My alarm goes off at 6:30 AM this morning. I hop in the shower, get dressed, say my morning prayers, and head off to church for the Royal Hours for Nativity. Since I am a tonsured reader, I help read some of the psalms, Old Testament, and Epistle readings for the service and also intone some of the hymns and prayers here and there. The Royal Hours is, objectively speaking, an astonishingly beautiful service, speaking of the immense power and humility of God to become incarnate as a baby boy in order to redeem humanity. And I felt none of that beauty.
You see, I have a disease called major depressive disorder. The main symptom of this disease is the inability to feel pleasure and meaning in things that used to feel pleasurable and meaningful. And so even though I am active in the Church and OCF, try to say my prayers every day, and try to pay attention during the services, I hardly ever feel anything positive during them. On the contrary, I spend a lot of my time in prayer internally wondering whether God is listening or not, questioning why He would give me such a screwed-up brain if He supposedly loves me so much.
And yet, the Church proclaims that God is good. The Church tells me that Christ came to earth and suffered in the flesh, being crucified and resurrected in order to destroy death and raise the dead from the tombs. And I really do believe these things with all my heart, even when my brain is telling me otherwise.
I pray because I believe Christ rose from the dead. “I believed, therefore I have spoken” proclaimed King David in the psalms, and so I, too, speak in prayer because I believe (Psalm 115:10). This is why the services of the Church are so important to me: they call me to pray even when I don’t feel like it, even when my brain is giving me every reason not to. I need the constant call of the Church to “again and again in peace pray to the Lord.” I need the reminders that God loves me, even when my brain is incapable of seeing it.
God loves you, too. He loves each one of us more than we know how to love. And it is this love, given to me through the Church’s discipline of liturgical prayer, that encourages me to pray, even when I can’t feel that love around me.
This discipline, I believe, has saved my life on more than one occasion from the dark and self-destructive thoughts that often haunt those of us with depression. I hope that the same love of God also encourages you to pray, regardless of whether you feel that love or not.
We are now in the wake of Thanksgiving, #GivingTuesday, and coursing through the Advent season. Gratitude is a theme that presents itself during this season and its an important quality to have to grow in humility. We Christians are not only ‘thankful’ in an ethereal sense but we are thankful to God. We owe Him everything from the beat in our hearts to the earth we live on.
Where do I start with being thankful to God? The first thing that popped into my head, and now is completely stuck in my head, is Psalm 135 (136), otherwise known as the Polyeleos. It is a beautiful hymn that describes how we can be thankful to God and glorify creation.
You can listen to it here:
If you listen to the lyrics, you can hear King David writing about the thankfulness and gratitude seen in the beauty of God’s creation. But the repeating reason for gratitude? “His mercy endures forever.” What does this mean? It means we can be happy and excited that God gives us an opportunity each and every day to get up, repent, and resist sin. It means that every day we get to wake up with the choice to grow closer to God. It means that we live in a reality where our God loves us with His entire being and the extent of His mercy cannot be known. It means that God has sent His ACTUAL SON to die for us on the cross and in His mercy, redeem us and return us to our fully human state in His presence. His mercy endures forever and ever and unto the ages of ages, so let that sink in, and in turn show your gratitude to God and His creation by giving thanks in the blessings and tribulations you receive each and every day.
This week, I asked the other members of the Student Leadership board to tell me what they are thankful to God for in their lives, these are the replies they sent me:
I’m thankful for the regional and district events that have made my university’s OCF so incredibly close this year in comparison to last year. Without them, members in my OCF would never have been able to see what OCF is, means, and stands for. It inspired our chapter to embody the things we experienced and has given me some of my closest friends at school.
Kristina Anastasiadis, Northeast Student Leader
I’m thankful for my family and friends who challenge me everyday to grow in my faith.
Caroline Retzios, Great Lakes Student Leader
I am thankful for my OCF Real Break trip to Thessaloniki, Greece. My experiences on the trip helped deepen my faith and my relationship with the Lord. Additionally, it provided me the opportunity to meet many extraordinary Christ like individuals who truly changed my life!
Elizabeth Buck, South Student Leader
I’m thankful for Orthodoxy in college. It’s kept me grounded and made me realize what’s most important at all times, and I’m thankful for cows.
Amelia Barron, Midwest Student Leader
I’m thankful for the continual challenges God blesses me with every day, as they have helped me grow in so many ways.
Alex Lountzis, Southeast Student Leader
I’m thankful for the peace felt after receiving confession and the reconciliation I always feel with Christ afterwards. 🙂 + Alex(^) and the entire SLB
Eva Tempenis, Media Student Leader
I am thankful for everyone around me encouraging me to step out of my comfort zone and leading me to new experiences and adventures in life.
Quinn Marquardt, Mountain Student Leader
I am thankful to God for showing my the path to Orthodoxy in college!
Zoe Kanakis, Southwest Student Leader
The SLB has numerous things to be grateful to God. Reflect on what you are grateful for, and say THANK YOU. God and His people need to be thanked for all that they do.