“Asking that the whole day may be holy, perfect, peaceful and sinless, let us worthily give thanks unto the Lord” (Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom). Giving thanks is something that seems intrinsically difficult in our modern American culture. To tell someone else, “thank you,” for doing something, implies that we need someone else beyond ourselves. Even for Orthodox Christians, one rarely hears a thank you—especially because, “we should be doing it for God anyway, why should we be thanked?” And yet, as the aforementioned petition clearly says, the one thing for which we are considered “worthy” is to give thanks! So, how do we care for this Gift of saying “Thank You?”
As every good thing is a gift of God, our thanksgiving should always be directed toward the Creator of all. However, in order for us to be able to lift up our hearts—in order to care for this gift of Thanksgiving—we must first approach God in repentance. We have only to look at the thematic development of the prayers of the Psalms in order to see this essential pattern. The Psalmist writes through a series of prayers of repentance prior to those Psalms of Praise. It is only after we say, “Lord have mercy,” that we can ever proclaim, “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 107: 1).
This Gift of Thanksgiving must also be practiced. We cannot possibly expect to be able to lift up our hearts in thanks to God if we cannot look another person in the eye and say, “Thank you.” Yet, for many different reasons, this simple and necessary effort is overlooked in today’s American society. We have only to listen to today’s Gospel reading to see the necessity of giving thanks. That only one of the ten lepers returned was directly attributed to his faith; which points to the other nine having little faith. This lack of thanksgiving is nothing new; but it is truly a problem.
If someone does something for us, we should thank them. Better yet, we should tell them, “I give thanks to God for you.” Thus, the thanksgiving is directed through them, and ultimately aimed at the source of the good thing, God Himself. Contrarily, we should not do things expecting to get thanked. If we do, then we have already received our reward. The intention of the heart in doing something good has already been fulfilled in hearing a thank you—in “getting glory” here on earth. If we offer ourselves to one another in love, however, then our actions themselves become an act of praise.
This is another way of caring for this wonderful Gift of Thanksgiving—to do things for others, expecting nothing in return. Our Lord reminded us of this very thing, when He said, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High…” (Luke 6:35). It is only when we do things for others and ask nothing for ourselves that we participate in the sacrificial love of Christ for the world. And, this is the expression of thanksgiving to God in how we live our lives that becomes the continuation of the “Thanksgiving” Offering—the Holy Eucharist.
Now is the time to enter into a regular relationship of thanksgiving with God by participating in the Holy Eucharist. Now is the time to reach out to our neighbors in order to be the loving presence of God for them. Now is the time to do things for others, expecting nothing in return. Now is the time to say “thank you” to one another, especially when the recipient isn’t expecting it. Now is the time to give thanks to God for those who have helped us!
May the Lord our God bring us to a repentant life necessary to lift up our hearts in the Gift of Thanksgiving for all that He has done for us. May He strengthen us in this thanksgiving through regular practice of thanking one another. May He grant to us the understanding that every good thing comes from Him, so that we might direct this glorious Thanksgiving in a continual offering of praise to Him both now and forever!