When man stands before the throne of God, when he has fulfilled all that God has given him to fulfill, when all sins are forgiven, all joy restored, then there is nothing else for him to do but to give thanks. Eucharist (thanksgiving) is the state of perfect man. Eucharist is the life of paradise. Eucharist is the only full and real response of man to God’s creation, redemption and gift of heaven. But this perfect man who stands before God is Christ. In Him alone all that God has given man was fulfilled and brought back to heaven. He alone is the perfect Eucharistic Being, He is the Eucharist of the world. In and through this Eucharist the whole creation becomes what it always was to be and yet failed to be.
Fr. Alexander Schmemann in For the Life of the World.
Perhaps the greatest single failure in the Christian life is the refusal to give thanks. Thanks that is dependent upon success or the fulfillment and pleasure of our own will is indeed thanksgiving – but is weak indeed. It is easy to give thanks for our pleasures and self-satisfactions (though even then we often forget to give thanks).
All too often in our relationship with God and others, thanksgiving is purely reciprocal: we offer thanks as though it were a token payment for that which we have received. As such, it may represent little more than a happy, greedy heart. It falls far short of the heart of thanksgiving (Eucharist) itself. The heart of true thanksgiving is not a payment for services rendered, but an existential expression of our love for God as the Lord and Giver of Life.
This fundamental attitude marks the relationship of Christ and the Father. He is always and eternally giving thanks to the Father. It is also the right and truly “whole” expression of what it is to be human in the face of God. We find ourselves beset with temptation, sickness and oppression of every sort – including the burden of our own failure and sinfulness. But true knowledge of God yields thanks despite all other temptations and trials. It is the sound of creation giving praise and thanksgiving to its Creator. Nothing is more fundamental nor more essential to the right-living of the human heart.
In the face of many circumstances that surround and crush us – thanksgiving to God can seem absurd. However, such absurdity is the voice of love that refuses to grant failure and oppression a greater place in our life than God Himself.
He is our God – and we praise Him. Let His enemies be scattered!
Thanksgiving, almost above all else, transforms us into the image of Christ – who Himself is the true Eucharist of all creation. To give thanks to God is inherently to unite ourselves with Christ and the true voice of creation.
It is truly meet and right…
Thank God every day with your whole heart for having given to you life according to His image and likeness – an intelligently free and immortal life. Especially thank God for having restored and guided you again unto life eternal after you had fallen into eternal death, and for having done so not simply by the action of His omnipotence, for this would not have been in conformity to His justice, but by having given for our redemption His only begotten Son, Who suffered and died for us. Thank Him also for again daily bestowing life upon you, who have fallen an innumerable multitude of times, by your own free will, through sins, from life into death, and that He does so as soon as you only say from your whole heart: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before Thee!” Thank Him also for often delivering you from sickness, you who imprudently throw yourself into danger and sickness, the precursors of bodily death, for correcting your faults, and for not depriving you of earthly life, knowing that it is dear to you, and that you are not yet ready for the future, eternal life. Thank Him for all your means of existence, for all the joys and sorrows of life; for everything is from Him, the All-merciful Father; everything comes from the First Origin of Life, Who has apportioned and lent life to all.
-St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ
Are we called to give thanks for the trials and tribulations that constantly beset us? For the loss of a job? For the death of a child? There is an immense chasm between this discussion, an exercise solely for the sake or argument, and the reality of a life falling apart from the ceaseless storms of life. I can thank God for the innumerable blessings that come my way but I find it much harder to thank Him for the look on my child’s face when I tell her there is no more money for groceries.
It is not my intention to disagree or to start an argument but to simply point out that it is easy enough to have these esoteric discussions about when we should or should not give thanks and the actuality of putting it into practice in a meaningful way. There is a disconnect somewhere between knowledge in the mind and wisdom in the heart. Speaking in platitudes is one thing, giving thanks (and really meaning it) for a personal tragedy is another.
Does God deserve our thanks and praise? Absolutely. Do we thank him when we lose our home and become an additional burden on our families? Maybe. Maybe not. At least for me. Time works as the magic eraser and puts life and issues in perspective and we find that what once was impossible can now be done with at least a modicum of sincerity.
Thank you for opening this discussion.
I am very aware of the difficulty. I have learned to give thanks for the death of a child (to use but one example – and I am not a great example). I knew a man, who for 30 years lived giving thanks, always, for everything. His life had trials and difficulties. His thanksgiving was not “trying to put a nice face on things” or just a psychological ploy. It was a very deeply rooted and practiced belief in the goodness of God. Giving thanks for all the things we like and want is something that could be done by anyone. It is a very deep spiritual exercise that takes great discernment and understanding if it is regularly practiced at all times for all things.
This is absolutely not a platitude. Platitudes are nothing and I have no interest in writing about platitudes. Christ gave thanks even in Gethsemane – it was not a platitude, nor are we told about it so that we should practice it as a platitude.
It is not easy – indeed it is a martyrdom – a witness to the goodness of God. May God give us grace in the worst of times to know His goodness.
It is very difficult to impossible to be thankful for losses and disasters, when one has ego attachments (ie loving our reasons to love a thing or person or situation, more than the thing/person/situation we love) to what was discontinued or lost. Its nearly natural when one has not.
The temptation is to equate the attachments one has to what is “good”. From a spiritual perspective, there can be no “good” that springs from a relative viewpoint (my job, my car, my wife, my career, my country etc). Only what springs from the Absolute is good (Why you call me good? Only God is good). In simple terms God’s “goodness” is of a different measure altogether than man’s.
A good example of this perception is the icon of “The ladder of Divine Ascent”. There are two symmetries in the icon: one is that of heaven and earth at each end of the ladder. The other is between the spiritual realm that is allied to God (of the angels) and that which has rebelled from God (of the demons) that lie either side of the ladder. God lies not in the “good side” of the spiritual universe, but within and behind the divine light that sustains everything – He is the very fabric of the world, seen and unseen. Hence Christ comes out of that fabric that appears like a suspended cloth that hides the undescribable divine reality behind. God sustains not only the obedient angels, but also the rebellious ones – he is altogether beyond relatives and opposites including that of good and evil.
All depression anger and sadness brings to the surface the neediness of the individual I. It is through this discipline that monastics grow in sancity. Not only all previous attachment has to be renounced, but any further possible attachment has to also be actively weeded out before it can grow. For any thing that afflicts, there is an inner affliction – be it intrnsic or extrinsic – that surfaces. It is counter intuitive and against all wordly wisdom, as well as difficult, but its actually true.
What wordly man forgets most of the time, is that his life, self and world are given. Even atheists understand this, although they respond to it differently, namely by seeing the “individual” and the world at odds. All the frustration comes about by the realisation at a deep level that our fate is not in fact subject to our will.
Persons aspiring to spiritual progress, go to great pains to extinguish their right to have a will, the idea that they have a will, and finally their will itself. In this way, they see things as they are, ie given and so respond accordingly ie by giving thanks for all and at all times. It works however the other way around too: giving thanks frequently, reminds one that everything is given. Thus it brakes the default sleepwalking routine most of us live in.
Branding higher wisdom, somewhat contempuously, “esoteric” and so imply that its impractical and so “not for the average person” is not uncommon especially for people that are under the effects of affliction. But then again this is true for whatever people get frustrated with (“I can’t do this!”, “Its not working!” etc). The ego will always be inadequate to solve the problems it creates.
The spiritual claim for reality is that we are not just our jobs, our houses or our hobbies, or our holidays or our pensions or our money in the bank or even our spouses and children or our health or our DNA and genes – but something far deeper and subtler that is ours “in communion” ie by participation, in the life of God. And all are called to verify the claim in person by being active practitioners to the exoteric, but more importantly to the esoteric (ie inner or internal) life in Christ.
Such wisdom here, not only in the original post, but perhaps more in the comments above. Thanks; I’m grateful for Fr. Stephen and all of you fellow travelers…
Thank you again Father, for reminding us of what is really important. In this current time of chaos, political terrorism, and personal hardship for so many. Thanking God when we are in pain, fear, or anguish is a very hard thing to do. It is hard to see God in the pain, or that He could ever find a way to bring good from something that crushes us so totally.
Maybe like a crushed plastic bottle, when we are feeling empty, worthless, and useless, God chooses to fill us with His strength, His love, and His use for us. Like a plastic bottle, we expand, fill, and are once again useful and have worth. Maybe those times that seem to take all we have just to survive are God’s opportunity to fill us again – with something even more wonderful and valuable. When we are feeling the most empty inside is the time to Thank God for filling us with Him.
I can survive thru He who strengthens me – right? It has worked for me for nearly 60 yrs of things that have crushed me, and without God there, would have destroyed me – long ago. God Bless, and thank you for reminding me today that even the painful things are a blessing.
November, those are good questions. In a world full of suffering and privations, there is no way to give thanks apart from a deep faith in the goodness of God and in His ultimate triumph over all evil. Apart from His grace, it’s impossible. In the death of a child, we can give thanks, not for the death, but because we know that God is with us in our grief, that He hates this death as much as we do, and that “with Himself He has raised all the dead!” as the Paschal hymn rejoices, and so this death–this gut-wrenching separation–is not the final word. And, so also with all other kinds of suffering. But this is not possible to do apart from faith and grace.
It seems to me that giving thanks is sometimes as hard as loving real enemies. How can I obey this? How can I be holy as He is holy? Lord have mercy.
All of this is process. We struggle with it unto our dying breath. But struggle we must. Sometimes, in this struggle, all we can pray is, “Thy will, not mine, be done” and “Lord, I believe: help my unbelief.”
In your comment above you note that “Christ gave thanks even in Gethsemane”. Did you have a specific verse in mind, or were you speaking generally?
Thanks for this thought-provoking post!
I offered it as a general description of Christ’s prayer as recorded in St. John’s gospel. Despite its recognition of suffering, it is suffused with expectation, joy, and thanksgiving.
“But whether I desire it or not, save me, O Christ my Saviour, forestall me quickly, quickly, for I perish.” (from the 8th prayer of St Basil)
The work without idleness that St Basil promises at the conclusion of this prayer is this giving of thanks, the fullness of Christ’s work in us.
This is where I go when the dark hours of the night close in to destroy me. It does not end the night with dawn, but it does light a candle. And there is no platitude in this, for the night remains long (a lifetime, it seems). But we do not need “easy”, we need “possible”.
May He who made that which is impossible for men, possible, be praised forever!
For though the fig tree blossom not
nor fruit be on the vines,
though the yield of the olive fail
and the terraces produce no nourishment,
though the flocks disappear from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet will I rejoice in the Lord
and exult in my saving God. – Habakkuk 3
Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for this post. Thank you David,
we do need “possible.” So many good questions and comments
on this post! Thank you all.
Heb. 13:15 Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name.
I Thes 5:16-18 Rejoice always, pray constantly, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
BCP: 333 It is very meet , right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto thee, O Lord, holy Father, almighty, everlasting God.
BCP 335: And we earnestly desire thy fatherly goodness mercifully to accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving:
Divine Liturgy: A mercy of peace. A sacrifice of praise.
….i think November is right to Question the line of reasoning that would have us be thankfull and give thanks to God FOR – all- instances of death and destruction and ‘wage of sin’….No where in scripture is that implied… and just as importantly..it defies our God-given intellect…we can though..in good conscience continue to Acknowledge and be thankfull FOR HIM and FOR HIS PRESENCE during/through human tragedy….its very interesting to me how we tend to recreate God in our own evil image.. imo
Actually Eph. 5:20 does indeed instruct us to give thanks always, for all things. But you cannot arrive there through reason – it is a description of the heart and its relation to God. To give thanks in the midst of things that are tragic (in every sense) is a great mystery. It is nothing light nor obvious.
Re: mike Says: “No where in scripture is that implied…”
“To keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” -St. Paul, 2 Corinthians 12:6-10
This is a great mystery. Forgive me for failing to speak properly of it.
Sent via DROID on Verizon Wireless
AA taught me the very lesson you are teaching here.
When I first got to AA, I had lost everything: my wife, my marriage, my faith, my home, my children, my job…
My first sponsor told me to get on my knees every morning and evening, and to thank God for the blessings of the day; particularly the grace of not having taken a drink.
I said the very thing that November so eloquently expressed: that I had nothing, most days, except my bare existence, a three day-old sobriety and a huge measure of pain.
“Then thank Him for the pain,” my sponsor said, and I did.
It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, but it opened a dimension of prayer that I had never dreamed of, and a depth of contact with God that was deeper than any I had known before.
Thank you Father, for reminding me of this. I have let that particular prayer disappear from my prayer life, and I need to be praying it every day.
Years ago, at a time when I was going through some deep personal pain, I read the following passage from 1 Peter. There was a kind of internal “death” in accepting it–everything still hurt like crazy–and yet I was also aware of an inexplicable blessing in embracing this truth, that outweighed the pain. This blessing seemed to be centered on the promise that one armed with the attitude of Christ “does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God . . .”
1 Peter 4: 1Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. 2As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. . . .
12Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18And,
“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”[a]
19So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
I was once told that there is no meaning in unjust suffering. That is, there is no reason that you will find that it is “worth it” (unlike my just suffering as I try to lose weight which will be “worth it” when I am at a healthy weight) … rather the point of unjust suffering is that it is utterly lost save one thing, that such suffering joins us to Christ.
There is nothing else, because there is nothing else but to be one with Christ. He suffered, and we will suffer. This will not make you “happy” that is, it will not take away the suffering to know this, rather by knowing this you will realize that you know Christ.
Thank you so much for such beautiful wisdom!
Father, I think you may be interested in this documentary that I keep hearing about.
It’s called “Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer” and it’s been garnering a lot of attention lately. Have you heard of it?
I’ve sent many inquiries to the “Mysteries” interns, and I’ve always received some great (and prompt!) responses in return!
You can learn more about this film by visiting: http://www.mysteriesofthejesusprayer.com/
..i think the lines separating suffering FOR Christ/for His sake and the suffering in life as is common to ALL men have become blurred….if i suffer persecution or if i am treated unjustly for naming Christ or for righteousness sake then i partake/share in Christ’s sufferings and would have joyful reason to Thank God for it…Yet for the christian NOT ALL suffering experienced is FOR Christ’s sake…the vast majority (if not all)of my sufferings and trials while living my life as an american christian has nothing at all to do with my being a christian but is the common ‘stuff’ of life….there is a difference.. is there not?
Been reading Prof David Bradshaw´s, The Concept of Divine Energies, (Google it). Towards the middle of the article, he says, Paul was “striving according to Christ´s working (energy/energeia) being made effective in two ways: It is a work within Paul transforming him; and, it finds expression in Paul´s own activities. Fr Stephen´s article reminded me how we really fail in the latter. Being thankful…being grateful….in the light of the present economic and political state we are in
Pilgrim, you are so right! I have often thought that Father Stephen’s “homilies” here reflect so closely the teachings and steps of AA. Such wisdom in AA… I once heard a Roman Catholic priest (who was not an alcoholic, but did the steps in response to a parishioner telling him he needed the wisdom) say that ALL Christians should work the 12 Steps in order to understand fully that which our church teaches.
Do we “deserve” suffering? Did Christ? Such a mystery…
Everything is for Christ. There is nothing that is not for Him. There is nothing apart from Him, for even that which opposes Him, He, from the fullness of His nature, sustains. To say “this” suffering looks like the “real” stuff and “that” suffering doesn’t is to miss the magnitude of the Incarnation.
Mike, I dare say that as American Christians the vast majority of us do no know what it is to suffer for Christ or be persecuted for our faith (at least not in very significant ways). On the other hand, we believers do have the chance to use the suffering that is common to our humanity in a way that honors Christ and brings us into communion with Him by offering up the sacrifice of praise even in the midst of it. In such a way, we wean ourselves from desires centered on the self to union with Christ’s will.
in my view, there is no difference at all. “Normal life stuff” apart from God means that life and God are at some level independent from each other. And this in turn clearly implies that either God is no God or “Normal life stuff” are somewhere above God or that perceiving God in this way is an incomplete way to do so.
Not that approaching the Divine in this way is uncommon in this day and age. But that doesn’t mean that its right. In fact this whole blog of Father Stephen hits at this exact misconception, and from the title of his forthcoming book, it seems that that one will too.
In any case, life, is a highly non-linear affair between two vast, unchartered and interconnected seas; the one without and the other within. While there are regions of stability, where from “normality” comes, as a rule small causes can have large unpredictable effects. Normality isn’t as normal as it seems.
David Dickens’ comment is particularly true when we lay all our experiences at Christ’s feet. We then appropriate, acknowledge and live in the truth of what Christ has appropriated for us. So it necessitates a conscious work on our part to sanctify – set apart – all areas of our life for God and through it to become like God.
I think it is not good to look to closely at other’s sufferings, or consider them any more than we consider the blessings we see others enjoy as greater than our own. We do not know why that which has been given for us to bear (or enjoy) is placed in our hands and not that of another (or none at all). It is best to simply see that it *is*.
I want to grant comfort, but I don’t have any while the race still runs. There are moments, sacred things not to be shared here, where we are lifted up and our feet become fleet by the power of Him who is our goal, but much of the time it is simply running the path we are on without distraction.
I have a need to say something encouraging, for I feel my previous remarks in this thread are too dire. This is all I can say: it is not, I think, that in the coming age that we will receive an explanation for all that we have endured (or enjoyed), but that we will truly need none in the light of His face.
This is not poetry. I write poetry. This is something altogether different, that poetry cannot capture.
Poetry can capture it better than other things David : )
In my view, there is no need for an explanation as such. The medium is the message. The Name is the Named. What is seen along suffering holds the key to meaning and meaning speaks for it self.
Mike’s complaint that sacred scripture does not imply that we must give thanks to God for ALL things will not bear the facts. In the first hour we chant the 89th psalm which plainly states what everyone from Augustine to the Little Flower has taught: “ALL is grace.”