Saturday, December 6, 2008

Thanksgiving is a heretical holiday?

Last week we posted an article regarding Thanksgiving and saying that it was also a time for confession. If you check back to that article, you will find a comment from a passionate young man who takes the position that Thanksgiving Day is nothing more than a heretical feast which Orthodox should not celebrate. We disagree, but there are those Orthodox who would agree with him. The author of the comment to our posted article has uploaded a video on YouTube where he sets forth his position. I invite you to watch his video. Any comments?


Anonymous said...

Encyclical of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios for Thanksgiving Day 2005

Protocol 121/05
November 24, 2005
Thanksgiving Day

To the Most Reverend Hierarchs, the Reverend Priests and Deacons, the Monks and Nuns, the Presidents and Members of the Parish Councils of the Greek Orthodox Communities, the Day, Afternoon, and Church Schools, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth, the Hellenic Organizations, and the entire Greek Orthodox Family in America

Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

As we experience the beauty of the autumn season during these final months of the year, we arrive at our national celebration of Thanksgiving, a handsome occasion to thank God for the abundance of blessings that He bestows upon us each and every day of our lives. For many of us, Thanksgiving affords us an important annual opportunity to be reunited with long-distance family members and friends in a much anticipated celebration of life. More importantly, however, Thanksgiving is a sacred opportunity for us to come together to affirm our recognition that God is the source of the life and liberty that we enjoy in this great land.

The origins of Thanksgiving in our nation's history reflect this recognition. The colonists who had fled from Europe to escape religious persecution in the seventeenth century had found a home in America. The price of their liberty, however, did not come without substantial hardship or risk. For them, uncertain living accommodations, harsh weather, and perilous travel were the norm of the day. Yet through faith, the early settlers prevailed. They were overcome with feelings of gratitude to God because they knew that He alone was the source of the life and liberty that they had come to enjoy. Indeed, one can imagine the early settlers finding encouragement in the comforting words of the Psalmist, “Know that the Lord He is God; it is He Who has made us and not we ourselves; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving…be thankful to Him and bless His name” (Psalm 99(100): 3-4). It was in this spirit that the first celebration of Thanksgiving was born in 1621.

Two centuries later our nation was engulfed in a brutal civil war. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a Proclamation establishing “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” In his proclamation, Lincoln did not ignore the calamities of war that were present at the time. Indeed, he appealed to the nation to pray for the healing of communities and families that had been torn apart by strife. Yet he also focused his attention on God, noting a heightened abundance of material and natural resources in the nation that year and stating, “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God…”

This year at Thanksgiving, the times in which we live, for different reasons, are no less uncertain or no less threatening as they were in past centuries. Yet, just as our forefathers and mothers did in the midst of considerable anxiety, we too must be mindful and grateful of the beneficence of God, Who watches over us continually with care, Who delivers us from every adversity, and Who bestows continual blessings of life and liberty upon us. As Greek Orthodox Christians who are citizens and residents of the United States, we should reflect upon our history with the same conviction, confidence, and knowledge that God alone is the source of our every prosperity that we today enjoy. As we come together as families and communities across America, let us express our immense gratitude to Him, our beneficent Father, and let us affirm our dedication as worshipping communities of faith and service to others, so that all may come to know the endless love and mercy of our gracious and great God.

It is my fervent prayer that this Day of Thanksgiving may provide each of you with an opportunity to rejoice in one another's fellowship, to grow in your assurance of God's abiding protection, and to remember that the wondrous works and gifts of God are continually present in our daily lives. May God bless you and your families on this wonderful Day of Thanksgiving, and may God bless America.

With paternal love in Christ,

Archbishop of America

Anonymous said...

At Thanksgiving, we’re always greeted with rationalizations, prevarication, and even abuses of Scripture to justify breaking the Fast, and right in the middle of the Fast, too, which makes about as much sense as having a dance contest in the middle of a funeral.

Last year, I spoke to this - it’s just not an Orthodox thing to do. Get permission from some lax Bishop all you want - it’s not right, and we all know it, or should.

This year, I’d like to address the question underlying it all - a question that rarely but occasionally gets articulated in any actual way: “Can I be deified without fasting?” It’s rare that we’re as candid as that, especially when our intent is to violate the fast with a feast, and dress it up in cultural capitulation, blood and soil, patriotism and imperialism, or slavery to Protestant ‘bible’ hermeneutics. It is a Protestant and American holiday after all. In other countries, the Orthodox diaspora have their own national festivals to ignore. But it does get asked, on occasion, much to the chagrin of those who now have to dredge up references to “it’s better to love…” or “fasting without compassion is…”. Yeah, we know all that. And the implication of all of those statements is that it’s not one or the other, but both. The moment you claim it’s one or the other, you’re reading and talking like a Protestant, not an Orthodox. We dont’ do “either/or” - we do “both/and”. Let’s answer the question:

question: “Can I be deified without fasting?”
answer: Why would you be?

I mean, after all, it’s not like you’re being burned at the stake right now, and there’s no time to fast. It’s not like you’re starving to death and the great question is whether to eat a fish or not. You live in a Willy Wonka land of ubiquitous food. The lion’s share of all commercial entities surrounding you have some connection with processing, selling, delivering, or preparing food. A certain percentage of your neighbors are actually off giving food away. Nothing gets so much attention to the local panhandlers as a cardboard sign, “will work for food”. The nation is a temple to food. Gorging is the national pasttime. Even at other passtimes, they’re just not the same without food - sports and hotdogs, movies and popcorn, cubicles and office candy. For the religious, the Sunday buffet. For the non-religious, the Sunday brunch. If the population of the US were livestock, it would all make sense - the engine of the economy is largely driven by cramming as much feed into each individual as humanly possible. Yuppy fashion revolves around tasting the latest - steel cut, hand-rolled, fire-roasted, whatever - bad food dressed in the language of delicate exclusivity. More food is consumed in the US than in the rest of the world combined. There are whole groups of people who live off the food that’s thrown away, the piles of extra crackers, baskets of bread, garnishes and day-old donuts. And you ask, “Can I be saved without fasting?” Why would you be. You’d be just like everyone else. You’d be just going along on the great cultural mud-slide of consumption. Your concern is less salvation than salivation. Deification would be an afterthought - something to play at, philosophically, after your belly were full.

So, I think the clear answer is “No. You can’t be deified without fasting.” And even if someone could, that someone would not be you. In fact, in the context of cultural, there’s nothing so characteristically Orthodox as keeping Fast. We’ve (in many quarters) shaved our men’s faces, bared our women’s luxuriant hair, coated ourselves with makeup and colognes, installed benches from the Protestant meeting halls, hooked up amplifiers to our mediaeval organs, and whitewashed the walls where once the saints surrounded us. We’ve added security guards, parking attendants, paid choirs and singles groups. The number of our committees exceeds the number of attendees at vigils, most of which we’ve transformed into morning Easter and Christmas services, replete with the fashion parades and “come to our church” flyers that we’ve seen the local religionists doing all these years. And for all of that ridiculous capitulation, all of that religious prostitution, all of that whoring after the gods of of the dominant culture, there is one thing left that’s a dividing line between those who believe and those who don’t. Keeping the Fast.

It’s not for nothing that St. Seraphim said, “He who does not fast does not really believe in God, whatever else he may pretend.”

Can I be deified without fasting? There is no deification without the transformation of the body that fasting obtains.

For those with Protestant and Roman Catholic backgrounds, or who were educated in the religious environment in the US culture in general, it seems obvious that salvation is an internal thing, is salvation of the mind, or of the soul. At best, the body, in this attittude, is unimportant.

But this is heresy to the Orthodox. We *are* our bodies. Our bodies *are* us. And there is no salvation apart from deification of the body. And no deification, therefore, apart from the ascetic undertaking of the body. All of the fathers speak of all ordinary Orthodox people transforming the body through ascetic feats. To deny this, or sweep it under the rug, is to deny Orthodoxy itself and, if you’re doing that, why are you concerned about deification in the first place. Have your idols, and ask no further questions. But to even speak of deification, which is what all Orthodox tongues mean by “salvation”, we are talking of what our fathers have experienced, what the Saints have experienced, what Christ himself underwent for our sake, and what the Church has continually said we must undergo with him - the very crucifixion of our bodies, of which fasting is a preparation, a type, and a means.

And lest we wrap our idols with the purple of “thanksgiving”, there is no thanksgiving without mourning, no feasting without fasting, and no proper execution of either apart from the life of Christ, the life of the Church, her calendar, her history, and her movement. All such thanksgiving is a false thanksgiving, and is not honored by God. Sure, the heterodox may in ignorance of the truth achieve salvation before I do, and their many prayers offered incorrectly may be heard while mine are ignored, but we who are Orthodox have no excuse for throwing off what we have received as if to return to ignorance, when we have been enlightened. It is like the man who, as Kahlil Gibran describes, cultivates a limp, so that others may excuse him from work. If we cultivate pretense in order to excuse us from the Fast, how we can claim that thansgiving draws us to the feast?

The feast belongs to those who have fasted. Those who have not, don’t know what a feast is. There is no distinction in their minds. As St. Paul said of those who all speak and make sounds at once, or who babble prayers of gibberish, there is no way to experience prayer for them, because they can’t distinguish one thing from another. So it is with those who “feast” only and do not fast - they don’t really ever feast, either. They can’t know the significance of one activity from another, and therefore all activity is inaccessible to them. Lethargy of body results in lethargy of soul, and the dimming of both.

Our thanksgiving is not of one kind. Now is the time of preparation for the glorious Incarnation of God. Now we are in darkness. Now we are at the end of the history of man. Now we are on the verge of destruction. Now we are lean and the spirit which was given to us has gone out of us, and we are on our last leg in the world. But at such a moment, at such a dry time, at such a lean and hungry time, the God is about to be born and our hope not only renewed but the salvation of God, the deification from on high, to be among us.

At such a time, while we take stock of where our sins have brought us, what Death has done to us, and how without God we are, how we have run after so many idols, have ignored God’s commands, have broken his laws, have disdained his saints and prophets, is now the time that we become gluttons again and proclaim it a holiday? Those who are sensitive at all to what we are doing, as Orthodox, cannot do so. Now is the lean time, the Nativity Fast, the Little Lent, and we shun celebrations and cover ourselves with the ashes of sorrow, until the bright day when God comes to save us.

How will we know that day, if it is like any other day, even if it comes among us? If we’ve already been celebrating and feasting, how will we know any distinction when God is born? You see, we blather on about how Christmas starts earlier and earlier, and yet we have broken the Fast and started too early. We mumble about how Christmas has lost its meaning, and yet we have taken its meaning away in our own awareness, because we were acting as if any given day is a celebration. When Christmas arrives, therefore, are you and I really having Christmas at all? Is the Incarnation really real for us, when we haven’t felt the need for it? When we haven’t known any sorrow, is there any significance in joy? When we haven’t felt our lack, is there any meaning to fullness?

The Orthodox are fasting. We don’t expect the heterodox to do it. We don’t expect the nationalists to do it. We don’t expect the atheists to do it. And they will all be saved before I might - that’s the Orthodox attitude. But precisely because that’s our attitude, we do not stand distant from our own means of salvation - the Fast, the Church, the calendar, the life of Christ we live through every year. We don’t fill our bellies with the attitude that such things don’t matter. At that point, we cease to be asking Orthodox questions at all, and nothing we think or say about the Faith matters. We have ceased to affirm our own existence as bodily creatures and, in the court of logic, we’ve therefore removed the ground of our own assertions. To deny we exist is to deny that we have any thoughts at all, or anything to say. Therefore, listen: be Orthodox. Keep the Fast. Hold the line. Stand strong. It is not so great a thing to not be a weakling. It is only our normal lives, our confession of Faith. It is the love of Christ’s body. It is to say the same thing we say when we stand and say the Creed. For the one who doesn’t fast, all Creeds are gibberish, and Christ’s body and our salvation is inaccessible.

Anonymous said...

Thanksgiving and Christians

Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving Day, is an annual one-day holiday observed in Canada and the United States to give thanks, traditionally to God. In Canada , Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October and, in the United States , on the fourth Thursday of November.

According to historical sources, the Pilgrims never held an autumnal Thanksgiving feast. The Pilgrims did have a feast in 1621 near Plymouth , Massachusetts , after their first harvest. This is the feast people often refer to as "The First Thanksgiving." This feast was never repeated, so it can't be called the start of a tradition, nor did the colonists or Pilgrims call it a Thanksgiving Feast. In fact, to these devoutly religious people, a day of thanksgiving was a day of prayer and fasting.

To them, a thanksgiving was a religious holiday in which they would go to church and thank God for a specific event, such as the winning of a battle.

The feast was a secular celebration, so it never would have been considered a thanksgiving in the pilgrims� minds.

After that first harvest was completed by the Plymouth colonists, Gov. William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving and prayer, shared by all the colonists and neighboring Indians. In 1623 a day of fasting and prayer during a period of drought was changed to one of thanksgiving because the rain came during the prayers. Gradually the custom prevailed in New England of annually celebrating thanksgiving after the harvest.

Several American colonists have personal accounts of the 1621 feast in Massachusetts:

Edward Winslow, in Mourt's Relation:
"� And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."

Now, as Christians we have a much deeper motive for Thanksgiving. Although we have Thanksgiving in every prayer each day for every condition, concerning every condition and in every condition, however �Thursday� brings to our memory the utmost thanksgiving to God, as it reminds us of the first "Eucharist".

The word "Eucharist" comes from the Greek noun e??a??st?a (transliterated, "eucharistia"), meaning thanksgiving. This noun or the corresponding verb e??a??st? (to give thanks) is found in 55 verses of the New Testament. Four of these verses recount that Jesus "gave thanks" before presenting to his followers the bread and the wine that he declared to be his body and his blood. The Gospel of John affirms this.

That is why Eucharist is the term with the earliest established historical use. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, who was martyred in Rome in about 110, used the term "Eucharist", referring to both the rite and the consecrated elements, three times in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans and once in his Letter to the Philadelphians. Justin Martyr, writing around 150, gave a detailed description of the rite, and stated that "Eucharist" was the name that Christians used: "This food is called among us the Eucharist..." (Apology, 66).

In general, traditions see the Eucharist as the fulfillment of God's plan for the salvation of humanity from sin (the "Divine Economy"), a commemoration and making present of Jesus' Crucifixion on Calvary and his Resurrection, the means for Christians to unite with God and with each other, and the giving of thanks for all these things.

Copyright � 2006 Saint Antony Coptic Orthodox Monastery, California, U.S.A. The above article may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of Saint Antony Coptic Orthodox Monastery, California, U.S.A.

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