Who is the author of the theologically beautiful Akathist of Thanksgiving? One can only imagine that it would have to be a person who had nothing but joy, and beauty filling their life each and everyday. A person, who was in a situation where the natural beauty of creation and culture were all around him, and the evident lushness of the environment was abundant and beautiful. A person who was situated in a perfect place and time, (maybe a Tropic Island hideaway?) which afforded ample amounts of unhindered space, for rest, relaxation, and unlimited free time in which to craft this beautiful song of thanks to God. How could it be otherwise right? How could someone write about beauty – in an ugly situation? Is it even possible?
So what is the truth of this authors situation in life? Was it one of comfort and beauty?
The truth is simply this. Nothing, absolutely nothing, could be further from a life of comfort and ease, for the author of this akathist, was Father Gregory Petroff – a martyred saint of the Church in Holy Russia during WWII.
In order to fully appreciate the richness, and profoundness of this akathist, and to understand the heart of the man who authored it, you must first understand the life of Fr. Petroff. Here is a brief biography written by Fr. Patrick Kinder, Priest of St. Ingatius Antiochian Orthodox Church: (This link takes you to Fr. Patrick’s church web, where you can listen to the akathist, read the entire text, and order the CD, if you desire.)
Since the fall of Communism the Church, and the entire world, has come to a more complete knowledge of the crimes against humanity committed in the Russian Empire and Soviet Union by those dedicated to the destruction of Tsarist rule, the Orthodox and other Christian Churches, and religion in general, for the cause of atheist “revolution.” An estimated 45 million people and more were slain out of a programmed hatred and paranoia. Terror, betrayal, distrust, isolation, self-preservation, hopelessness and faithlessness were at the core of the new, Godless social (dis)order created by the Bolsheviks. We venerate those Christians who refused to compromise their faith in Jesus Christ and who ultimately suffered with their Lord – hundreds of thousands of names, some known, though most known only to God, as Passion-bearers, New-martyrs, and Saints. Books such as “Father Arseny: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father” (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press) and “The Gulag Archipelago” by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (Harper & Row) give graphic insight into the extreme suffering and heroic courage of those who lived faithfully amid this horror. It should be a duty for all of us to become more familiar with this unfortunate human history. The Archpriest Gregory Petroff was a man who lived and died under this madness. How can we understand the senseless cruelty and slaughter that took place in Communist Russia? We can only by faith in God’s eternal and saving providence. “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you’” (John 15:20). It is said that Fr. Gregory was murdered while in a prison camp, but not before he was able to pen the poignant AKATHIST OF THANKSGIVING, giving to the Church and to the world light from great darkness, reminding us that even in the midst of frightful suffering true Christian conviction and courage are unconquerable. We are indeed thankful for this Akathist; our hearts are lifted by it. We offer these prayers to the glory of God and in honor of those “men, women and children, flowers of the spiritual meadow of Russia, who blossomed forth wondrously in time of grievous persecution” (from the Troparion to the New Martyrs of Russia).
Thanks be to God, for the beauty we are afforded in the words of The Akathist of Thanksgiving by Fr. Petroff. May we live for the glory of God, in our world, appreciating and protecting the beauty of Creation, and may we never forget our brothers and sisters who suffer, even today, at the hands of merciless and godless tormentors all over the world – who may seemingly take away our lives – but can never wrest away our souls, for in the end – they – like we, belong to the Living God.