“In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” I Thessalonians 5:8
In the Christian Faith, the idea of thankfulness is so central that the pinnacle of Orthodox worship, the reception of Holy Communion, is commonly referred to as the “Eucharist”, which is to say, “Thanksgiving.” What this signifies for those who have deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ is that we are called to be thankful regardless of the circumstances of our lives because we understand the loving way in which God is dealing with us, slowly bringing us to an awareness of our sins and preparing us to stand before Him at the end of our life when we will necessarily give account for how we have lived.
In our day, however, we detect the emergence of a new attitude in which gratitude for what we have is falling into the background and being replaced by a spirit of negativity and complaining, in which we specifically concentrate on (and complain about) what we don’t have. This approach is certainly very tempting because, undoubtedly, every one of us has been wronged in some way in our lives, perhaps even repeatedly and in a manner that is continuing to the present. We sometimes feel that if we express our negative feelings that this will give us a type of freedom… we are told that if we “bottle things up they will control us” and so we let it fly. We devote our energy to identifying so many things that are wrong in our lives and in society that need to be fixed and even consider that, perhaps, we are doing something to rectify these “wrongs” if we post about them on Facebook or complain about them to our friends. Sadly, this strategy for “release” from oppression only causes us to become more oppressed… more frustrated, more negative and less and less thankful. In the same way that the practice of the Jesus Prayer overcomes thought temptations (logismoi) by directing our mind and heart elsewhere, a spirit of gratitude alleviates the difficult things in our lives by focusing on what God has done and is continuing to do to bring us to Him.
The saints who came before us understood this well and endeavored to find the opportunity to be thankful even in the worst of circumstances (and they really endured some bad circumstances!). Think of the martyrs who did not fight their aggressors but, instead, embraced martyrdom freely, winning for themselves a martyr’s crown. We see countless injunctions concerning how to approach such things in the Scriptures as well such as where the Holy Apostle James enjoins us to, “consider it pure joy… whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (James 1:2-3). St. Paul says concerning struggles: “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14). Thankfulness in the Christian understanding is according to a different standard, even as the Lord says in the Gospel of John, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you” (John 14:27). Peace according to worldly norms occurs when everything goes our way… when we are able to arrange everything in our life and we are in control… and, as a consequence, it is fleeting and short-lived. The Peace of Christ, however, abides in a loving heart and it continues even when we are facing trials and persecutions, when we are hated, when we are excluded, when we are mistreated. Our spirit of gratitude towards God should be similar… it should be deeply grounded in Christ and should be a reflection of our understanding of all that God is doing to bring us to our senses and to free us from our passions.
A few years ago, my confessor told me that Hieromonk Seraphim Rose told him that St. John of San Francisco held the American holiday of Thanksgiving in very high esteem despite it not being an Orthodox holiday precisely because of how critical it is for a Christian to remain positive and thankful, to have a truly “Eucharistic” faith, in which we approach our Savior with love and gratitude. I think of this every year on Thanksgiving and can’t help but do so again this year.
So, in the spirit of adopting a Christian approach to thankfulness, I will list a few of the things that I am thankful for this year:
- I am thankful for all of the goods things that God has granted me of which I know I am undeserving
- My Family, who are everything to me
- My Church Family (the parishioners of Christ the Savior Church and the monks of the Hermitage of the Holy Cross), as well as my other brothers and sisters in Christ and all of those with whom I have been fortunate enough to forge friendships
- My business, Damascene Gallery, in which I am blessed to occupy my time outside of my priestly work with producing beautiful mounted icons for Orthodox Christians around the world
- I am thankful for God’s economy of salvation, through which He endeavors to save me through His Holy Church and, especially, through the Sacraments
- I am thankful for the crosses that God has allowed in my life through which I know He means to save me
- I am thankful that God does not always allow me to have my way… and that He sometimes allows me to be mistreated
- I am thankful especially that God has allowed me additional time to seek Him in this life and to more thoroughly repent of my sins
- I am thankful to be a Christian
Glory to God for all things, even those things which He allows in my life to chasten me!