In this video, Met. Athanasios shows us the key that attracts the grace of God: thankfulness. This is wisdom that comes from the spiritual experience of the Elders of Mount Athos.
An audio version narrated in English for otelders.org by Peter Eliades is available on Spotify, Google Podcasts or Apple Podcasts.
Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol, Cyprus:
When I was in the Holy Mountain, meaning Mount Athos, an ascetic, who was a disciple of Saint Joseph the Hesychast, a great elder that died in 1959, told me once: I was alone with Saint Joseph and he tells me:
“Many years passed my child until I could comprehend the mystery of the growth of the (Divine) Grace. How does the Grace grow in the heart of a man?”
The then young monk asked St. Joseph “How does the Grace grow, elder?”
And the elder did not answer him, he remained in silence.
The then young monk did not insist on receiving an answer.
While this now old ascetic was talking to me he tells me: “Lots of years passed for me as well until I realize how the Grace grows…”
Naturally, I asked him the same question.
“How does the Grace grow, elder since it took so many years for both St. Joseph and you to realize it?”
Of course, it is a wholly different thing putting it into words and comprehending it after many years of practical experience and asceticism.”
He answers me: “The Grace, my child, grows through thankfulness.”
Abba Isaac the Syrian, this great saint of our Church, the hesychast, says that “the key that opens the fountains of the holy mysteries is the grateful heart, the thankful heart. If you achieve in saying “thank you” to God, if you feel the need to thank God for the things He has given you, then know that the Grace will grow inside you. If you do not do this and you are content with what is given to you or somehow you ask for more but without this sense of gratitude then it will take a lot of time until you learn how to rightly assess things and pay thanks to God. ”
Even more, someone was saying that the man of God, the holy man that has suffered a lot of temptations, thanks God even for the smallest of things. Not as a habit as we say “Thank you God that my business is going well”. This amounts to merely nothing. This could be probably the beginning. But the deep gratitude coming from the whole of our existence when we thank God for everything around us. Even the smallest movements of our bodies, even the smallest of things, like a small plant, a bird, the air, the atmosphere, the stars, the sun, everything. Who amongst us thanked God because He created the world?
Especially in our age which isolated us from the Creation of God, trapped us in artificial things, drove us away from nature…in that age of non-thankfulness, we do not feel thankful to God. When this happens, when we do not thank God, we also do not thank our fellow man, we do not thank our husband, our wife, our children, our parents not even ourselves. We never thank nobody. We are content to saying “Okay, I am somehow fine. Thank God!”.
This way, however, is not how the heart of the man of God moves. The man of God thanks God for everything. Everything that is around him and most of all. He thanks Him, because He is God. Remember when we chant the doxology and say “we thank You in your great glory!” We thank you because You are that Great, that Holy, that Glorified, that full of Grace and You are our Father and we are Your children. And we are the children of an affluent Father, we are heirs of all this greatness of God. We thank Him that He is so infinite. And everything around us is so beautiful, because we offer everything to God with gratitude. Our pains, our struggles, our sicknesses, our trials, our sorrows, our failures, even our death …we offer them to God with gratitude. We thank You, our God.
Remember what the martyrs were saying? We thank you Lord that You made us worthy to die for You. They consider their martyrdom as a reason for gratitude.
I remember sometime our elder was giving us counsels. And he was saying to young kids who wanted to be monks “You have to feel grateful towards God for inviting you to this life. Do not think that you did something extremely great by following God. Do not think that you sacrificed something great. What did you sacrifice? Nothing!
You might say I sacrificed my degrees, I sacrificed my youth, I sacrificed my relation with my parents, I sacrificed a probable marriage, I sacrificed the cars I would have bought, my fortune, my future, my present, everything. My whole self!
But what are those things? Nothing!
In front the greatness of the love of God what are those things? Nothing! Temporary things! You offered temporary things and you received in return eternal ones. You offered perishable things and you received imperishable ones. You offered material things and you received heavenly ones. Which at some point of time you would abandon or they would abandon you, one of the two. When the time of death comes, will you take with you, your happiness, your wisdom, your fortune, your enterprises, your woman, your children or whatever you possess in this world. Absolutely nothing! A time will come inevitably for you, for me, for everyone when you will be separated from them, willingly or not. Hence, what did you offer to God? Temporary things…and what did He gave you in return? Heavenly, Eternal, imperishable things.
Apostle Paul says “I consider everything to be rubbish before the opportunity to win God”. If we understand this thing, you will witness our craving to go to the church in order to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, in order to listen to the Word of God.
On the contrary, today, we go almost for one hour to the Church and not every Sunday and we consider God to be indebted to serve all our needs. And, in case He allows for some kind of trial to us, alas! We are going to be mad with Him and we will say “I go to church every Sunday and still this misfortune found me…what kind of God is this? He should protect me, take care of me, take away from me all this misfortunes….why did He allow for these bad things to happen to me when He provides for the rest of the people that do not go to church and curse all day and night…?”
As if we are blind and we consider that God is indebted towards us, He has an obligation to serve us and He owes us a lot of gratitude because we did Him a favor and went to His church. As if we tolerate Him in our lives.
We cannot understand that we are the ones who are in need of God. God has no needs. Either we go to church or not, either we are saved or not, either we follow Him or not, we do not add something to God neither do we deprive Him of something. God is self-glorified; He has no need for us to glorify Him. It is us who have the need to pray, to study, to run to the church.
As a result, let us all learn how to thank for everything.
“Thank You God”, “Thank you God for everything that happens around us, because You are our God, our Father. Because You built this world, the Creation, You created us… for everything we have.
When the heart moves in that way of thankfulness, then the struggles become lighter and our trials receive another meaning and our eyes are illuminated and we see our life differently inside the eternal dimension of the Kingdom of God.”