What are we thankful for?
It has been a very long time since I’ve made a comment about the Dear Abby or the Dear Ann column; today I’ll take a shot at their annual Thanksgiving Day column. They are the pulse of America, and give expression to what is in the minds of the average American. Of course you read one and you don’t have to read the other—so remarkable is the similarity of their approach to the subject.
Both Ann and Abby are thankful to the Lord (addressed also as God and as heavenly Father) primarily for health. To be more specific, they both express thanks for seeing and for hearing and for walking, for having a job and a few bucks, for having a family, for having food to eat and the strength to eat it, and also for this country and its freedom, and the freedom it allows us to have.
It is true that many of us take for granted these natural gifts, and that we tend to appreciate them only when we miss them: when we don’t have our health, or our job, or our freedom. Rightly we should turn our thanks to God, from whom we receive every good gift. Every human being has many reasons to be thankful for, and we should all be thankful to God for them.
What I would like to submit to you is that as Christians we have much more to be thankful for. Specifically, I would like to make two points: first, we should be all-inclusive in our thanksgiving; and second, we should be thankful for what I call the higher gifts.
Thankful for everything
It is easy to sit around the richly laden Thanksgiving dinner table and give thanks to the Lord. It is easy to say “Glory be to You, O God,” when things go our way. But what about when they don’t? Ah, then it’s a different story. Then we feel betrayed, abandoned. We are sad, downcast. How quickly we lose our faith, trust and confidence in the Lord! How quickly we forget that the Good Lord is our Father who loves us.
Yet, if we really believed in an Almighty God who also loves us, then we would not have any doubts that whatever happens in our life is for our own good, and therefore we should be thankful on account of everything. This is precisely what the Apostle urges us to do: “always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father” (Eph. 5:20). Again he says: “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thes. 5:18). St. John Chrysostom, the mouthpiece of St. Paul, says precisely that: “We must give thanks on account of everything that happens to us.”
Neither man was theorizing. The Apostle Paul was writing these words from his prison cell; St. John from his exile. The last words St. John Chrysostom uttered as he was dying of hardships and sickness were, “Glory be to God for everything.” This reminds me of an anecdote I will share with you.
One day, as I was walking on the Seminary grounds, I crossed paths with the current Archbishop Demetrios, then a bishop and professor of Old Testament at Holy Cross School of Theology. Politely he asked me the typical question in a non-typical manner: “How are you?” His eyes were piercing my soul. He wasn’t asking for my physical health. I answered with the stereotyped answer any Orthodox gives: “Glory be to God.” He smiled, with that smile always painted on his face that reveals the peace of God in his soul, and retorted with the same two words St. John Chrysostom used: “On account of everything?”
This is the key to whether we have any faith, and what kind of faith. A faith that withstands the small tests of everyday life, and the big trials we all encounter along this path, called human existence. “Thank you, Lord! Glory be to You!” For what? What do we say in the Great Doxology? “We praise You, we bless You, we worship You, we glorify You, we give thanks to You”–for what? “For Your great glory!” What do you want to give glory to God for, for keeping you sound this day? In the final analysis, isn’t that a selfish prayer?
Thankful for the higher gifts
We thus come to the “higher gifts” mentioned earlier, for which we should be giving glory and thanks to God.
To appreciate the depth and breath of these gifts, the best source that I know of is the Anaphora prayer contained in the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. We could list the following higher gifts given to us by God:
- For creating us in His image and likeness
- For providing for our salvation, despite our disobedience
- For sending us His prophets, and for the miracles they performed
- For their teachings and for the scripture they gave us for our help
- For setting guardian angels for us
- For His only begotten Son our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ
- For His lowering and emptying Himself, becoming one of us
- For having condemned sin in His flesh
- For bringing us back to life in Jesus Christ
- For His words of salvation
- For revealing to us the Father
- For establishing us as His chosen people
- For having cleansed us and for sanctifying us
- For redeeming us through His Death on the Cross and His holy Resurrection
- For making salvation possible to us
- For making us communicants of the Holy Spirit
- For making us partakers of His glory with all the saints
- For His holy Church
- For the Priests and all those in His service
- For those who please Him, by living in holiness
- For His longsuffering and great mercy
- For granting our petitions for salvation
- For accepting us as His children
- For preparing a kingdom for us
- For giving us His peace and for granting us His love
- For everything He has given us
- For granting us to praise and glorify His holy name.
Our thanksgiving is the Lord Himself, and the life He granted us. He, Himself, is our perfect thanksgiving to God, acceptable to Him, until His return. We offer Him to God as our thanksgiving for everything He has done for us, “on account of all and for everything.”
God brought us into the world, He gave us life—He offers us His life—which is a life of happiness without end. He loves us to the point of sacrificing His only Son for us and for our salvation! So? His great Apostle says: “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, will He not also give us all things with Him?” (Rom. 8:32)
Let us then raise our voices of thanksgiving to Him for His great love for us, glorifying and praising His holy name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and forever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.