The first line of Section 6 in St. Gregory the Theologian’s Oration 38 deserves a bit of attention. In the average parish in the Greek Archdiocese, it might come as something of a shock that one of the Three Hierarchs has such a low opinion of Greeks and their festivals. One has to understand that if St. Gregory thought of himself as anything other than a Christian, he might call himself Roman, but never Greek. To the Christian of the Eastern Roman Empire the term Greek meant non-Christian and pagan.
It would do us well, however, to consider his words in the modern context. Despite the condemnation of phyletism in 1872 by the Orthodox Church, terms like Greek, Russian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Arab, etc. hold as much of our attention as does the word Orthodox. How do our non-Orthodox neighbors know our parishes? Is it because we hold festivals, feed them ethnic food and entertain them with ethnic dance? Or is it because of our faith? Of course it is very possible that first can lead to a discovery of the second, but we still must be honest with ourselves about why the pomp and the festivities.
This line of questioning can also be leveled at America as a whole on this very American Holiday of Thanksgiving. St. Gregory challenges all of us to ask whether we celebrate today with our stomachs or our hearts. Do we seek to satiate ourselves at the table we set for ourselves, or the one set by our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ?
St. Gregory invites us to partake of the feast in which he is the host. The meal that he presides over is one in which strangers can feed people wholly unlike themselves and in which the poor can satisfy the rich. For, every time we gather as the Church to partake of the Eucharist — which literally means Thanksgiving — we partake of Christ Himself.
The stranger can find unity with the radical other because they both share the same humanity that Christ clothed Himself with. The poor can satisfy the rich because the treasures offered by God make the treasures of the wealthy look like a dung heap (to use St. Gregory’s imagery).
I realize that not every parish will celebrate a Divine Liturgy today, but we all should be. Which table would you rather eat at and celebrate Thanksgiving — the one we set for ourselves, which only ends with turkey sandwiches from leftovers (if we can afford a turkey at all) and maybe a nap on a recliner in front of a football game (if we own either a recliner or a TV) or the one in which Christ Himself offers to tabernacle in each of us, joining us to Himself in an astonishingly intimate way?
I will grant that time with family over a festive meal can be a time of warmth and love, but imagine how much more warmth and love that meal might have if it began gathered around the table set out for us by Christ.
I pray that we all have a blessed Thanksgiving and that we all have a chance to partake of Thanksgiving Himself.