“Give thanks to the Lord for He is good!”
Dearest Spiritual Ohana,
It’s hard to believe, but we are, once again, entering into the midst of the Holiday Season, both secularly and ecclesiastically. Thanksgiving, Christmas, the New Year and Epiphany celebrations are coming, along with all the preparations that are associated with them. The Nativity Fast and many Feast Days within the Church fill the months of November, December and January. Although the holidays are a time of joy, rejoicing, and opportunities for social and familial gatherings, they can also be a major stressor for so many of us, especially with the Christmas Shopping Season just around the corner and the “hustle and bustle” of finding the right gifts for everyone on our lists.
In the midst of the Holiday Season, is purposefully placed the Nativity Fast from November 15th thru December 24th. It is a rather easy 40 day fasting period, at least thru December 11th, which becomes a bit more strict afterward up until Christmas Eve. In contrast to the Fast of Great Lent, which has its focus on repentance and intense spiritual struggle, the Nativity Fast is an anticipatory one allowing us to eat fish on most days except Wednesdays and Fridays. This fast, when practiced in its proper spirit, is meant to help us keep focused on what is most important in our lives: essentially the Presence and Joy of having Christ in our lives, also to be thankful for everything He has and does for us, but also an aid in helping us to appreciate and be thankful for all the blessings we have including the company and joy of our family, relatives, friends and loved ones surrounding us.
I would like to share with you what St. John Chrysostom says which affirms for us what we ought to be thankful for. He says the following:
“He brought us from non-being in being; He dignified us with reason; He provided us with crafts to help sustain our lives; He causes food to spring up from the earth; He has given us cattle to serve us. For our sake there is rain, for our sake there is the sun; the hills and plains have been adorned for our benefit, affording us refuge from the peaks of the mountains. For our sake rivers flow; for our sake fountains gush forth; the sea is made calm for our trading; riches come from mines and delights from everywhere, and the whole of creation is offered as a gift to us, on account of the rich and abundant Grace of our Benefactor towards us.
But why speak of minor gifts? For our sake God lived among men; for the sake of our corrupt flesh, the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. To the thankless He was their Benefactor; to those sitting in darkness, the Sun of Righteousness; upon the Cross He was the Impassible One; in death, the Life; in Hades, the Light; the Resurrection for the fallen; the spirit of adoption into sonship, bestowals of spiritual gifts, and promises of crowns.
In addition to such great and splendid benefits, or rather, benefits par excellence, the benefits that He promises us in the future life are many times greater: the delight of Paradise, glory in the Kingdom of Heaven, honors equal to those of the Angels, and the vision of God, which, for those counted worthy of it, is the highest of all goods; every rational nature desires this, and may we also attain to it, after we have cleansed ourselves of carnal passions.”
This being said, our Orthodox Christian Faith offers us many tools to respond in thanksgiving to God and all He has done and still does for us. There are five key elements or essential ingredients which we can implement and practice, as a parish community and as individual persons, in “synergy.” Synergy is working with God and one another for our salvation and for growing in a continuous manner as Christians to become more and more Christ-like (Theosis). These five elements/ingredients are: Worship, Fellowship, Education, Witness and Service. Worship is an opportunity to connect with God through both public and private prayer. Fellowship is getting together for various events, “breaking bread” together, and building up our relationships with one another, and giving us a sense of community and Ohana. Education, especially Religious Education, afford us the opportunity to learn and incarnate what we learned in our daily lives as Orthodox Christians. Witness is the way we show and model, through our embodied character and action, who we are as Christians. Service is following and practicing Christ’s example, Who said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45, similar to Matthew 20:28)
Our recent Greek Festival over the weekend of October 27th and 28th, is a sort of model for “synergy” in which we had the opportunity to work together on a grand scale, practicing to a great degree some of the key elements/ingredients of our Faith. “Mahalo” and “cheers” to all our dedicated volunteers for all the work to make it possible! May we have the same and even greater enthusiasm for our Orthodox Christian Faith!
With Love in Christ,