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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

A Thanksgiving Reflection from a Monk of Mount Tabor

My father told me last night about his deep, deep sadness. He talked about all the things that he has lost in his life. He felt great despair and despondency Seeing his wife disappear and vanish before his eyes, only a shell of what she once was. He’s almost 98 now.

Monastery in Ukiah, California.

I reminded him of something he taught me long ago. When he saw such great difficulty Ahead of him keeping His failing business afloat, he remembered the words of Dr. Schuyler who said “do not think of the things you have lost, but the things you have left And be grateful.” At that time in his life, he was ready to give up, but upon hearing these words he had hope which renewed his strength to persevere.

Today he’s setting another example - he’s still learning as we are. He’s not one to quit, yet everything now is out of his control and he must trust. His short term memory though is not as it once was, but his long term memory is solid, and he recounts the losses internally - making each day another mark on the calendar with the same daily “routine” distractions that give an air of “peace.” It is as if the elephant is really not standing in the room in a house of glass where so many stones have been hurled. Later, I thought of Time, what vanities we fill it with when there is only a little left for Him. I looked for something that crosses the canyon of frivolity and is truth that endures beyond death.

I looked for a Bible in his house and could find none. If only I could find just one... then he could flip the pages at least once a day, randomly place his finger on a page and verse and listen to whatever words are written there and allow them to mollify his heart. None on any shelf.... I kept searching and then hidden on a shelf in the back room, among family histories some novels and 200 year old books with missing and vermin eaten binding I found a Bible, opened it and found the name “ Andrea Hayward,” his mother.

His time is filled with distractions - daily movies mom watches (understanding little of the drama) the time he spends on the computer chatting with other lonely hearts he has never met, trying to “advise” everyone and fill an emptiness in his heart. Needing so much himself, his loneliness and loss cry silently within him.

Twenty minutes later, the movie favorite that he and his wife have watched together (at least 2-3 times a month over the last 10 years) ended. He recounted to me how he remembered the grim Nazi Brownshirts in Germany when he toured Europe with his family at age 15 in 1938. Three times, he told me last night, he had hiked the exact trail taken by the VonTrapp family as they escaped the Nazis.

Then he turned to me and told me a story, “I remember these words from long ago, “do not think of the things you have lost, but the things you have left And be grateful.”

And be grateful for even the losses, the suffering they cause serves a greater purpose. Contemplate the depths of God’s great desire to draw us close to Him and allow Him to fill our emptiness, a void only His spirit can fill if we ask Him to, a “fail-safe” He created within us. This Thanksgiving, cling fast to what endures: Love.

Happy Thanksgiving 🙏

A Monk at Holy Transfiguration Byzantine

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