St. Paisios said, “Sometimes the devil deceives us and makes us unable to be pleased with anything; however, one can celebrate all things in a spiritual manner, with doxology, and secure God’s constant blessing.” The older I get, the more I see the gratitude and the cultivation of gratitude that is the key to spiritual peace. The ability to be grateful is in direct proportion to humility and honesty. This cultivation of the spiritual fruit of gratitude draws to us the blessings of God because gratitude sets me free to see the blessings hidden even in times of struggle. No wonder the Fathers constantly call us to say “Glory to God for all things.”
If you were to purposefully work every day for this Normal Orthodox perspective of gratitude, can you see how it would change everything in your life, in your relationships?
But how do we cultivate gratitude in our lives?
Look at our lesson today in Philippians 3:20-21; 4:1-3:
Brethren, our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself. Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. And I ask you also, true yokefellow, help these women, for they have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
St. Paul wants these Philippians (and us) to stick with the Faith and he gets personal with them, even mentioning two ladies in the Church who are bickering with each other! We’ll get to that in a minute. First I want you to notice how Paul starts the passage. He starts by insisting the Philippians understand their ultimate destiny! And their destiny is not merely in this life.
He starts by referring to the believers as “brethren.” My destiny isn’t by myself. I am not saved alone, but in a community, a “commonwealth.” The modern religious notion of “me and Jesus got our own thing going” isn’t just wrong; it’s dangerous! And the danger comes to me, personally, because I need my “brethren” to be fully Christian. It’s why Orthodox insist on calling our central act of worship “Eucharist.” We who are many, drink from one cup and eat from one loaf. This whole emphasis on being a commonwealth is never reduced to the merely political (too small!) but insists that I take seriously the hard work of communion. It is precisely that very hard work that creates the character of Christ within me AND cultivates gratitude as well!
Paul then goes on to flesh out what he means when he shares with these believers just how dear they are to him. Philippi had been a particularly difficult missionary effort for Paul. He got run out of town by the powers that be because of his missionary work. How humiliating. And yet, these Philippians not only didn’t abandon their disgraced apostle, but they also went on to be huge supporters of the rest of his ministry! Paul loved this church and they loved him right back. “You guys never abandoned me, so don’t abandon Christ when the going gets tough!” Remembering examples of faithfulness cultivates gratitude!
Finally, Paul makes this cosmic theology of the Church even more personal by dealing with two ladies in the Church. Euodia and Syntyche were leaders in the Church of Philippi and their disagreement threatened the very unity Paul was trying to teach these folks would keep them strong and faithful and grateful. That’s why bickering is so dangerous, it saps faithfulness and spiritual strength! Paul wants these ladies to mend their relationship because their problems are never going to stay between them. Paul is very hard on disunity in a local parish because he knows that this disunity strikes at the heart of a parish’s ability to live a life together of gratitude. By the way, do you have bickering in your parish? Watch as it erodes generosity, peace, and faithfulness! Very dangerous! And a true spirit of gratitude is the antidote for bickering.
St. Clement, Pope of Rome was the third leader of the Roman Church after St. Peter and St. Linus. His life was one of piety and virtue as he led the Church in the old capital city of the Emire. It is said that Emperor Trajan had him exiled to work in a stone quarry in an attempt to keep the Christian Faith from spreading in the capital. When he arrived to do his hard labor, he learned that the workers were suffering from a lack of clean water. Seeing a lamb standing on a hill nearby, St. Clement struck the ground near the lamb with his pick axe and out gushed clean water for the workers. Many pagans accepted the Faith of seeing God provide. St. Clement had lived his life dedicated to Christ and being grateful to Christ for his salvation and transformed life. Seeing that it was useless to try and stop Clelment from giving glory to Christ as God and Savior, the Romans tied him to a lead ship anchor and threw him into the sea. We remember his name to this day, but his persecutors have all faded into forgetfulness.
Today, staying focused on Gratitude makes you a free person. Actively developing the virtue of gratitude makes you able to live your life as God intended! Purposely building your heart to be filled with thankfulness so molds your character that you become like Christ! Sharing this attitude of gratitude transforms your parish. A grateful parish is a generous parish. A grateful parish is a growing parish! This is the Normal Orthodox Life!
P.S. O divine unshakeable towers of Christ’s Church, pillars of true piety who are most mighty and divine: Clement and Peter, you all-acclaimed, by your entreaties, protect and guard all of us.