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What to learn from a Lebanese hermit and Anna of the Bible

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Aleksander Bańka - published on 01/26/24

We can look to the example of holy men and women of the past and present to see how thanksgiving is an important part of our relationship with God.
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In the heart of the famous Holy Valley (Wadi Kadisha) in Lebanon, just outside the monastery of St. Anthony of Qozhaya, lives a hermit: Fr. Youhanna Khawand. He is a tiny, humble, hunchbacked old man, inconspicuous and unassuming. He wears thick-rimmed glasses and a hood pulled deeply over his forehead. He vests with a simple, ordinary habit, and in his hermitage he sleeps directly on the floor, among books. He doesn’t eat sweets, fruit, or other delicacies produced in the monastery. Instead, he mortifies himself and fasts.

A smile full of kindness and benevolence is always on his face, and his whole figure exudes extraordinary joy and peace of mind. Few would ever realize that he’s a profound theologian, an expert in ancient languages, a translator into Arabic of biblical texts and ancient Syriac hymns, a polyglot, and for many, a spiritual master and director.

There’s another secret to Fr. Youhanna’s inner life. He loves the liturgy — especially the Eucharist — the rosary and praying the psalms. But his entire day is permeated primarily by constant prayer: prayer of the heart. And when he prays, he repeats three short words uninterruptedly: Thank you Lord! Thank you Lord… 

Praise and thanksgiving

In the Gospel according to St. Luke, we find a description of a picturesque scene that took place after the birth of Jesus, at the moment when his parents brought the baby to the temple to offer him to God. It is, of course, about the meeting with Simeon and Anna.

Anna, who came upon the Holy Family in the temple, “began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). Describing her reaction, the Evangelist uses the Greek word ἀνθωμολογεῖτο (anthōmologeito). It means not only “praise,” but above all “gave thanks.”

The essence of Anna’s response, then, was gratitude: thanksgiving to God for listening to the prayers of generations of the people of Israel, who implored Him in confident prayer to send his Anointed One to the afflicted Chosen People. 

God’s generosity

God’s response is (as usual) surprising, superabundant, and beyond all human expectations. For here he sends his Son not so much to liberate Israel from the power of earthly occupiers, but rather to liberate all humanity from a bondage far more terrible — from the fetters of sin.

Was Anna aware of this? We don’t know. But we do know that, seeing the fulfillment of prophecies and the realization of God’s promise, she responded with a prayer full of gratitude. This is an important lesson for us. We ask God for many things, and sometimes we also ask him a lot for his forgiveness. But do we thank God too? 

Enough reason to give thanks

And yet, even when we have very little — like Fr. Youhanna — we can find a huge number of reasons to give thanks. We don’t even need to think hard to find them. If we just look around us, look carefully into our hearts and into our own past, we will find that we are constantly accompanied by God’s loving providence.

He has brought us so far — despite many hardships and adversities. Isn’t this reason enough to give thanks? A prayer of thanksgiving is more than listing reasons to be thankful; it’s an attitude of attentiveness to how many ways God continually bestows his blessings on us. If we want to respond to this, a simple, trusting, and joyful, “Thank you, Lord!” — or sometimes just an attentive, grateful silence — is enough.

Tags:
PrayerSpiritual LifeThanksgiving
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