Saved with Thanksgiving

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Everyone capable of giving thanks is capable of salvation.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann

Nothing is more essential to human living than the giving of thanks. According to the Apostle Paul, it is one of the very purposes for which we were created (Romans 1:21 St. Paul here upbraids us for our failure to give thanks). Much of our understanding of thanksgiving today is deeply tied to a modern, shallow, understanding of psychology and thinks only of how we “feel” about something. To give thanks, however, is far deeper, reaching to the very core of our being. It is a recognition from the depths of our hearts that what we have is not of our own creation (including our own life) and that all that we have is not properly enjoyed or used unless and until it is enjoyed and used with deep thanksgiving towards the One who gave us everything.

Thus, near the end of the Divine Liturgy, the priest stands before the ambo and prays:

O Lord, Who blessest those who bless Thee, and sanctifies those who trust in Thee, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance.  Preserve the fullness of Thy Church.  Sanctify those who love the beauty of Thy house; glorify them in return by Thy divine power, and forsake us not who put our hope in Thee.  Give peace to Thy world, to Thy churches, to Thy priests, to all those in civil authority, and to all Thy people.  For every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from Thee, the Father of Lights, and unto Thee do we ascribe glory, thanksgiving, and worship: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.

Drawing inspiration from the text of James 1:17, the priest draws our attention yet again to the purpose of our gathering. Everything we have comes from God – and thus we return to Him glory, thanksgiving and worship. It is a cycle of giving, receiving, and giving again in return that is itself the very heart of our life in God.

Time has taught us that such thanksgiving is possible in every conceivable circumstance. Martyrs have offered such thanksgiving in the midst of cruel tortures. Prisoners of conscience have offered such thanksgiving in unimaginable  circumstances. Others have learned to offer such thanksgiving even in the midst of merely banal and boring circumstances of much of our modern life. For life that is offered up in such thanksgiving is transformed and becomes no longer the life of this world, but the life of the world to come. All things are revealed to be what they are in the midst of such thanksgiving.

Such thanksgiving is a torment to the demons – for they themselves cannot give thanks nor can they abide the very sound of thanksgiving. When our hearts are united to God in thanksgiving we stand unassailable and beyond the reach of the evil one.

Fr. Alexander’s statement that “Everyone capable of giving thanks is capable of salvation,” could also be stated in the negative that “anyone who will not offer thanks renders themselves incapable of salvation.” For our salvation is made manifest and realized in the communion of thanksgiving with the Father. There is no salvation that does not have the giving of thanks at its very heart. Elsewhere, Fr. Alexander freqently stated that we are “eucharistic, doxological beings.” In less theological terms (or in terms translated into plain English) we are beings who are created to give thanks (“eucharistic”) and glory (“doxological”) to God. These are not mere activities we engage in – religious activities of the pious. These are the most existential acts of our life. To give thanks and glory to God is to live – for to refuse such thanks and glory is to refuse the life God is giving us.

It is thus the very heart of our salvation to learn to say in all places, at all times: “Glory to God for all things!”

9 Responses to “Saved with Thanksgiving”

  1. Michael Bauman Says:

    Bishop Basil in his homily on Sanctity of Life Sunday linked the horror of abortion to not only our inability to give thanks for the gift of life but taking the next step and spurning the gift. The Gospel that Sunday was the 10 lepers who were healed, but only one, the Samaritan turned back to give thanks. +Basil also emphasized the eucharistic (giving thanks) nature of the Christian life and that forgiveness is always possible if we but begin to recognize the gifts we have been given and be thankful for them, especiall for life itself in us and in others.

    My experience, for what it is worth, is that gratitude leads to repentance which leads to joy.

    As you say, such gratitude (thanksgiving) is possible in any circumstance even the most heart rending and difficult.

    Perhaps ingratitude is the sin against the Holy Spirit that Jesus says is the lone unforgivable sin?

  2. fatherstephen Says:

    I’m not sure on the last point – but I know that ingratitude makes almost everything impossible.

  3. robert bearer Says:

    It is said that gratitude is the expression or natural and necesary consequence of faith; joy of hope; and compassion of charity. The first of these confrims Fr. Alexander’s point; the second our brother, Michael’s experience that gratitude leads to joy. Benedict XVI has noted the same relationship between faith and hope in his recent encyclical letter Spe salvum facti sumus.

    charis & shalom,
    robert leo

  4. juliana Says:

    I feel I’m coming more to realize how true this. But I fear it’s also becoming more of a struggle for me to be thankful. Can you tell me how I can better learn to give such thanks?

  5. Ioannis Freeman Says:

    Addressing the subject of giving thanks, I have practiced something that pulls my mood of despair or self-pity out of the pits. The pits for me are not only events, like set-backs in finances or friendships, but also my interpretations of these events. Here is how I handle this.

    I memorize a passage, such as one of the thanksgiving hymns of St. Symeon the new Theologian, one of the Psalms, one of the Christ-hymns inside several of St. Paul’s writings (cf. Phil 2), or the Song of Miriam and the Song of Moses in the Book of Exodus (cf. Ex. 15), and then repeat these words slowly under my breath.

    I sit up straight before an icon of Christ blessing, close my eyes, and then slowly repeat the words. As distractions appear, I simply return to repeating the wrods. If I lose track of where I am in the passage, I return to the start, and try not to beat myself up for being inattentive.

    Starting off with 5 minutes every morning, and then increasing the amount of time every morning until I reach 30 minutes, I start to shift from a pervasive or insidious “down” mood to instinctively act out of thanksgiving. I notice that my anxiety lessens, too.

    My guess is that the Lord Christ might have given thanks in a similar way, as would have any Jewish man of his age as he started the day with multiple Thanksgivings, as part of the morning prayers that he recited–the same prayers since long before the Babylonian captivity. I suspect thanksgiving reduces my spiritual arrogance just enough so that God comes quickly to my rescue, not because God was ever unwilling to help me, or anybody for that matter, but because I was blinded by my arrogant attitude and inability to perceive and receive God’s unlimited mercy.

  6. Michael Bauman Says:

    A friend of mine wrote this for his parish newsletter recently. It seems to me there is a key to thanksgiving in it. Personally I try to remember that confession is one of our greatest tools in the battle against the world.

    Remembrance of Death

    I have heard that phrase of as long as I’ve been Orthodox. My initial response was to accept it as one of those neat little monkish ideas that had an esoteric patina about it. As I’ve matured in the faith and gotten older, seen friends and family die, participated in the transcendent mourning of the Church’s burial rite and begun to pray for the departed in earnest, the phrase has begun to mean something.

    I’ve had to ask myself, if I knew I was going to die tomorrow, would that cruel or unkind thought leave my lips; would I finally make that phone call to a friend I have not seen in awhile or continue to put if off? Would I finally drop by to visit someone I know is alone or in the hospital? Would I put off confession until next week or sometime during Lent? Would I retain my anger at old so & so because of whatever it was? Would I entertain for even one second in the proud imagination of my heart that there is no God and that I alone rule? Would I continue to acquiesce to my besetting sins or would I cry out with greater fervor in acknowledgement of my own weakness?

    We pray for a death that is painless, blameless and a good defense before the dread judgment seat of God but prayers alone are not enough if we have not worked to resist temptation and acquire virtue. As King Claudius says in Hamlet, “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below, words without thoughts never to heaven go.”

    Loving others as un-selflessly as possible is the key to virtue. Love of God and others is all that God requires of us, but love in not a pleasant emotion. Although it is often accompanied by joy, it is just as often accompanied by pain, sorrow and suffering, as Jesus exemplified on the Cross. Love is not a feeling at all, it is an action. It requires that we lay down our own life even if only in little things (a cup of water, a kind word). Love is the motivator for and the fruit of such sacrifice. The three famous t’s Time, Treasure and Talent offered to God, the Church and our neighbor in humility.

    How much easier such action becomes when we remember that our soul might be required of us this night.

  7. Nancy Says:

    I have been reading an account of the life of John Chrysostom (Philip Schaff). This dear saint is quoted as saying the very words you used at the end of your blog. The story, with which you are no doubt familiar:
    “The cruel empress (Eudoxia), stung by disappointment at the continued power of the banished bishop (Chrysostom), forbade all correspondence and ordered his transfer by two brutal guards, first to Arabissus, then to Pityus on the Caucasus, the most inhospitable spots in the empire. The journey of three months on foot was a slow martyrdom to the feeble and sickly old man.
    He did not reach his destination, but ended his pilgrimage five or six miles from Comana in Pontus in the chapel of the martyr Basiliscus on the 14th of September, 407, in his sixtieth year, the tenth of his episcopate. Clothed in his white baptismal robes, he partook of the eucharist and commended
    his soul to God. His last words were his accustomed doxology, the motto of his life: ‘Glory be to God for all things, Amen.’ “

  8. Fr. Philip Rogers Says:

    Giving thanks is easy when life is going well, it is much more difficult when we run into different problems. To really begin to give thanks in all things, one of the simple things that we can do is when someone asks, “How are you doing?” Instead of saying, “Fine,” or any other response, we can begin by saying, “Thank God.” The next words out of our mouth could be, “Fine,” or “Been better,” but regardless of the situation we begin by saying “Thank God.” This I have learned from many wonderful people who did simply this, most notably my wife’s grandfather and a parishioner in the church here.

    Just as a little story, this particular parishioner speaks very little English. Over the course of the last 7 months I have visited with her and her husband often because they have not been able to come to church due to illness. Every time I went into the house I would ask how they were and she would say, “Thanks God” and kiss her hand and point to heaven. Yesterday, her husband died just after the completion of the Liturgy. He was in the hospital with pneumonia. I went over to the hospital and walked into the hospital room and his wife looked at me and gave me a hug and said, “Thanks God,” in her broken English. I couldn’t help but cry at the great faith of this woman who after all of the times of thanking God, she was able even to give thanks at the death of her husband. May his memory be eternal!

  9. fatherstephen Says:

    Fr. Philip,

    Indeed, may his memory be eternal!

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