13 - MEOCCA Thanksgiving Service, Nov 25, 2009

MEOCCA Thanksgiving Service

November 25, 2009

In the midst of global suffering, wars, ecological crises and economic hardships, acts of terrorism, brutality and genocide, and surrounded by the devastating emotional and psychological consequences that follow from the erosion of our society’s religious and moral principles, we Orthodox Christians of America gather together at this time of year to celebrate this national holiday of Thanksgiving.

Of course, the world has been corrupt from the beginning when mankind rejected God in the Garden, and then returned later to the Garden to seize Him and to kill Him on a Cross outside the city. We are not surprised that the world is dark and filled with suffering. But neither can we as Christians follow the way of those who use their wealth to insulate themselves against the world’s suffering and darkness and despair, retreating in laziness, in greed and in consumption to live out their days eating, drinking and making merry behind the walls their riches have erected to keep the suffering masses out of their sight.

We couldn’t do that, actually, even if we wanted to. The sickness of the world is fundamentally spiritual and it passes through the walls erected by earthly riches as easily as Marley’s ghost through the double-locked doors of Scrooge’s dark and cold apartment on that Christmas Eve night many years ago in the imagination of Charles Dickens. The strong and the young die. Health of body and beauty quickly and all too easily pass away. Worldly riches are ridiculously impotent to shield us from debilitating disease or from the bitter moment when the soul is separated from the body and we stand naked before the dark revelation of the cosmic futility of our selfish indulgence.

This is and always has been the social and spiritual context in which we as Christians gather together not just on this American holiday of Thanksgiving once a year, but every Sunday and on the many feast days of the Church for over 2,000 years to offer “Holy Thanksgiving”, Holy Eucharist to God our Savior. What, then, is the meaning of the Church’s Holy Eucharist, her Holy Thanksgiving, which the faithful so love to celebrate in the midst of suffering, not only the world’s but even their own?

We need only look at how the Church brings us to her Holy Eucharist to discern what it means. Our approach to the chalice begins in repentance. Under the guidance of the Church, we will find ourselves on an inner, unseen path leading to the sacrament of confession. From this, it is clear that catechism is much more than simply learning what the Church teaches. It is to learn the way of humility that we may lay aside every excuse and approach the Savior with a broken and contrite heart. This prepares us for Holy Baptism and the creation in us of a clean heart and the receiving of a new and right spirit within us. We are raised from the font and clothed with the Robe of Light. All of this is but preparation for Holy Chrismation when we are sealed in all of our senses, our hands and our feet, our mind and our heart with the gift of the Holy Spirit. And this prepares us for the glory of becoming partakers of the divine nature, communicants of life eternal in the mysteries of Holy Thanksgiving, Holy Eucharist. It unites us to one another in the love of Christ, the “bond of perfection” and we become living souls having seen the true light, having found the true faith, having received the Heavenly Spirit.

I like to say that the Holy Eucharist of the Orthodox Church is the heavenly meal of the dead. It’s the meal of those who have died to death in Christ, and who have therefore died to the world’s selfishness, its greed, its rejection of God, and have been united to God’s compassion for the world.

You see how the Eucharistic Thanksgiving of the Church takes place in the midst of the world’s suffering, darkness and despair but it is not of the world’s suffering, darkness and despair. It is of Christ God, the “only Lover of mankind.” It is of His holy Cross by which He has destroyed death by death. It is of His Holy Spirit by which He conquered hell. It is the meal of those who are trampling down death in their union with Christ and who in Christ are therefore mightier than hell, for they are receiving the Heavenly Spirit that flows from the life-giving side of Christ on His Cross.

Keep looking and you will see that the Eucharistic worship of the Church here in the world does not end with the partaking of the divine nature from the Living Cup of the Church. Having seen the true Light, having found the true faith and having received the Heavenly Spirit, the faithful leave the sacred precincts of the temple – or rather, they are sent out as apostles of Christ – into the dark and suffering world. They go forth in the Spirit of Christ, purified, illumined and filled with the joy and the love of God’s Holy Spirit. It is in the joy of that love of Christ our God, which we have tasted and seen in the Eucharistic worship of Christ’s holy Church, that we are sent out each one into the world as candles lit by the gladsome light of Christ’s goodness with the commission to proclaim the love of Christ in word and deed to all, to tell others about this way that leads to the cave of Bethlehem and to the tomb of Golgotha that have become irradiated with the uncreated light that streams from the holy face of Christ in the glory of His Holy Resurrection, and which bathes the world with unutterable divine tenderness that can transfigure suffering into a martyrdom, a witness to the victory of Christ’s Cross over hell and to the deep healing of soul and body that come from the medicine of immortality that flows from the side of the crucified and risen Savior in the Eucharist, the Thanksgiving of Christ’s Holy Church.

I think we in the Twin Cities are blessed with a special gift and therefore perhaps a specific responsibility. The gift of brotherly affection that we enjoy calls us, I submit, to work together prayerfully and intentionally to express our sacramental and theological unity in the love of Christ that unites us beneath our jurisdictional divisions. MEOCCA has become an effective venue in which we can come together in the Eucharistic joy of our Orthodox Christian Faith to do as St Paul exhorts us in his letter to the Thessalonians that we’ll read tomorrow morning for Thanksgiving Day: “to stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, and may our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work.”

FOCUS NA is an exciting and inspiring new initiative of our Church to serve the poor and needy and to share our Eucharistic joy in Christ with others. We are in the process now of preparing the way for FOCUS to launch a center here in the Twin Cities. I know many of you want to be a part of this; and this is a wonderful evidence of your faithfulness to the Gospel. A primary reason FOCUS has chosen to launch this effort in the Twin Cities is because of the close co-operation and brotherly affection of the clergy and faithful of MEOCCA. I see FOCUS as a gift to us from God and a calling from Our Lord Jesus Christ. I believe our Orthodox community in the Twin Cities, working together under the direction of MEOCCA and our respective hierarchs, can become not only a witness of Christian love, but also a model of Orthodox unity, which give encouragement if not guidance to efforts now underway by our hierarchs to begin a process leading to a national Orthodox Church united as one jurisdiction that faithfully reflects the unity of our love in Christ to a dark world desperately hungry and thirsty for the love of the eternal God. May God have mercy on us and help us. Amen.