Suggested Activity: “Practicing Gratitude”

Suggested Activity: “Practicing Gratitude”

We are called to be grateful in two ways: towards God and towards our fellow human beings. If practice makes perfect, however, then we need to practice gratitude in order to achieve this calling from God.

Here are two ways to practice gratitude this month:

  1. Read “This Was From Me” a letter from the perspective of God written St. Seraphim of Vyritsa to one of his spiritual children. Pretending as if God wrote a similar letter to you, write a letter of gratitude in response to God thanking him for the things that are from Him in your life.

Have you ever thought that all what concerns you, concerns Me too?
For what concerns you, concerns the apple of My eye.
You are precious in My sight, of great value, and I have loved you,
and so it is a great joy for Me to educate you.
When temptations rise up against you,
when the enemy surges against you like the rough sea, I want you to know that –

This was from Me.

I want you to know that in your weakness,
you need My strength, and that your safety lies in allowing Me to defend you.
Have you ever found yourself in difficult straits,
among people who did not understand you, who did not care about what you liked, who alienated you? –

This was for Me.

I am your God, your entire life is in My hands.
It was no accident that you found yourself in that specific place;
it was the very place I had appointed for you.
Did you not ask that I teach you humility?
Thus, I set you into that very place,
in the school where that lesson could be learned.
Those around you, those living with you,
are merely acting according to My will.
Do you struggle with money, is it difficult for you to make ends meet,
then know that –

This was from Me.

For I put money at your disposal, and I want you to run to Me,
and to know that you depend upon Me.
Bear in mind that My reserves are inexhaustible
and rest assure that I faithfully keep My promises.
May you never be told these words in your time of need:
«Do not believe in your Lord God».
Have you ever spent one night in sorrow?
Are you parted from those who are close and dear to your heart?
I allowed it so that you may turn to Me to find eternal comfort.
Have you been betrayed by your friend, or by someone you opened your heart to –

This was from Me.

I allowed that you be touched by that disappointment,
so that you may recognize that the Lord is your truest friend.
I want you to bring all your cares to Me and talk to Me about everything.
Have you ever been slandered, then leave it to Me and allow your soul to cling closer to Me,
your refuge, your shelter from disputing tongues.
I will bring out your truth like a bright light and your fate like noonday.
Have your plans come to naught, is your heart weary and grown tired –

This was from Me.

You had made your own plans, you had your own intentions,
and you brought them before Me seeking for My blessing.
However, I want you to allow Me to decide and order the circumstances of your life,
for you are merely an instrument and not an active participant.
Unexpected failures in life have come to you and despondency has taken hold of your heart, know –

This was from Me.

For it is through this weariness of your spirit
that I am testing the strength of your faith to My promises
and the fervency of your prayer for those close to you.
Was it not you who entrusted your cares for them to My providential love?
Was it not you who still entrusts them to the Protection of My Most-pure Mother?
Has a serious illness befallen you, either passing or incurable, and have you been bedridden –

This was from Me.

For I want you to know Me even more deeply through your bodily infirmities
and not to grouch because of this trial sent down to you,
and not to strive to comprehend My plans for the salvation of human souls in diverse ways,
but to bow your head without complaining and submit to My goodness for you.
If you have ever dreamed of doing some special work for Me,
and instead of that you found yourself lied down on the bed of illness and weakness –

This was from Me.

For then you would have been preoccupied with your affairs,
and I would not have been able to draw your thoughts to Me,
but I want to teach you My deepest thoughts and lessons, so that you may be in My service.
I want you to comprehend that you are nothing without Me.
Some of My best children are those who are cut off from active work,
so that they may learn to use the weapon of ceaseless prayer. –

This was from Me.

If, unexpectedly, you are called to take on a difficult and responsible position,
put your trust in Me.
I entrust you with these difficulties, and for them,
your Lord God will bless you in everything you do,
wherever you go; in everything, your Lord will be your Director and Instructor.
On this day, My child, I placed the container of The Holy Oil. Make free use of it.
Always remember that every difficulty that arises, every word that offends you,
every vanity and condemnation,
every obstacle in doing your job that could evoke disappointment, disillusion, disenchantment,
every manifestation of weakness and impotence will be anointed with this oil. –

This was from Me.

Remember that every obstacle is a Divine instruction, and therefore,
instill in your heart the words I have told you today –

This was from Me.

Keep these words in your mind and always remember them,
wherever you may go.
The pain of every sting you endure will be blunted if you will learn to see Me in everything.
Everything has been sent to you by Me for the perfection of your soul –

All these were from Me.

This Was From Me – St. Seraphim of Vyritsa
  1. Every Saturday evening, before receiving the Eucharist on Sunday morning, think of a person in your life who you do not often thank for their impact in your life, OR think of a person who you feel the opposite of gratitude to. Send them a text or give them a quick call to thank them for something from them that you often take for granted or do not notice.

Guided Discussion : “Gratitude for Evil”

This discussion is made up of four parts, with each part containing a reflection and a set of discussion questions. Either with your OCF chapter, a friend or two, or just on your own, read each reflection and discuss the questions related to it. You can choose to break the discussion into multiple sessions, tackling a part or two a week, or you can do the whole thing in one sitting.

Part I: Framing the Discussion


Most of us – whether Christian or not – think it’s natural to thank God or to simply be grateful when we experience something positive. In fact, in our world today, saying “Thank God,” has become a common way of expressing gratitude for a positive outcome in our lives, even by atheists. 

However, when it comes to the more difficult moments in our life – the uncomfortable and confusing ones – we often become angry, upset, or depressed. We feel as if some sort of injustice is going on. We question why something is happening to us. We wonder what we could change to make that bad thing go away. And we definitely do not thank God.

Discussion Questions

  • Why is it more difficult to be grateful in times of struggle and suffering than in positive times? 
  • What might our underlying worldview be when we react to struggle and suffering as something that we should despise rather than be grateful for? What thoughts might be causing that reaction to take place?

Part II: Reframing the Discussion


You probably touched on this in answering the questions above, but most people don’t see struggles and sufferings as things to be grateful for because we don’t view them as good things. Indeed, why would you give thanks for anything that isn’t good?

Furthermore, we don’t give thanks to God for these things because we don’t believe they are from God. Most of us know that God is loving, compassionate, patient, and merciful. It doesn’t make sense then how things that are so uncomfortable, so hard to endure, and, so often, so clearly heartbreaking and painful, can be from God. After all, St. James tells us in his universal epistle, “Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). St. James doesn’t say that bad things are from above, just good ones. So why thank God for things that aren’t from Him?

Despite both of these very logical forms of reasoning, however, we as Christians know that we are supposed to be grateful for everything in life, both what we would call good and what we would call bad.

In his epistle to the Thessalonians, St. Paul says, “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess 5: 17-18). Similarly, perhaps one of the most famous lines in the history of the Church are St. John Chrysostom’s final words, “glory to God for all things,” which he uttered after being persecuted and walked to his death as an old man. 

The Tradition of the Church is clear, we should give thanks and praise to God for everything that we encounter in life.

Discussion Questions

  • So how do we reconcile the two competing ideas in the section above? Is it possible to say that the bad things in life are not worth thanking God for because they are not good things and only good things come from God while also saying that we should thank God for everything in life?
  • If we have to reframe our thinking here, what needs to change?

Part III: A Difficult Truth


You may have arrived at this realization on your own, but there are a pair of possibilities worth considering:

  1. That struggles and sufferings are not actually bad.
  2. That struggles and sufferings are from God, too.

If we think that it doesn’t make sense for evil things to exist in the world when the world is created by a loving and compassionate God, then we have a choice: we can either decide that God does not exist, or we can decide that evil does not exist.

In today’s world, most people probably choose the former. After all, it’s easier to decide that there’s no God in the face of struggle and suffering because it means that we can create our own meaning in life. We don’t have to live up to someone else’s standards, and we don’t have to endure that struggle and suffering if we don’t want to.

But the reality is that we do have to endure struggle and suffering even when we don’t want to. Even if we are the most selfish people in the world and do everything to look out for ourselves and avoid any difficulties in life, we are bound to be affected by some disease, natural disaster, unlucky outcome, or, simply, death.

So it can’t be that God doesn’t exist, but that evil doesn’t exist.

Of course, this is what the Fathers of the Church teach. They say that evil is not a thing, but actually the absence of a thing. It is the absence of good. And that absence is only felt and made real when our lives do not aim at the ultimate good: God.

Discussion Questions

  • Take a moment to consider the gravity of the section above. How does it feel to be presented with the idea that evil doesn’t exist?
  • If we have experienced great pain or suffering in our lives, it might be difficult to believe that evil does not exist. How would you as a Christian support the argument that evil does not exist?

Part IV: Finding the Reason for Gratitude


In truth, the section above is not explicitly Christian. Philosophers and great thinkers of other religions can and have arrived at the same conclusions about God and evil independently of any Christian theological foundation. However, there would still be something unsettling and empty about the section above if our discussion were to stop there, if we didn’t have the revelation of God to add to that philosophical reasoning.

In the Church, we recognize that God has not only created the world but that, out of his abundant goodness and love, He has also revealed Himself to the world and shown us the reason for the reality of struggles and sufferings which, though not evil, can still feel difficult and unnecessary.

In the Gospel of John, when Jesus and his disciples pass a man who was blind from birth, the disciples ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” and Jesus answers them, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work” (John 9:1-5).

In the context of Genesis, the meaning of this passage becomes clear. After we humans chose not to direct ourselves towards God, after we chose to forsake His work of bringing order to the world by eating from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, we started to drift away from God. We no longer participated in His glory and we stopped radiating His light. However, instead of giving up on us and allowing us to drift into evil (into the dark nothingness of the night) by becoming completely separate from Him, God instead granted us more light and more day. He gave us opportunities to transform our fallen experience into good by granting us struggles and suffering.

It is when we struggle or suffer that we are motivated to choose to put our trust in God and receive His power and grace once again. It is when others struggle or suffer that we can choose to share God’s powerful grace and love with the world by tending to the suffering of others.

And Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection shows us that that suffering is not in vain. In resurrecting and promising us that same resurrection, Christ shows us that our struggle and suffering can lead us back to a place where there is no struggle or suffering, especially when we choose to participate in that suffering like He did: by engaging in it on behalf of others.

Discussion Questions

  • In light of this final section, why should we be grateful to God for all things?
  • How did acknowledging the need for gratitude in life help you change your perspective on struggle and suffering? 
  • How does a new perspective on struggle and suffering help you be more grateful?
Staff Pick: The Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Staff Pick: The Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Recommended by Alexandros Pandazis, Campus Missionary

When Christians first began living as monks in the Egyptian desert at the beginning of the fourth century, they had few books and almost no learning. As they gained experience, they concentrated that experience in the form of an oral tradition of tales and sayings (apophthegmata). Apart from the Scriptures (also learned by heart) this was the only training manual they had. Consequently, when the onslaught of barbarians drove many monks out of Egypt early in the following century, they found it better to preserve their oral tradition in writing.

Thus, towards the end of the fifth century there eventually emerged a codification of this monastic lore. It was in two parts: one in which the items were arranged in alphabetical order by the name of the monk who either authored the saying or was characterized in the tale; the other in which all the remaining “anonymous” material was arranged under various heads. The present volume is an attempt to provide the reader with an effective translation of the first of those parts.