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.
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 really 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. In fact, 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 were 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.
Today, do you get why being grateful makes you strong and faithful? Well, if it works for a person it will also work for a parish! A grateful parish is a peaceful parish. A grateful parish is a generous parish. A grateful parish is a growing parish! When we are Orthodox on Purpose we embody the reasons why we are to be grateful and faithful!
P.S. O Lord, I believe, please help my unbelief! When I truly live attentively, I find it natural to be grateful to You and others. But I stumble, Lord, and I forget to be grateful when my life becomes gripped with self-centeredness. In those moments, I lose myself to a false version of myself! And I find anger, fear, and envy, instead of love and gratitude. I repent, dear Lord, and I ask Your forgiveness for those moments. Amen