Dearly Beloved,

As we are preparing to celebrate our national holiday of Thanksgiving we find ourselves at a very difficult time in our Metropolis, especially for those of us living in California. How can we celebrate as we witness the devastating fires in our State, and the murderous shooting in Thousand Oaks, where so many and so much has been lost? The suffering these tragedies have caused fill us with sadness at a time when our hearts and thoughts should be turning to joy and celebration in the Feast of Thanksgiving.

As Orthodox Christians, thanksgiving and gratitude are part of our life. At many of our liturgical services, but especially in the Divine Liturgy, we give thanks to God knowing that He is the source of every gift. For every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from You the Father of lights” (James 1:17a). We teach our children to say “thank you” from very young. Being grateful and expressing thanks is a daily activity, not just a behavior we do once a year.

So, even amid the tragedies of the recent days, we will gather with family and friends, over a sumptuous feast and give thanks to Almighty God because “God is still Good and has not abandoned us” as Saint Basil the Great wrote (In Time of famine and drought, 5) so long ago. We will offer thanksgiving prayers for life and health, for families, friends, and neighbors, for homes and safety, and for material and spiritual blessings the Almighty God bestows on each of us every day of our lives. And as we are grateful and offer thanks, let us use this day to become more mindful of those who have lost so much in recent days, but also those who live daily in conditions of want, of fear and anxiety, in loneliness and isolation, and many other adverse situations.

Our mindfulness should not lead us to “thank God that we are not like other men” (Luke 18:11), but to help us to see more clearly what is truly important in life. With that realization, we have the opportunity to soften our hearts and open ourselves for acts of mercy and compassion as our Lord commanded so often. Especially now, as we see so much suffering around us, open your hearts and assist those who have lost so much. Grieve with those who have lost loved ones. Support the first responders. Give generously to the parishes and charities that are taking up collections to assist these families. In this way, our Thanksgiving Day becomes a day of deep spiritual significance, one that can encourage us to greater acts of kindness and charity, thus bringing into the world the love of God.

May your Thanksgiving Day be replete of such acts as you actualize the Grace and Mercy of God.

With Love in Christ,
+ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco