“How to Give Thanks in Tribulation” - An excerpt of a Homily on Thanksgiving by St. Basil the Great
“How to Give Thanks in Tribulation”
An excerpt of a Homily on Thanksgiving by St. Basil the Great
How am I supposed to give thanks when I am strapped to a rack, tortured, stretched out on a wheel, and have my eyes plucked out? How am I supposed to give thanks when I am beaten with humiliating blows by one who hates me? Or, when I am stiff from the cold, perishing from hunger, tied to a tree, suddenly bereft of my children, or deprived even of my very wife? If I lose my wealth as a result of a sudden accident? If I run into pirates on the sea, or robbers on the mainland? If I am wounded, slandered, wander around, or dwell in a dungeon?...
While the Apostle is looking elsewhere and attempting to elevate our souls from the earth to the heights and to transport us to a heavenly way of life, [people who ask such questions are] unable to attain to the loftiness of the lawgivers mind, and preoccupied with the earth and the flesh, crawl around in the passions of the body like worms in a swamp and demand that the Apostle issue precepts which are capable of being fulfilled.
For the Apostle calls not just anyone, but one who is able as he was to rejoice always, no longer living in the flesh, but having Christ living in himself, since union with the highest good does not in any way allow sympathy for the demands of the flesh (cf. Gal. 2:20).
And even if an incision is made in the flesh, the disintegration occasioned by its continued presence remains in the part of the body that suffers it, since the pain is unable to spread to the noetic part of the soul. For, if, in accordance with the Apostles precept, we have mortified our members which are upon the earth (Col. 3:5) and we bear in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus (2 Cor. 4:10), necessarily the injury suffered by the mortified body will not reach the soul which has been freed from contact with the body. Dishonor, losses, and deaths of our nearest and dearest will not rise up to the mind, nor will they incline the sublimity of the mind to sympathy with things below. For, if those who fall into difficulties have the same attitude as the virtuous man, they will not cause annoyance to anyone, seeing that not even they themselves endure sorrowfully what befalls them; but if they live according to the flesh (Rom 8:13), not even in this way will they annoy anyone, but will be reckoned pitiable, not so much because of their circumstances, as because they do not choose to react properly.
In short, a soul which has once and for all been held fast by the desire for its Creator and is accustomed to delighting in the beauties of the heavenly realm will not alter its great joy and cheerfulness under the influence of carnal feelings, which are varying and unstable; but things which distress other people it will regard as increasing its own gladness. Such was the Apostle, who took pleasure in infirmities, in afflictions, in persecutions, and in necessities, counting his needs an occasion for glorying (2 Cor. 12:9-10). In hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness, in persecutions and distresses (2 Cor. 12:10; 11:27), conditions in which others endure only with difficulty, bidding farewell to life: in these he rejoiced.
Therefore, those who are ignorant of what the Apostle has in mind, and do not understand that he is calling us to the evangelical way of life, dare to accuse St. Paul of laying down things that are impossible for us. Well then, let them learn how many legitimate occasions for rejoicing are made available to us through Gods munificence. We were brought from non-existence into existence; we were made in the image of the Creator (Gen. 1:27); we have the mind and reason to perfect our nature, and through them we have knowledge of God.
And perceiving the beauties of nature carefully, we thereby recognize, as if through letters, Gods great providence and wisdom concerning all things. We are capable of discerning good and evil; we are taught by nature itself to choose what is beneficial and to avoid what is harmful. Having been estranged from God through sin, we have been called back to fellowship with Him, being released from ignominious slavery by the blood of His Only-Begotten Son. We have the hope of resurrection, the enjoyment of angelic goods, the Kingdom of Heaven, and promised goods, which transcend the grasp of mind and reason.