As we approach the end of November, Americans are preparing to celebrate “Thanksgiving,” a holiday in which we are encouraged to gather together with loved ones, enjoy food and time together, and be grateful for all that we have been given. Although Thanksgiving is a cultural (secular) holiday, it was begun with a holy intent: to thank God. It is an opportunity for us as Orthodox Christians to do what we should be doing daily, anyway: giving glory and thanks to God for His rich blessings on our lives!
The Akathist of Thanksgiving (http://www.orthodox.net/akathists/akathist-thanksgiving.pdf) is a beautiful prayer, a delight to the soul, and a fitting beginning to praising God at any time of the year. It is especially appropriate to pray this akathist in this season of giving thanks. Readers unfamiliar with the Akathist of Thanksgiving can read more about it here: https://www.facebook.com/notes/orthodox-christian-parenting/giving-thanks/10151817127259702.
Introduce your students to the Akathist of Thanksgiving with a brief lesson. Before Sunday Church School begins, read through the akathist and plan (keeping in mind your students’ age and reading level) which parts to highlight during your class time. Then, print copies of the akathist (see pdf link above) for each student. During class, tell the students the history of this akathist and give them their copy so they can see it for themselves. Read selections from the akathist together as a class and talk about it together. Have they ever prayed this akathist before? What parts resonate with each student, and why? If you have time in class, invite your students illustrate their favorite part of the akathist, then post the illustrations in your classroom. Send the students’ copies of the akathist home with them. You could also send the following suggestions along. You may also wish to use these suggestions in your own family’s celebration of Thanksgiving!
Ideas of ways to incorporate the Akathist of Thanksgiving into your Thanksgiving celebration:
- At evening prayers, read the akathist together as a family. If you have young children, read only one or two stanzas each evening, until you’ve read the whole thing. After the reading, talk about what you have just read. How did you see God’s hand in the ways described, in this day? (ie: kontakion 2 says “…the golden rays of sun and the light clouds are reflected in the water…;” a family member may remind the rest, “Remember as we drove to school this morning, when the sun rays shone down through a cloud, and we saw it reflected in that puddle?!?”)
- Play the akathist on your CD or mp3 player as you prepare for Thanksgiving Day; whether cooking (if dinner is at your house) or even just getting ready to go (if dinner’s at someone else’s house), this akathist can help your spirit be ready to be truly thankful.
- On Thanksgiving Day itself, chant or read the akathist together as part of your thanksgiving celebration.
After having read/chanted/heard the akathist:
- Select one stanza (or even just one kontakion or ikos) that seems particularly appropriate to your family this year. Print out the individual phrases, and work together to make an illustrated booklet. You can work together to draw the pictures; or make a collage of magazine pictures that illustrate the phrases; or even take photos to illustrate them. Illustrate a different stanza every year, and eventually you’ll have the whole akathist and can pray it directly from your own illustrated version; savoring the growth and memories collected while illustrating it!
- Carefully write or print out beautifully-lettered bookmarks of kontakion 13 (for example: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/the_akathist_of_thanksgiving_kontakion_13.pdf). Use them as Thanksgiving place markers or host gifts, depending if you are hosting or being hosted. Print the kontakion and adhere it to colorful cardstock cut slightly larger than the paper on which the kontakion is printed. Together decorate the edges of each bookmark with crayon/marker, pressed leaves, or seasonally appropriate stamps. On the back of the bookmark, write the name of the person to whom you are giving the bookmark. Laminate the whole thing (contact paper makes a nice laminate), punch a hole in the top, and tie on a bit of ribbon or yarn for the bookmark topper.
- Use a permanent marker (over scrap paper, in case the marker bleeds through) to write kontakion 13 on a length of wired ribbon. Gently curve and twist the ribbon, careful to keep the words showing, and spread it down the middle of your table or across a mantle as part of your Thanksgiving decor.
- Select a phrase such as this one from kontakion 1: “I thank Thee for all Thy visible and secret goods, for earthly life and for the heavenly joy of Thy future Kingdom…” Print the phrase at the top of a large sheet of butcher paper. Attach the paper to a door or wall of your home, as a collaborative art piece where family members and guests can add words, cut pictures, or sketches of the “goods,” “earthly life,” or “heavenly joy of [the] future Kingdom” for which they specifically want to thank God.
However we implement this hymn into our Thanksgiving celebration, let us do so with thoughtful awareness of the words and the worshipful intent behind them. We have much for which to be thankful, not the least of which is our Faith. Hymns such as the Akathist of Thanksgiving allow us to join with the voices of saints from years gone by, in worshipping God.
Indeed, “Glory to God for all things!” ~ St. John Chrysostom
Here are ideas of ways to focus on the meaning of the first few stanzas of the Akathist of Thanksgiving, either with your own family, or with your Sunday Church School students:
Kontakion 1 of the Akathist of Thanksgiving says, “I was born on earth as a feeble and helpless child, but Thy angel, spreading his shiny wings, has sheltered my cradle. From that moment Thy love shines in all my ways and miraculously guides me into the light of eternity.” Look together at a few baby pictures of each person, and talk about how God’s angels have protected each of you from when you were born until today.
Kontakion 2 of the Akathist of Thanksgiving says, “All nature mysteriously speaks about Thee, all is filled with Thy mercy and all carries the seal of Thy love.” Go for a hike in a natural space, with this phrase in mind, looking for (and pointing out to each other) the ways in which you see nature speaking about God and showing us His love.
Ikos 3 of the Akathist of Thanksgiving says, “Glory to Thee Who from the dark depths of the earth bringeth forth so many colors and scents.” Plant flower seeds, or amaryllis bulbs in some “deep dark” earth, and together watch God bring forth colors (and perhaps scents) from that earth, as they bloom!
Ikos 4 of the Akathist of Thanksgiving says, “When night falls upon the earth, the stillness of sleep reigns and sounds of the past day become silent; I see the splendor of Thy heavenly mansions. Flame and purple, gold and azure presag the indescribable beauty of Thy home…” Encourage everyone to keep an eye on the sky at sunset during this season, and purpose to stop everything each time there’s a beautiful sunset, and then take in the splendor and give glory to God who is creating that beauty right before your very eyes.
Kontakion 5 of the Akathist of Thanksgiving says, “The tempest of life does not frighten one in whose heart shines the light of Thy divine fire. Around me are whirling storms and roaring winds; terror and darkness surround me; but in my soul is peace and light.” Discuss what this means, to be at peace in the midst of the tempest of life; and why we don’t need to be afraid in terror or darkness. Make night lights for each child’s room featuring an image that reminds the child of God’s presence: perhaps their favorite icon, a beautiful scene, or even just a block of their favorite color. (http://craziestgadgets.com/2008/12/27/create-your-own-night-light-kit/ is one idea of a place to get a kit made specifically for this activity. Or, you can line a mason jar with the printed image, and add a strand of lights as illustrated here: http://www.realsimple.com/home-organizing/home-organizing-new-uses-for-old-things/new-uses-mason-jars/night-light)