Thanksgiving is about giving thanks

This Thanksgiving day article by Fr. Barnabas Powell is for our new calendar readers this year, but there are years when Thanksgiving falls during the Nativity fast for those on the old calendar as well. Enjoy your Thanksgiving day!

Photo: orthocath.wordpress.com Photo: orthocath.wordpress.com
    

Every year around this time, I'm asked a similar question by newer parishioners and inquirers into Orthodoxy: "What do we do about Thanksgiving?"

The concern rises from the fact that on Nov. 15, Eastern Christians (along with Roman Catholics and some Protestants) enter the season of Advent, a 40-day period of preparation for Christmas.

From ancient times, this Nativity Fast has involved an abstinence from meat, dairy and certain other foods. Where does that leave Thanksgiving, given that it falls right inside the fast, and we all know you can't have "Turkey Day" without the turkey? Are we to ignore the day, for the sake of Advent? Or, disregard Advent to celebrate it?

My answer to this perennial question begins by acknowledging that different practices exist -- but, if you ask me, Thanksgiving is the most fundamentally Christian of all American holidays, and therefore we absolutely must celebrate it.

In a sense, Thanksgiving is even more Christian than Christmas or Easter, nowadays, insofar as these holidays involve such an emphasis on commercialism that their theological meaning is obscured and relativized. Despite the Black Friday madness (and attempts to bring it forward), Thanksgiving is still a day for family. It's also a day whose very name evokes the central, liturgical act of Christians.

"Thanksgiving" is equivalent to the Greek evcharistia, from which we get "Eucharist." With that connection in mind, it's my parish practice to begin our Thanksgiving celebration with the Divine Liturgy (the Eucharistic service of the Eastern Church). The Body and Blood of Christ are the Thanksgiving meal, which no turkey can ever beat.

You may think a service on Thanksgiving morning would draw a small crowd or be seen as an unwelcome intrusion into a family day of rest. But the many who attend say this Liturgy is the heart of Thanksgiving for them. After that, all else is simply a matter of menu.

Photo: halekoa.com Photo: halekoa.com
    

And regarding that issue, my big concern isn't that people will break the fast by eating meat. It's that they'll break the rule of hospitality by asserting their fasting in mixed company.

Thus, I remind everyone that if someone invites us to a meal, on any fast day whatsoever, we eat what's put before us without question. The goal of fasting is to acquire obedience, meekness and humility -- not to become righteous by observing rules for rules' sake. So, eat what's put on your plate, and let that submission be your fast.

However, if you're an Orthodox family preparing a meal for yourselves (such as mine will be), then I suggest considering some nice fish dish instead -- which, after all, is probably a more authentic representation of what the Pilgrims actually ate. This may sound like heresy, but turkey doesn't make Thanksgiving. Giving thanks does.

What does one of America's smaller religious minorities do about our country's great, national holiday? We thank God it exists, and pass the potatoes.

Fr. Barnabas Powell

11/22/2017

See also
The heart is deep The heart is deep
Fr. Seraphim Holland
The heart is deep The heart is deep
A homily for Thanksgiving Day, 2015
Fr. Seraphim Holland
I hope that when you’re thinking about what you’re thankful for on this day it’s not different than any other day, because despite the fact that you are just a pitiful weak creature, God has called you to be a son and a daughter, and that you have a deep heart and that God is going to fill that heart with Himself. You will become all light, all fire, and all good. We should thank God for that every day.
Thanksgiving Communion Thanksgiving Communion
Fr. Stephen Freeman
Thanksgiving Communion Thanksgiving Communion
Fr. Stephen Freeman
The prominent place of thanksgiving within the life of the Old Testament seems strangely obscured by most Christian treatments. The system of sacrifice is often misunderstood.
On Thanksgiving On Thanksgiving
Abbot Tryphon
On Thanksgiving On Thanksgiving
Abbot Tryphon
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.
Thank You, O Lord! Thank You, O Lord!
Archpriest Alexander Schmemann
Thank You, O Lord! Thank You, O Lord!
Archpriest Alexander Schmemann
By way of introduction, Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann celebrated the Divine Liturgy for the last time on Thanksgiving Day.
Gratitude Gratitude
Elissa Bjeletich
Gratitude Gratitude
Elissa Bjeletich
Thanksgiving is just around the corner. This is such a beautiful holiday — all the more so because it’s so rare for just about everyone in the United States to stop moving, gather together with family and loved ones, and express gratitude to our Creator.
Let Us Give Thanks Unto the Lord! Let Us Give Thanks Unto the Lord! Let Us Give Thanks Unto the Lord! Let Us Give Thanks Unto the Lord!
Today is a special day for Americans, but it also provides us with a wonderful opportunity to remind Orthodox Christians around the world to give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endureth forever.
Comments
Anthony 11/23/2017 9:49 pm
The Nativity Fast hasn't begun yet so what's the hoo haa hullaballoo about. Anyway, Father B's solution only works if you eat fish. If you don't like myself, well then you're stuffed turkey.
Brad11/23/2017 7:39 am
Fr Barnabas. You summed it up in a few paragraphs as you always do. Thank you for this, and for all you do. Blessings to you and your family this Thanksgiving.
Isidora11/22/2017 2:19 pm
Or we could return to the Church calendar (called "old" by modernists) where it isn't an issue because the Nativity fast begins after America's Thanksgiving.
Here you can leave your comment on the present article, not exceeding 700 characters. All comments will be read by the editors of OrthoChristian.Com.
Enter through FaceBook , or enter your information:
Your name:
Your e-mail:
Enter the digits, seen on picture:

Characters remaining: 700

×