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!”