“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thess. 5:16-18
I have always loved Thanksgiving. The table laden with favorite foods that, for hours, have tempted your senses with the aroma of their delicacies. The warmth of home and hearth, the time devoted to family when every other concern takes second place. Even when, during high school in upstate New York I was violently ill with the flu going around and couldn’t partake of the meal, I still loved the day.
Thanksgiving, as many have surely said, is a peculiarly “American” holiday that, in its truest form, is most “blessable” by the Orthodox Church. Setting aside a day to consider the blessings in one’s life – practicing that art of the glass being half “full” rather than half “empty”…. Thanksgiving gives us a day in which to practice what we preach, and to be uplifted by the effort.
Did you know that the word “thanksgiving” appears in the Bible in its various forms (thanksgiving, thanks, thankful, etc.) nearly 140 times? Likewise, that the Greek word for Thanksgiving, Eucharistia, contains within it the word meaning “Grace” or “Gift”, Charis? At its core, when we contemplate Thanksgiving, we’re contemplating graces or gifts in our lives, things/people/situations which we, as Christians, offer our gratitude to our Good and Loving Lord for.
And, truly, “it is meet and right to do so”.
As Christians, though, we don’t stop there. The amazing thing is that Christians thank God for everything!!!! In ALL circumstances, we glorify God, because we have the conviction that God is able to work for good through absolutely everything that happens to us! Not to suggest a blind naiveté, but rather, that we endeavor as Christians to thank God for all things, even for things like affliction or suffering, because we believe that God can work through all circumstances, and that some GRACE can be found even amidst our struggles. To fall short in this effort is to essentially tell God that we agree with Him on some things, but not on others: “We’ll thank you, God, for our health, but not for our sickness. We’ll thank You for our comfort, but not our affliction or poverty.” “We’ll thank You when we get what WE want, but NOT when we don’t get what WE want.”
Living a life of Gratitude takes practice, prayer and inspiration!!! It’s not easily done, and ever a goal to be reaching toward. Fortunately, we are given the most wonderful example to imitate in the Life of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who:
“…on the night when He was betrayed, or rather when He gave Himself up for the life of the world, took bread in His holy, pure, and blameless hands, gave thanks, blessed, sanctified, broke, and gave it to His holy disciples and apostles, saying, ‘Take, eat, this is My Body which is broken for you…; Drink from this all of you, this is My Blood, of the New Covenant….’”
On the very eve when our Lord anticipated His suffering, passion, and crucifixion, He gave thanks. Even though He prayed that God His Father might remove the cup of suffering from Him, He accepted it – “Not My will, but Thine, be done”.
Let us be encouraged today by the example of Our Lord Who “gave thanks in all circumstances”, and Whose sacrifice instituted “The Great Thanksgiving” – the Eucharist itself – which we celebrate every Sunday! Who knew that we, as Orthodox Christians, actually celebrate Thanksgiving every Sunday?!?
Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory once said that an ungrateful person is Dead; they may be existing, but they are not LIVING!! And Fr. Alexander Schmemann, who preached his very last sermon on Thanksgiving Day 1983, began it by stating, “Everyone capable of gratitude is capable of salvation and everlasting joy”!
Thanksgiving is who we are as Christians. It is the very content of our Christian Life! So, as we set our tables for the holiday, as we gather around them and offer our gratitude, let us also recall the sacrifice of Our Lord Who made our Thanksgiving even possible. And let us then beseech Him to give us the Grace to thankfully live out whatever circumstances Life presents to us, so we may truly imitate Him and become witnesses to His Love, Life and Joy throughout the world!