have been taught, concerning those who repose in Christ, that it [the body] is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body (I Corinthians 15:42-44).

Why, then, do you weep for one who has gone to change his vesture? Neither mourn for yourself, as one who has been deprived of a helper in this life; for it is better to trust in the Lord than to trust in man (Psalm 117:8-9, Septuagint). Nor lament for this helper, as one who has suffered a terrible calamity. For, a little later, the trumpet sounding from Heaven will awaken him, and you will see him standing before the judgment-seat of Christ. So, dismiss these dejected and ignorant cries: Alas, these unexpected woes! Who would have thought that this would happen? Could I have ever anticipated that I would cover this dearest friend of mine with earth? If we should hear someone else saying such things, it behooves us to blush, since we have been taught from both past memories and present experience that these natural occurrences are inevitable.

7. Therefore, neither untimely deaths nor other misfortunes that unexpectedly befall us will ever cause consternation in us who have been educated by the doctrine of piety. For example, let us say that I had a son who was a young man–the sole heir of my estate, the comfort of my old age, the adornment of his family, the flower of his peers, the support of his household, and at that time of life which is most charming–, this lad having been carried off by death, he becoming earth and dust who, a short while ago, uttered sweet sounds and was a most pleasing sight in the eyes of his father.

What, then, am I to do? Shall I rend my clothing? Shall I consent to roll around on the ground, scream in vexation, and act in front of those present like a child crying out in pain and having convulsions? Rather, paying heed to the inevitability of events, that the law of death is inexorable and affects every age-group alike, dissolving all compound things in order, surely I should not be surprised at what has happened. Surely I should not be upset in my mind, as if I had been devastated by some unexpected blow, since I have been taught beforehand that, being mortal, I had a mortal son, that there is no constancy in human affairs, and that nothing wholly abides for those who possess it.

Why, even great cities, which were renowned for the elegance of their buildings and the abilities of their inhabitants, and conspicuous for their prosperity both in the countryside and in the marketplace, now display tokens of their erstwhile dignity only in ruins. A ship which has frequently been preserved from the sea, and which has made countless speedy voyages and conveyed innumerable amounts of merchandise for traders, vanishes with a single gust of wind. Armies which have many times defeated their foes in battle have, on suffering a reversal of fortune, become a pitiful sight and one pitiful to relate. Entire nations and islands, which have attained great power, and have raised many trophies both by land and by sea, and have gathered much wealth from booty, have either been consumed by the passage of time or been taken captive and exchanged their liberty for enslavement. Indeed, in short, whatever great and unbearable evil you care to mention, life already has prior examples of it.

Therefore, just as we determine weights by a turn of the scale and assay gold by rubbing it with a touchstone, so also, if we were to remember the limits revealed to us by the Lord, we would never exceed the bounds of prudence. Whenever, therefore, any involuntary adversity befalls you, by virtue of being mentally prepared, you will avoid confusion, and you will make light of present afflictions by your hope for the future. For, just as those whose eyes are weak divert their gaze from things that are excessively bright and give them rest by looking at flowers and grass, so, also, the soul must not constantly behold that which causes grief or be fixated on present sorrows, but must direct its gaze towards what is truly good. In this way will it be feasible for you always to rejoice, if your life always looks towards God and if hope of recompense alleviates life’s sorrows.

Have you been dishonored? Then have regard for the glory which is laid up in Heaven through patient endurance.

Have you suffered a loss? Then contemplate the heavenly wealth and treasure which you have laid up for yourself through your good deeds.

Have you been expelled from your homeland? Then you have Jerusalem as your heavenly homeland.

Have you lost a child? Then you have Angels, with whom you will dance around the Throne of God, rejoicing eternally.

By thus opposing anticipated good things to present sorrows, you will keep your soul in the cheerfulness and tranquillity to which the Apostles precept summons us. Neither let the joys of human affairs create immoderate and excessive gladness in your soul, nor let sorrows diminish its exultation and sublimity by feelings of dejection and abasement. Unless you have previously trained yourself in this way regarding the eventualities of life, you will never have a calm and tranquil life.

But you will easily achieve this if you have dwelling within you the commandment which advises you always to rejoice, dismissing the vexations of the flesh and gathering that which gladdens the soul, transcending the sensation of present realities and extending your mind to the hope of eternal realities, the mere thought of which is sufficient to fill the soul with rejoicing and to make Angelic exultation reside in our hearts; in Christ Jesus our Lord, to Whom be the glory and the dominion, unto the ages. Amen.

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On Thanksgiving

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by Abbot Tryphon

A day set aside to give thanks to God

Thanksgiving has officially been an annual tradition since 1863, when during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving to be celebrated on Thursday, November 26. The “First Thanksgiving” was celebrated by the Pilgrims after having been safely delivered by God to the shores of the New World. This feast lasted three days, providing enough food for thirteen Pilgrims and ninety Native Americans. The feast consisted of fish (cod, eels, and bass) and shellfish (clams, lobster, and mussels), wild fowl (ducks, geese, swans, and turkey), venison, berries and fruit, vegetables (peas, pumpkin, beetroot and possibly, wild or cultivated onion), harvest grains ( barley and wheat), and the Three Sisters: beans, dried Indian maize or corn, and squash. The New England colonists were accustomed to regularly celebrating “thanksgivings”—days of prayer thanking God for blessings such as military victory or the end of a drought.

The word Thanksgiving has it’s roots in the Greek word, eucharistia, where the Church gets the word Eucharist. For Orthodox Christians the ultimate giving of thanks to God comes when we offer the Eucharistic sacrifice, entering into the Heavenly Banquet, participating in the eternal Mystical Supper that is ongoing in the heavenly realm.

During the celebration of the Divine Liturgy we offer a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for His mercy and loving kindness. It has become common practice in some areas for parishes and monasteries to celebrate the Divine Liturgy on the morning of Thanksgiving, having become a local American Orthodox custom to remember, with thanks, all that the Lord has given to His people.

During these difficult times, many among us will be eating Thanksgiving dinner in church halls, senior centers or Union Gospel Missions. Not since the 1940’s have American families experienced such financial loss, and many do not feel particularly thankful. However, this gift of life was not bestowed upon us for financial security, or even good health. This life has been given to us as a time of purification, a period of preparation for the eternal life that God has promised us as our inheritance. Even when we struggle in hard times, or with health issues, we can see that all is allowed for our salvation.

The Heavenly Banquet, that eternal celebration taking place before the Throne of God is ours, here and now, whenever we participate in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. This Eucharistic celebration (Thanksgiving) wherein Christ offers His Body and Blood for our spiritual and physical healing, is that moment in time when we are able to experience, and participate in, the Banquet that awaits us. The hope of eternal life is worthy of our struggle in this life, as we prepare for our life worshiping before the Holy Trinity. We have much to be thankful for.

With love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon

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It is Time for the Lord to Act

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by Gabe Martini

Some of the most profound words of the Divine Liturgy are rarely heard.

Standing at the south corner of the altar, the deacon quietly utters to the presiding priest:

“It is time for the Lord to act.”

This phrase sets the tone for everything in our worship. We are not performing some sort of magical act that assuages the deity in our favor, but are rather joining in with the liturgy of eternity; the liturgy of his own actions in our favor; the liturgy which has, and is, and ever shall be taking place; the liturgy which is the great thanksgiving—the great Eucharist—of God.

The words of the deacon are taken from Psalm 118 (Ps. 119 in the MT), verse 126:

It is time for the Lord to act;
they turned away from your law.

While not forgetting the first, we must note the second half of this verse, as well.

Read more here

Days 13, 14, 15, & 16

As promised, today I’m giving you the topics for the next four days, so you have some time to work ahead. Enjoy the National Holiday and blog well. These are topics worth blogging about.

Here are your topics:


Wednesday, November 27 – Day 13

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EUCHARIST AS THE GREAT THANKSGIVING


Thursday, November 28 – Day 14 – Happy Thanksgiving Day

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GIVING THANKS TO GOD AS A NATION


Friday, November 29 – Day 15

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AVARICE (LOVE OF MONEY)


Saturday, November 30 – Day 16

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ST. ANDREW THE APOSTLE

 

Whom God Would Have Us Be

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by Fr. Stephen Freeman

When man stands before the throne of God, when he has fulfilled all that God has given him to fulfill, when all sins are forgiven, all joy restored, then there is nothing else for him to do but to give thanks. Eucharist (thanksgiving) is the state of perfect man. Eucharist is the life of paradise. Eucharist is the only full and real response of man to God’s creation, redemption and gift of heaven. But this perfect man who stands before God is Christ. In Him alone all that God has given man was fulfilled and brought back to heaven. He alone is the perfect Eucharistic Being, He is the Eucharist of the world. In and through this Eucharist the whole creation becomes what it always was to be and yet failed to be.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann in For the Life of the World.

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Perhaps the greatest single failure in the Christian life is the refusal to give thanks. Thanks that is dependent upon success or the fulfillment and pleasure of our own will is indeed thanksgiving – but is weak indeed. It is easy to give thanks for our pleasures and self-satisfactions (though even then we often forget to give thanks).

All too often in our relationship with God and others, thanksgiving is purely reciprocal: we offer thanks as though it were a token payment for that which we have received. As such, it may represent little more than a happy, greedy heart. It falls far short of the heart of thanksgiving (Eucharist) itself. The heart of true thanksgiving is not a payment for services rendered, but an existential expression of our love for God as the Lord and Giver of Life.

This fundamental attitude marks the relationship of Christ and the Father. He is always and eternally giving thanks to the Father. It is also the right and truly “whole” expression of what it is to be human in the face of God. We find ourselves beset with temptation, sickness and oppression of every sort – including the burden of our own failure and sinfulness. But true knowledge of God yields thanks despite all other temptations and trials. It is the sound of creation giving praise and thanksgiving to its Creator. Nothing is more fundamental nor more essential to the right-living of the human heart.

In the face of many circumstances that surround and crush us – thanksgiving to God can seem absurd. However, such absurdity is the voice of love that refuses to grant failure and oppression a greater place in our life than God Himself.

He is our God – and we praise Him. Let His enemies be scattered!

Thanksgiving, almost above all else, transforms us into the image of Christ – who Himself is the true Eucharist of all creation. To give thanks to God is inherently to unite ourselves with Christ and the true voice of creation.

It is truly meet and right…

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On Thanksgiving

by Fr. Stephen Freeman

Everyone capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann

I do not believe it is possible to exhaust this topic. I have set forth a few suggestions of how we might build and maintain a life of thanksgiving. Particular thought is given to those times when giving thanks is difficult.

1. I must believe that God is good.

I struggled with this for many years. I believed that God was sovereign; I believed that He was the Creator of heaven and earth; I believed that He sent His only Son to die for me. But despite a host of doctrines to which I gave some form of consent, not included (and this was a matter of my heart) was the simple, straight-forward consent that God is good. My father-in-law, a very simple Baptist deacon of great faith, believed this straight-forward truth with an absolute assurance that staggered my every argument. I knew him for over 30 years. When I was young (and much more foolish) I would argue with him – not to be out-maneuvered by his swift and crafty theological answers (it was me that was trying to maneuver and be swift and crafty) – but often times our arguments would end with his smile and simple confession,

“Well, I don’t know about that, but I know that God is good.”

Over the years I came to realize that until and unless I believed that God is good, I would never be able to truly give thanks. I could thank God when things went well, but not otherwise.

This simple point was hammered into me weekly, even daily,  after I became Orthodox. There is hardly a service of the Orthodox Church that does not end its blessing with:

“For He is a good God and loves mankind.”

A corollary of the goodness of God was coming to terms with the wrathful God of some Western theology (or the misunderstandings of the “wrathful God”). At the heart of things was a fear that behind everything I could say of God was a God whom I could not trust – who could be one way at one time and another way at another.

This is so utterly contrary to the writings of the Fathers and the teachings of the Orthodox faith. God is good and His mercy endures forever, as the Psalmist tells us. God is good and even those things that human beings describe as “wrath” are, at most, the loving chastisement of a God who is saving me from much worse things I would do to myself were He not to love me enough to draw me deeper into His love and away from my sin.

The verse in Romans 8 remains a cornerstone of our understanding of God’s goodness:

“All things work together for good, for those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (8:28).

There are daily mysteries involved in this assertion of faith – moments and events that I have no way to explain or to fit into some overall scheme of goodness. But this is precisely where my conversations with my father-in-law would go. I would be full of exceptions and “what ifs,” and he would reply,

“I don’t know about that. But I know that God is good.”

As the years have gone by, I have realized that being wise is not discovering some way to explain things but for my heart to settle into the truth that,

“I don’t know about that. But I know that God is good.”

2. I must believe that His will for me is good.

This moves the question away from what could, for some, be a philosophical statement (“God is good”) to the much more specific,

“His will for me is good.”

Years ago, when my son was a child, he encountered a difficulty in his life. As a parent I was frustrated (secretly mad at God) and my faith shaken. I had already decided what “good” was to look like in my son’s life and reality was undermining my fantasy. In a time of prayer (which was very one-sided) I found myself brought up suddenly and short with what I can only describe as a divine interruption. I will not describe my experience as an audible voice, but it could not have been clearer. The simple statement from God was:

“This is for his salvation.”

My collapse could not have been more complete. How do you reply to such a statement? How am I supposed to know what my child needs for His salvation (and this in the long-term sense as understood by the Orthodox?). I had prayed for nothing with as much fervor as the salvation of my children. Ultimately, regardless of how they get through life, that they get through in union with Christ is all I ask. Why should I doubt that God was doing what I had asked? In the years since then I have watched God’s word in that moment be fulfilled time and again as He continues to work wonderfully in the life of my son and I see a Christian man stand before me. God’s will for me is good. God is not trying to prevent us from doing good, or making it hard for us to be saved. Life is not a test. No doubt, life is filled with difficulty. We live in a fallen world. But He is at work here and now and everywhere for my good.

My father-in-law had a favorite Bible story (among several): the story of Joseph and his brothers. In the final disclosure in Egypt, when Joseph reveals himself to his brothers – those who had sold him into slavery – Joseph says,

“You meant it to me for evil, but the Lord meant it to me for good.”

It is an Old Testament confession of Romans 8:28. The world may give us many situations, and the situations on their surface may indeed be evil. But our God is a good God and He means all things for our good. I may confess His goodness at all times.

3. I must believe that the goodness of God is without limit.

I did not know this for many years and only came upon it as I spent a period of a month studying the meaning of “envy.” In much of our world (and definitely in the non Judaeo-Christian world of antiquity) people believe that good is limited. If you are enjoying good, then it is possibly at my expense. Such thought is the breeding ground of envy. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed this to be true to such a degree that they feared excellence lest it provoke the jealousy of the Gods. We do not think in the same metaphysical terms, but frequently on some deep level, we believe that someone else’s good will somehow lessen our own. Within this the worm of jealousy, anger and envy devours us. The good which someone else enjoys is not at my expense.

To bless God for His goodness we also need to bless God for His goodness towards everyone and to know that He is the giver of every good and perfect gift – and that His goodness is without limit.

4. I must believe that God is good and know this on the deepest personal level.

God has manifested His goodness to us in the revelation of His Son, Jesus Christ. In Christ, we see the fullness of the goodness of God. The goodness of God goes to the Cross for us. The goodness of God searches for us in hell and brings us forth victorious. The goodness of God will not cease in His efforts to reconcile us to the Father.

My father-in-law had another favorite Bible story (I said he had several): the story of the three young men in the fiery furnace. This story is, incidentally, a favorite of Orthodox liturgical worship as well. It stands as a Biblical image of our rescue from Hades. In the midst of the fiery furnace, together with the three young men, is the image of a fourth. Christ is with them, and in the hymnography of the Church,

“the fire became as the morning dew.”

For my father-in-law it was the confession of the three young men before the evil threats of the wicked King Nebuchanezer. To his threats of death in a terrible holocaust they said,

“Our God is able to deliver us, O King. But even if He does not, nevertheless, we will not bow down and worship your image.”

It was their defiant “nevertheless,” that would bring tears to my father-in-law’s eyes. For much of our experience here includes furnaces into which we are thrust despite our faith in Christ. It is there that the faith in the goodness of God says, “Nevertheless!” It is confidence in the goodness of God above all things.

I saw my father-in-law survive a terrible automobile accident, and the whole family watched his slow and losing battle with lymphoma in his last three years. But none of us ever saw him do otherwise than give thanks to God and to delight in extolling the Lord’s goodness. Many years before I had foolishly become heated with him in one of our “theological discussions.” I was pushing for all I was worth against his unshakeable assurance in God’s goodness. I recall how he ended the argument:

“Mark the manner of my death.”

It was his last word in the matter. There was nothing to be said against such a statement. And he made that statement non-verbally with the last years of his life. I did mark the manner of his death and could only confess:

“God is good! His mercy endures forever!”

For no matter the difficulties this dear Christian man faced, nevertheless, no moment was anything less than an occasion for thanksgiving.

I have seen the goodness of God in the land of the living.

Source

A Sermon In Response To A Proclamation of National Thanksgiving

In America, as in the Church, we stand on the shoulders of giants.

Happy Thanksgiving Day.

I wish you a day of peace, joy and, of course, great thanksgiving to the God of nations, who has vouchsafed to us a land of liberty and freedom to do as we ought.

Preach the Gospel this Sunday.

Enjoy.

A

SERMON,

DELIVERED FEBRUARY 19, 1795:

BEING THE DAY OF PUBLIC THANKSGIVING

Throughout the United States.

BY THOMAS BALDWIN.

P S A L M XXXIII 12
BLESSED IS THE NATION WHOSE GOD IS THE LORD, AND THE PEOPLE WHOM HE HATH CHOSEN FOR HIS OWN INHERITANCE.

In obedience to the call of the President of the United States, we are now, my brethren, assembled in the house of God to offer thanksgiving and prayer to the “great Ruler of nations, for the manifold and signal mercies which distinguish our lot as a nation” [a direct quote from the 1795 Thanksgiving Proclamation issued by President George Washington]. And as God is this day publicly to be praised in the assemblies of His people, I have thought the [Bible] passage now read might be a suitable foundation of our present meditations.

This beautiful psalm, whoever might be the penman of it, is evidently designed to set forth the power and goodness of God in such an amiable [agreeable] light as to excite our confidence, awaken our gratitude, and warm the devout passions of the soul with sacred joy.

If we contemplate God either in His word or works, we shall find abundant matter for joy and thankfulness:

“For the word of the Lord is right, and all His works are done in truth. He loveth righteousness and judgment; the earth is full of goodness of the Lord” [Psalm 33:4-5].

From this view of the righteousness, equity, and benevolence of the Divine government, the pious psalmist was led to exclaim, as in the text;

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, and the people whom He hath chosen for his own inheritance.”

That we may more fully enter into the spirit of the text, we shall attempt:

I. To show when it may be said of a nation that “the Lord is their God” – to consider what evidence a people may have that the Lord has chosen.

II. To consider what evidence a people may have that the Lord hath chosen them for His inheritance.

III. That we may infer the duty and obligations of a people thus favored and blessed (in illustrating of which we shall attend to several particulars contained in the proclamation).

I. We are to show when it may be said of a nation that “the Lord is their God.”

As a nation, we form a particular character in distinction from that of individuals. As such, we may exhibit the amiable [likeable] features of virtue and religion, or the base picture of vice and infidelity. In this character we may receive temporal blessings as the fruits and reward of virtue, and also suffer national calamities as the punishment of our vice and impiety.

Therefore,

1. When as a nation we acknowledge the eternal God to be the Creator, Preserver, and Upholder of all things – when we acknowledge His universal dominion over all worlds, and all beings – and when we attribute those Divine perfections to Him which are necessary to form His exalted character and render Him the proper object of our love and esteem; and

2. When we acknowledge that system of truth contained in the Bible to be His word, and as such reverence and obey its doctrines and precepts – when we cordially subscribe to its Divine originality [inspiration] and rest all our hopes of futurity on its precious promises – when we endeavor to imbibe its genuine spirit and live agreeably to its dictates; and

3. When we acknowledge Him as the lone object of religious worship and adoration in distinction from all false gods and idols – when at stated seasons we attend upon His institutions and offer up our prayers and praises through that medium which He hath appointed; and

4. When we acknowledge Him as our rightful Sovereign and live in subjection to His laws (for it can never be supposed that a people have chosen the Lord for their God, while they refuse to have him reign over them. The very language of His enemies is,

“Let us break His bands in sunder and cast His cords away” [Psalm 2:3],

whilst those who approve of His government say,

“The Lord is our Lawgiver, the Lord is our King, He will save us” [Isaiah 33:22].

And, said Jesus,

“Then are ye My friends when ye do whatsoever I command you” [John 15:14]);

and

5. When we acknowledge His universal Providence over all the works of His hands (if we rely upon His protecting care and Providence, we shall manifest it by appealing to His wisdom to direct us when involved in darkness and difficulty, and to His power to defend us when surrounded by threatening dangers; and finally, in leaving the issue of our most interesting concerns to the righteous disposal of Him who controls all human events);

6. And lastly, when we acknowledge the Lord to be the Giver of all mercies (nothing can be more calculated to keep us humble and thankful than to realize our dependence on God:

“Every good and every perfect gift comes down for the Father of lights” [James 1:17].

A sense of our own unworthiness and of the Divine goodness in bestowing favors upon us will excite in us the most lively [strongest] sentiments of gratitude and undissembled [genuine] joy and will finally issue in thanksgiving and praise).

But we come

II. To show, what evidence a people may have that the Lord hath chosen them for his inheritance.

The terms very naturally imply each other; agreeably to the tenor of the new covenant,

“I will be their God and they shall be My people” [Ezekiel 37:27].

And again,

“I love them that love me” [Proverbs 8:17].

Although this part of our subject may not appear so capable of proof as the former (since neither love nor hatred can be certainly known by common course of Providence) as one event happeneth to all, yet undoubtedly there may be some rational evidence in favor of the people whom God hath chosen.

As

1. God’s disposing a people to choose Him to be their God is a clear evidence that He had previously chosen them for His inheritance:

“Ye have not chosen Me (said the Savior to His disciples, that is first) but I have chosen you” [John 15:16].

They had indeed chosen Him with all their hearts; but this was consequent upon His choice and therefore could not be the cause, although it was the best evidence of their being His people.

“We love Him because He first loved us” [1 John 4:19].

But we observe,

2. Special and remarkable instances of Divine interposition in behalf of a people naturally lead us to conclude that God hath chosen them for His own.

Of old, He chose the seed of Abraham for His people and Jacob for the lot of His inheritance; and although He suffered them for a season to be afflicted by their enemies, yet when the set time was come for their deliverance from Egyptian bondage, His arm was made quite bare in the fight of the nations.

The children of Israel at this time were sunk under the most abject slavery. They indeed groaned under their bondage but had no idea of deliverance; and by being so long accustomed to serve, they had quite lost the spirit of enterprise. Yea, they were so far inured [accustomed] to their wretched condition and so indifferent to the cause of freedom, that after Moses had exhibited his credentials and given the most unequivocal proof of his being sent of God to liberate them from their vile servitude, they were ready upon almost every appearance of difficulty or danger to raise their clamorous voices and say,

“Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians.”

But their drooping spirits were finally cheered, and with one consent they rallied round the standard of freedom; and while the Egyptians for their cruelty were visited with various plagues and were now mourning the loss of their first-born, under cover of the night they made their escape. But the tyrant of Egypt soon determined to pursue them.

The ransomed tribes, not being furnished with weapons of defense in order to escape the Philistines, took their route by the way of the wilderness and were now encamped between Migdol and the Red Sea. Imagination itself could scarce conceive of a situation more disadvantageous and distressing than theirs. The sea spread itself in their front; on either side they were enclosed by inaccessible mountains. Hahiroth on one side and Baal-zephon on the other, forbade their flanking off, whilst in their rear they beheld their late imperious master with all their tyrant bands in crowded columns advancing towards them, glittering in armor and amply furnished with the whole apparatus of death!

At this critical moment when ruin appeared inevitable, Moses – who had the most perfect command of himself – endeavored to calm their fears and excite their confidence in God.

“Stand still,” said he, “and see the salvation of the Lord” [Exodus 14:13].

The cloud which led their way instantly went back and stood as an impenetrable wall before the Egyptian host. Moses now took his awful rod and stretched his hand out over the sea and the waters divided. Then,

“the waters saw thee, O God, the waters saw thee; they were afraid and the depths were troubled” [Psalm 77:16].

“He made the waters to stand as an heap; they were congealed in the heart of the sea” [Exodus 15:8],

until the chosen tribes had marched safely through.

But when one dark scene has passed, another equally distressing instantly opened to their view. They were now traversing the barren sands of Arabia beneath a burning sun and their soul fainted within them. No fruitful fields supplied their hunger, nor cheering springs allayed their thirst. In vain they wished for the flesh-pots of Egypt or the waters of the Nile. No human exertions could save them. The Lord again interposed and the heavens supplied them with bread, and the rock followed them with streams of living water.

The interpositions of Heaven were so visible in behalf of this people that an eastern soothsayer, after using in vain all the arts of magic to curse them, was constrained to say,

“The Lord his God is with him and the shout of a King is among them” [Numbers 23:21].

When David upon a particular occasion was celebrating the Divine goodness, it brought to remembrance those days of the right hand of the Most High when God so remarkably interposed in their behalf; even when they were strangers in the land.

“And when (said he) they went from nation to nation and one kingdom to another people, He suffered no man to do them wrong. Yea, he reproved kings for their sakes; saying, Touch not Mine anointed and do My prophets no harm.” [I Chronicles 16: 20-22].

And thus He led them on to the possess the Promised Land.

But we are called upon by the man whom we delight to honor [President George Washington] thankfully to notice “the manifold and signal mercies with distinguish our lot as a nation.” But where shall we begin! The various streams of Divine goodness have constantly followed us through all this wilderness.

The interpositions of a kind Providence towards us from the first settlement of this country to the present day have been almost as conspicuous as those granted to Israel of old.

The groaning of our fathers under the persecuting yoke of oppression, although in their native land, was heard in heaven. Nor did they long groan in vain, for God was pleased to dispose their hearts to unite in forming the important design of attempting a passage across the pathless ocean in search of these western shores. Numerous were the trials and disappointments they experienced in leaving their native land, and many were the fears and discouragements with which they conflicted on the boisterous ocean until at length they discovered the Continent [America] and again trod on solid ground.

But how seemingly easy would it have been for the savages to have collected their numerous tribes and hurled such showers of darts and poisoned arrows upon them as to have obliged them to quit [leave] the shore; or at least to have harassed them in such a manner as to have prevented them from cultivating the soil and in that way forced them to re-embark.

Various indeed were the scenes of distress through which the first adventurers passed, and various were the deliverances which they experienced. Death early discovered their infant settlement and within less than five months after their first landing at Plymouth swept away nearly one half of their number. Sometimes painted savages with hideous yells disturbed their peaceful camp, and sometimes famine with meager visage [face] stared them in the face.

Three years after their arrival they were brought to such straits, their provisions being spent, when it was three or four months to harvest so that when they lay down at night they knew not where to get any for the morning; and for three or four months together they had neither bread nor corn.

“Yet (said they) we bear our wants with cheerfulness and rest on Providence”

[a quote from the Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, compiled by George Cheever (New York: John Wiley, 1848), p. 283].

Nor did they rely in vain. God heard their cry and sent them relief.

Thus when death and savages and famine seemed all to combine against this feeble colony, God was pleased to give the high command, “Destroy it not, for a blessing is in it” [Isaiah 65:8].

Heaven had undoubtedly designed this beautiful part of the creation for nobler purposes than to lay an uncultivated waste for beasts and savages to roam over. It was evidently marked out by Divine Providence as the favored spot on which liberty (which had long been imprisoned in other parts of the globe) should erect her spacious temple.

But this high design was not then fully understood, and America – like a child in minority for a long season – was under

“tutors and governors” [Galatians 4:1-2]

of a foreign appointment until the fullness of time [Galatians 4:4] came for her to be free.

But time would fail to recount the various wonders of Divine goodness towards this land, or the numerous instances of oppression from a foreign power which led on to that memorable season which marked a new epoch in the history of the world – I mean the fourth of July 1776, which announced the freedom and independence of America.

That auspicious [fortunate] morn will long be remembered (perhaps as long celebrated) as the political birthday of this nation. Then our fathers in council assembled made their solemn appeal to the Great Judge of the Universe for the rectitude of their intentions and the justice of their cause.

And, my brethren, were not the interpositions of Divine Providence quite visible in our behalf in disposing the different states to lay aside their local prejudices and all unite in one great object? And did not Heaven remarkably smile upon our exertions? How surprising was the spirit of enterprise which then appeared in every class of citizens! Our legislators in Congress nobly opposed and effectually counteracted the subtle and perfidious [treacherous] politics of a nation long skilled in the intrigues of war. And our young sons, uninured [unaccustomed] to the dangers and hardships of a camp but animated with the noble sentiment of liberty, and led on by our immortal WASHINGTON, encountered an army of disciplined veterans with a courage and firmness which would have done honor to Roman bravery. Unsubdued [unconquered] by difficulties, and unappalled [not scared] by dangers, our troops were led on from conquering to conquer [Revelation 6:2], one army after another falling into their hands until our foes were obliged to subscribe [agree to] conditions of peace.

Shall we now, my brethren, ascribe all this glory to ourselves? No; we will say with the devout psalmist, “If it had not been the Lord Who was on our side – now may America say, if it had not been the Lord Who was on our side when men rose up against us, then they had swallowed us up quick” [Psalm 124:1-3]. It was the God of armies which led our troops to victory and glory, and His forever shall be the praise!

Happy indeed is the nation whose God is the Lord and the people whom He hath thus highly favored.

We come now, as was proposed,

III. To infer the duty and obligations of a people thus favored and blessed. The two following inferences very naturally arise from the subject;

1. If we have chosen the Lord to be our God, it is our indispensible duty to acknowledge with thanksgiving the numerous favors He confers upon us.

2. As we are dependent creatures, it is our duty to beseech the kind Author of these blessings to continue them to us and to extend those which we enjoy to all mankind.

In illustrating those observations, we shall attend particularly to the proclamation [of President Washington] upon which we are now convened.

  • 1. We are called upon to offer thanksgiving “for the possession of constitutions of government which unite and by their union establish liberty with order.” If ever a people were under obligations to the Great Ruler of the Universe for the full and free enjoyment of their natural rights and privileges, we certainly are. 1If we are not happy, we must blame ourselves for it, for our modes of government are not the dictates of a conquering tyrant but the deliberate choice of American freemen. No foreign lord has dominion over us, but our “rulers are of ourselves and our governors proceed from among us” [Jeremiah 30:21]. And as the most important offices, both Federal and State governments, are elective, no hereditary dunce can ever be imposed upon the people; but [only] the man whose tried wisdom, fidelity and patriotism shall commend him to their choice.But our constitutions are said to “unite and by their union to establish liberty with order.” But why do they unite? Undoubtedly because they secure the equal rights of all. We cannot reasonably expect that either “union or order” will long prevail where the essential rights of one part of the community are violated and government is instituted and administered for the benefit of a part only and not for the whole. May we ever consider our rights unalienable and in a constitutional way remonstrate [protest] against the smallest infringement.
  • 2. We are directed to offer public thanksgiving to God “for the preservation of our peace, foreign and domestic.”A moment’s reflection, my brethren, will convince you of the propriety of this remark. For notwithstanding the embarrassments which our trade hath suffered on the seas, and the many unprovoked insults offered to our flag; we have shown ourselves superior to those who have injured us by despising rather than retaliating their crimes. And although our western border has been partially distressed, yet the great body of the nation has been folded in the secure arms of peace. And by the blessing of God on the cause of liberty in Europe, and the wise and steady exertions of our supreme Executive [President Washington], aided by our Federal Council [the U. S. Congress], we have been preserved from the horrors and calamities of a foreign war.
  • 3. “The suppression of the late insurrection” is mentioned by our worthy President as a matter of public thanksgiving [in 1794 in western Pennsylvania, armed riots had broken out against the federal government to protest a federal tax on whiskey]. And let the cause of the unhappy insurrection be as it may, we will rejoice and praise God that the consequences were far less fatal than we feared and that it has been wisely overruled not only for the suppression of that rebellion but for the strengthening and cementing of the union. May it also be farther beneficial by deterring other from opposing lawful authority and prevent their making the desperate appeal to arms.
  • 4. “The prosperous course of our affairs, public and private” calls for our grateful acknowledgments. That our wealth and population have rapidly increased within these few years past much beyond any former calculations cannot be denied. And we have the satisfaction still to believe that the tide has not begun to ebb but is yet increasing. Our settlements are extending; the wilderness yields to the hand of cultivation and becomes a fruitful field; towns are built and cities enlarged. Citizens of every class find sufficient employ and ample encouragement to reward their industry. The liberal arts are nourished and useful knowledge discussed and surely there can be nothing wanting but real piety [holiness] to make us truly happy.

But from the uncertain tenure by which we hold these enjoyments, we are led to infer:

2. That it is our duty to beseech the kind Author of these blessings to continue them to us and extend those which we enjoy to all mankind.

And

  • 1. By the proclamation, we are directed “to beseech the kind Author of these blessings graciously to prolong them to us.” We shall be naturally led to this if we suitably realize that the same hand which bestows our blessings may take them away at any time without asking our leave [permission]. And such is the versatility of all earthly things that we know not what will be on the morrow or even what the present day will bring forth – we know not how soon the present scene may be revealed and the dark clouds of adversity overshadow our brightest prospects. Let us then humbly acknowledge our dependence on that Living Fountain and thankfully adore the Giver of All Our Mercies.
  • 2. We are exhorted to pray God “to imprint on our hearts a deep and solemn sense of obligations to Him for them.” Without this, we can never be thankful, for if we consider our enjoyments as the just reward of our own wisdom or industry, we shall feel thankful to none but ourselves. The Lord deliver us from the horrid sin of ingratitude! As our blessings are multiplied, may we consider our obligations increased to love and adore our Great Benefactor.
  • 3. We are to beech the kind Author of Our Blessings “to teach us rightly to estimate their immense value.” Our blessings, my brethren, are numberless and great. We are a people highly favored of the Lord. Our civil and religious privileges are none of the least; we “sit under our own vine and fig tree and none are permitted to disturb or make us afraid” [Micah 4:4]. We worship God according to the dictates of our own consciences without the dread of an Inquisition or fear of persecution. We are indeed exalted to heaven in point of privilege; let us not forget that “where much is given, there much will be required” [Luke 12:48].
  • 4. We are directed to pray that we may be kept from “abusing” the favor we enjoy. It is too often the case that those who have called upon God in the day of their trouble have forgotten Him in the time of prosperity. Happy would it be if we could learn that sacred lesson, “to use the world as not abusing it” [1 Corinthians 7:31]. Our blessings are given us to use but not to abuse. They are often bestowed in abundance so that we may disperse abroad and give to the poor, and thus lay up a treasure in the heavens which “fadeth not away” [1 Peter 1:4]. But should we become vain in our prosperity and “forget the God which made us and lightly esteem the Rock of our salvation” [Deuteronomy 32:15]; we must expect He will turn His hand against us and deprive us of the blessings we abuse. May the Lord “preserve us from the arrogance of prosperity” and enable us so to walk before Him as a nation that He may delight to prosper and bless us.But we are to conclude our supplications by praying,
  • 5. That God would “impart all the blessings we possess or ask for ourselves to the whole family of mankind.”

This beautiful sentiment, my brethren, breathes universal benevolence and good will to the whole human race. Much more is implied in it than what is expressed. I conceive that it fully authorizes and enjoins us to extend our views to other objects not so particularly mentioned in the proclamation. And

1. We will fervently pray that the blessings of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ which we peculiarly enjoy may be extended to all mankind – that the altars and idols of Pagan superstition may fall before the light of truth and that the shades of Mahometan imposture [Islamic deception] may be dispelled by the bright beams of the

“Sun of Righteousness” [Malachi 4:2].

And that the dragon and the beast and the false prophet; and all the anti-Christian powers which have in any way opposed and persecuted the religion of Jesus Christ may be subdued. May the Gospel with its benign [gentle] influences extend from land to land and from sea to sea until the knowledge of God shall cover the earth, from the rising to the setting sun [c.f., Isaiah 11:9].

2. As we enjoy the blessings of peace, we sincerely wish the same to all our fellow-men. Base indeed must be the heart which for any pecuniary [monetary] advantages would wish a war to continue, which makes such havoc of the human species. Hence, my brethren, let us offer up our prayers continually to the God of Peace that the present distressing war among the European nations may come to an end [the Second Hundred Years War between France and Britain and their respective allies were raging in Europe at this time], and that it may terminate in the overthrow of tyranny and despotism and the establishment of liberty and the equal rights of man. And particularly, that nation which came to our relief in the day of trouble [France] may speedily obtain and give such honorable conditions of peace as shall convince the world that they are friends to liberty, order, and humanity and are only to be dreaded by tyrants. May they soon realize all the advantages which a free and enlightened people can derive from a government framed by the unalterable principles of reason and founded upon the eternal basis of equal rights.

But

3. As we desire and enjoy liberty and freedom ourselves, we will not forget our brethren who are in captivity and slavery.

Our unhappy countrymen who have fallen into the hands of the Algerines [Muslim terrorists opposing America during our first War on Terror against Islamic terrorists which lasted from 1784-1816] whose

“tender mercies are cruelties” [Proverbs 12:10],

shall not be forgotten in our supplications. We will beseech the God of All Compassion to remember them in the land of their captivity and to give them favor in the eyes of those who have carried them captive. We will not only pray for them but whenever we shall be called upon by proper authority, we will cheerfully subscribe for their redemption [i.e., contribute to a fund to pay a ransom to free Americans; see the WallBuilders article on this at http://www.wallbuilders.com/LIBissuesArticles.asp?id=374 ] and restore them again to the embraces of their friends and the blessings of freedom.

But the benevolent sentiment we now dwell upon does not confine our wishes here; no, we wish the same blessings of liberty which we enjoy to all mankind. May the day soon arrive when not difference of climate or features nor the color of the skin – when nothing but crimes shall consign any of the human race to slavery.

Urged by my own feelings, I am persuaded, my brethren, you will indulge me to mention in particular one of our suffering friends. I mean the brave, but unfortunate Marquis de la Fayette!

“At the age of nineteen he espoused the cause of America,”

and early determined to embark for this country. But before he could accomplish his design, intelligence arrived at Paris

“that the American insurgents reduced to two thousand, were flying [retreating] before a British force of thirty thousand regulars.”

In short, things appeared so discouraging that our commissioners at Paris

“thought it but honest to dissuade him from the present prosecution of his perilous enterprise.”

But nobly triumphing over every discouragement, he said,

“Hitherto I have only cherished your cause – I am now going to serve it.”2

He at length procured a vessel at his own expense and came to America. Soon after his arrival, Congress conferred on him the rank of Major-General, which he accepted – but with the condition of serving at his own expense.3

His services for several years together in the American army are too well known to require a particular detail upon this occasion. The later part of his command, however, was peculiarly distinguished by the difficulties he encountered and the important services he rendered this country – particularly in counteracting and harassing the movements of the British army in Virginia.

From his embarrassed [difficult] situation at a certain time, Lord Cornwallis thought himself so sure of taking him that he wrote to the British court that “the boy could not escape him.” But the fact proved just the reverse, for he found not long after that it was impossible for him to escape and was finally obliged to resign himself and army as prisoners of war [i.e., the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781].

Can we now, my brethren, who enjoy the fruit of his toils, forget this generous patron of American freedom who is now suffering the horrors of a wretched confinement and languishing in a dreary [French] prison? [Lafayette was imprisoned five years (1792-1797) because of his views of liberty, first in Germany and then in Austria. At the time of this oration, he was still in prison – a fact that greatly angered Americans since he was an American citizen – an honor awarded him by Congress at the end of the Revolution – as well as an American hero]. No; we will raise our supplicating voice to Heaven for him. And may that God who heareth the groans and sighs of the prisoner break the bars of Magdeburg Castle and let that oppressed patriot go free! And may the glorious Gospel of Peace which proclaims liberty to captives and opens the prison doors to them that are bound extend its heavenly influence throughout the world!

To conclude.

While we commiserate [empathize with] the cause of the unfortunate and sympathize in their distresses, let us endeavor wisely and thankfully to improve our privileges and blessings to the glory of God and the best good of our fellow-men. Let us diligently cultivate habits of

“sobriety, order, morality and piety”

and study to lead

“quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty” [1 Timothy 2:2].

And may the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Israel – the God in Whom our fathers trusted and found deliverance – continue to be our God and to bless us.

“There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun, Who rideth upon the heaven in thy help and in His excellency upon the sky” [Deuteronomy 33:26].

“The eternal God is thy refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms” [Deuteronomy 33:27].

“Happy is that people that is in such a case; yea, happy is that people whose God is the Lord” [Psalms 33:12].

A M E N
 


Endnotes

The following footnotes appear in this form in the original sermon:

1. As a nation, we certainly enjoy every natural right; and if under any of the State Constitutions any class of citizens do not enjoy equal privileges, the matter will undoubtedly be attended to at a proper time and the grievance redressed.

2. Amer. Geog. pp. 136, 137.

3. Ibid.

Source

The Akathist of Thanksgiving

The Akathist Hymn: “Glory to God for All Things”

This Akathist, also called the “Akathist of Thanksgiving,” was composed by Protopresbyter Gregory Petrov shortly before his death in a prison camp in 1940. The title is from the words of Saint John Chrysostom as he was dying in exile. It is a song of praise from amidst the most terrible sufferings. On this, our national day of Thanksgiving, we offer this reminder of all the blessings God has bestowed on our nation. You can get a copy of this sung in English by an Orthodox Choir HERE.

Happy Thanksgiving Day. May God richly bless you.

Kontakion 1

Everlasting King, Thy will for our salvation is full of power. Thy right arm controls the whole course of human life. We give Thee thanks for all Thy mercies, seen and unseen. For eternal life, for the heavenly joys of the Kingdom which is to be. Grant mercy to us who sing Thy praise, both now and in the time to come. Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age.

Ikos 1

I was born a weak, defenceless child, but Thine angel spread his wings over my cradle to defend me. From birth until now Thy love has illumined my path, and has wondrously guided me towards the light of eternity; from birth until now the generous gifts of Thy providence have been marvelously showered upon me. I give Thee thanks, with all who have come to know Thee, who call upon Thy name.

Glory to Thee for calling me into being
Glory to Thee, showing me the beauty of the universe
Glory to Thee, spreading out before me heaven and earth
Like the pages in a book of eternal wisdom
Glory to Thee for Thine eternity in this fleeting world
Glory to Thee for Thy mercies, seen and unseen
Glory to Thee through every sigh of my sorrow
Glory to Thee for every step of my life’s journey
For every moment of glory
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 2

O Lord, how lovely it is to be Thy guest. Breeze full of scents; mountains reaching to the skies; waters like boundless mirrors, reflecting the sun’s golden rays and the scudding clouds. All nature murmurs mysteriously, breathing the depth of tenderness. Birds and beasts of the forest bear the imprint of Thy love. Blessed art thou, mother earth, in thy fleeting loveliness, which wakens our yearning for happiness that will last for ever, in the land where, amid beauty that grows not old, the cry rings out: Alleluia!

Ikos 2

Thou hast brought me into life as into an enchanted paradise. We have seen the sky like a chalice of deepest blue, where in the azure heights the birds are singing. We have listened to the soothing murmur of the forest and the melodious music of the streams. We have tasted fruit of fine flavour and the sweet-scented honey. We can live very well on Thine earth. It is a pleasure to be Thy guest.

Glory to Thee for the Feast Day of life
Glory to Thee for the perfume of lilies and roses
Glory to Thee for each different taste of berry and fruit
Glory to Thee for the sparkling silver of early morning dew
Glory to Thee for the joy of dawn’s awakening
Glory to Thee for the new life each day brings
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 3

It is the Holy Spirit who makes us find joy in each flower, the exquisite scent, the delicate colour, the beauty of the Most High in the tiniest of things. Glory and honour to the Spirit, the Giver of Life, who covers the fields with their carpet of flowers, crowns the harvest with gold, and gives to us the joy of gazing at it with our eyes. O be joyful and sing to Him: Alleluia!

Ikos 3

How glorious art Thou in the springtime, when every creature awakes to new life and joyfully sings Thy praises with a thousand tongues. Thou art the Source of Life, the Destroyer of Death. By the light of the moon, nightingales sing, and the valleys and hills lie like wedding garments, white as snow. All the earth is Thy promised bride awaiting her spotless husband. If the grass of the field is like this, how gloriously shall we be transfigured in the Second Coming after the Resurrection! How splendid our bodies, how spotless our souls!

Glory to Thee, bringing from the depth of the earth an endless variety of colours, tastes and scents
Glory to Thee for the warmth and tenderness of the world of nature
Glory to Thee for the numberless creatures around us
Glory to Thee for the depths of Thy wisdom, the whole world a living sign of it
Glory to Thee; on my knees, I kiss the traces of Thine unseen hand
Glory to Thee, enlightening us with the clearness of eternal life
Glory to Thee for the hope of the unutterable, imperishable beauty of immortality
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 4

How filled with sweetness are those whose thoughts dwell on Thee; how life-giving Thy holy Word. To speak with Thee is more soothing than anointing with oil; sweeter than the honeycomb. To pray to Thee lifts the spirit, refreshes the soul. Where Thou art not, there is only emptiness; hearts are smitten with sadness; nature, and life itself, become sorrowful; where Thou art, the soul is filled with abundance, and its song resounds like a torrent of life: Alleluia!

Ikos 4

When the sun is setting, when quietness falls like the peace of eternal sleep, and the silence of the spent day reigns, then in the splendour of its declining rays, filtering through the clouds, I see Thy dwelling-place: fiery and purple, gold and blue, they speak prophet-like of the ineffable beauty of Thy presence, and call to us in their majesty. We turn to the Father.

Glory to Thee at the hushed hour of nightfall
Glory to Thee, covering the earth with peace
Glory to Thee for the last ray of the sun as it sets
Glory to Thee for sleep’s repose that restores us
Glory to Thee for Thy goodness even in the time of darkness
When all the world is hidden from our eyes
Glory to Thee for the prayers offered by a trembling soul
Glory to Thee for the pledge of our reawakening
On that glorious last day, that day which has no evening
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 5

The dark storm clouds of life bring no terror to those in whose hearts Thy fire is burning brightly. Outside is the darkness of the whirlwind, the terror and howling of the storm, but in the heart, in the presence of Christ, there is light and peace, silence: Alleluia!

Ikos 5

I see Thine heavens resplendent with stars. How glorious art Thou radiant with light! Eternity watches me by the rays of the distant stars. I am small, insignificant, but the Lord is at my side. Thy right arm guides me wherever I go.

Glory to Thee, ceaselessly watching over me
Glory to Thee for the encounters Thou dost arrange for me
Glory to Thee for the love of parents, for the faithfulness of friends
Glory to Thee for the humbleness of the animals which serve me
Glory to Thee for the unforgettable moments of life
Glory to Thee for the heart’s innocent joy
Glory to Thee for the joy of living
Moving and being able to return Thy love
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 6

How great and how close art Thou in the powerful track of the storm! How mighty Thy right arm in the blinding flash of the lightning! How awesome Thy majesty! The voice of the Lord fills the fields, it speaks in the rustling of the trees. The voice of the Lord is in the thunder and the downpour. The voice of the Lord is heard above the waters. Praise be to Thee in the roar of mountains ablaze. Thou dost shake the earth like a garment; Thou dost pile up to the sky the waves of the sea. Praise be to Thee, bringing low the pride of man. Thou dost bring from his heart a cry of Penitence: Alleluia!

Ikos 6

When the lightning flash has lit up the camp dining hall, how feeble seems the light from the lamp. Thus dost Thou, like the lightning, unexpectedly light up my heart with flashes of intense joy. After Thy blinding light, how drab, how colourless, how illusory all else seems. My souls clings to Thee.

Glory to Thee, the highest peak of men’s dreaming
Glory to Thee for our unquenchable thirst for communion with God
Glory to Thee, making us dissatisfied with earthly things
Glory to Thee, turning on us Thine healing rays
Glory to Thee, subduing the power of the spirits of darkness
And dooming to death every evil
Glory to Thee for the signs of Thy presence
For the joy of hearing Thy voice and living in Thy love
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 7

In the wondrous blending of sounds it is Thy call we hear; in the harmony of many voices, in the sublime beauty of music, in the glory of the works of great composers: Thou leadest us to the threshold of paradise to come, and to the choirs of angels. All true beauty has the power to draw the soul towards Thee, and to make it sing in ecstasy: Alleluia!

Ikos 7

The breath of Thine Holy Spirit inspires artists, poets and scientists. The power of Thy supreme knowledge makes them prophets and interpreters of Thy laws, who reveal the depths of Thy creative wisdom. Their works speak unwittingly of Thee. How great art Thou in Thy creation! How great art Thou in man!

Glory to Thee, showing Thine unsurpassable power in the laws of the universe
Glory to Thee, for all nature is filled with Thy laws
Glory to Thee for what Thou hast revealed to us in Thy mercy
Glory to Thee for what Thou hast hidden from us in Thy wisdom
Glory to Thee for the inventiveness of the human mind
Glory to Thee for the dignity of man’s labour
Glory to Thee for the tongues of fire that bring inspiration
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 8

How near Thou art in the day of sickness. Thou Thyself visitest the sick; Thou Thyself bendest over the sufferer’s bed. His heart speaks to Thee. In the throes of sorrow and suffering Thou bringest peace and unexpected consolation. Thou art the comforter. Thou art the love which watches over and heals us. To Thee we sing the song: Alleluia!

Ikos 8

When in childhood I called upon Thee consciously for the first time, Thou didst hear my prayer, and Thou didst fill my heart with the blessing of peace. At that moment I knew Thy goodness and knew how blessed are those who turn to Thee. I started to call upon Thee night and day; and now even now I call upon Thy name.

Glory to Thee, satisfying my desires with good things
Glory to Thee, watching over me day and night
Glory to Thee, curing affliction and emptiness with the healing flow of time
Glory to Thee, no loss is irreparable in Thee, Giver of eternal life to all
Glory to Thee, making immortal all that is lofty and good
Glory to Thee, promising us the longed-for meeting with our loved ones who have died
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 9

Why is it that on a Feast Day the whole of nature mysteriously smiles? Why is it that then a heavenly gladness fills our hearts; a gladness far beyond that of earth and the very air in church and in the altar becomes luminous? It is the breath of Thy gracious love. It is the reflection of the glory of Mount Tabor. Then do heaven and earth sing Thy praise: Alleluia!

Ikos 9

When Thou didst call me to serve my brothers and filled my soul with humility, one of Thy deep, piercing rays shone into my heart; it became luminous, full of light like iron glowing in the furnace. I have seen Thy face, face of mystery and of unapproachable glory.

Glory to Thee, transfiguring our lives with deeds of love
Glory to Thee, making wonderfully Sweet the keeping of Thy commandments
Glory to Thee, making Thyself known where man shows mercy on his neighbour
Glory to Thee, sending us failure and misfortune that we may understand the sorrows of others
Glory to Thee, rewarding us so well for the good we do
Glory to Thee, welcoming the impulse of our heart’s love
Glory to Thee, raising to the heights of heaven every act of love in earth and sky
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 10

No one can put together what has crumbled into dust, but Thou canst restore a conscience turned to ashes. Thou canst restore to its former beauty a soul lost and without hope. With Thee, there is nothing that cannot be redeemed. Thou art love; Thou art Creator and Redeemer. We praise Thee, singing: Alleluia!

Ikos 10

Remember, my God, the fall of Lucifer full of pride, keep me safe with the power of Thy Grace; save me from falling away from Thee. Save me from doubt. Incline my heart to hear Thy mysterious voice every moment of my life. Incline my heart to call upon Thee, present in everything.

Glory to Thee for every happening
Every condition Thy providence has put me in
Glory to Thee for what Thou speakest to me in my heart
Glory to Thee for what Thou revealest to me, asleep or awake
Glory to Thee for scattering our vain imaginations
Glory to Thee for raising us from the slough of our passions through suffering
Glory to Thee for curing our pride of heart by humiliation
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 11

Across the cold chains of the centuries, I feel the warmth of Thy breath, I feel Thy blood pulsing in my veins. Part of time has already gone, but now Thou art the present. I stand by Thy Cross; I was the cause of it. I cast myself down in the dust before it. Here is the triumph of love, the victory of salvation. Here the centuries themselves cannot remain silent, singing Thy praises: Alleluia!

Ikos 11

Blessed are they that will share in the King’s Banquet: but already on earth Thou givest me a foretaste of this blessedness. How many times with Thine own hand hast Thou held out to me Thy Body and Thy Blood, and I, though a miserable sinner, have received this Mystery, and have tasted Thy love, so ineffable, so heavenly.

Glory to Thee for the unquenchable fire of Thy Grace
Glory to Thee, building Thy Church, a haven of peace in a tortured world
Glory to Thee for the life-giving water of Baptism in which we find new birth
Glory to Thee, restoring to the penitent purity white as the lily
Glory to Thee for the cup of salvation and the bread of eternal joy
Glory to Thee for exalting us to the highest heaven
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 12

How often have I seen the reflection of Thy glory in the faces of the dead. How resplendent they were, with beauty and heavenly joy. How ethereal, how translucent their faces. How triumphant over suffering and death, their felicity and peace. Even in the silence they were calling upon Thee. In the hour of my death, enlighten my soul, too, that it may cry out to Thee: Alleluia!

Ikos 12

What sort of praise can I give Thee? I have never heard the song of the Cherubim, a joy reserved for the spirits above. But I know the praises that nature sings to Thee. In winter, I have beheld how silently in the moonlight the whole earth offers Thee prayer, clad in its white mantle of snow, sparkling like diamonds. I have seen how the rising sun rejoices in Thee, how the song of the birds is a chorus of praise to Thee. I have heard the mysterious mutterings of the forests about Thee, and the winds singing Thy praise as they stir the waters. I have understood how the choirs of stars proclaim Thy glory as they move forever in the depths of infinite space. What is my poor worship! All nature obeys Thee, I do not. Yet while I live, I see Thy love, I long to thank Thee, and call upon Thy name.

Glory to Thee, giving us light
Glory to Thee, loving us with love so deep, divine and infinite
Glory to Thee, blessing us with light, and with the host of angels and saints
Glory to Thee, Father all-holy, promising us a share in Thy Kingdom
Glory to Thee, Holy Spirit, life-giving Sun of the world to come
Glory to Thee for all things, Holy and most merciful Trinity
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 13

Life-giving and merciful Trinity, receive my thanksgiving for all Thy goodness. Make us worthy of Thy blessings, so that, when we have brought to fruit the talents Thou hast entrusted to us, we may enter into the joy of our Lord, forever exulting in the shout of victory: Alleluia!

(repeat Kontakion 13 and Alleluia three times)

Ikos 1

I was born a weak, defenceless child, but Thine angel spread his wings over my cradle to defend me. From birth until now Thy love has illumined my path, and has wondrously guided me towards the light of eternity; from birth until now the generous gifts of Thy providence have been marvelously showered upon me. I give Thee thanks, with all who have come to know Thee, who call upon Thy name.

Glory to Thee for calling me into being
Glory to Thee, showing me the beauty of the universe
Glory to Thee, spreading out before me heaven and earth
Like the pages in a book of eternal wisdom
Glory to Thee for Thine eternity in this fleeting world
Glory to Thee for Thy mercies, seen and unseen
Glory to Thee through every sigh of my sorrow
Glory to Thee for every step of my life’s journey
For every moment of glory
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 1

Everlasting King, Thy will for our salvation is full of power. Thy right arm controls the whole course of human life. We give Thee thanks for all Thy mercies, seen and unseen. For eternal life, for the heavenly Joys of the Kingdom which is to be. Grant mercy to us who sing Thy praise, both now and in the time to come. Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age.