Who God Would Have Us Be

P4221233aWhen 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…


  1. Father, thank you for this post. Fr. Schmemann’s “For the Life of the World” is precious and timeless.

    It is easier for me to thank God than to have faith and, ironically, faith always follows along when I’m thankful. With faith comes Christ doesn’t stay in ink on the pages of the Gospels — He is alive and present and easier to thank in person, both Him and the Father. This reinforcing cycle is such a blessing.

    I’ve also found that participating in the Eucharist in the Divine Liturgy is no longer optional. As a former protestant this change is something I could not have foreseen.

  2. “To be” is a copula, not a transitive verb. It does not take an object; it takes a predicate nominative. So please write “*Who* God would have us be,” not “Whom…”

  3. Michael Patrick,
    Giving thanks on its surface seems like one of the most prosaic activities of life. We say, “Thank you,” in very perfunctory ways all the time. But when this simple action is pushed to its depth – it reveals itself to contain almost the whole of our spiritual life.

  4. Beautifully put.

    ‘Nothing is more fundamental nor essential to the right-living of the human heart.’

    Thank you.

  5. Ironically, this morning I decided to write down a thought that has been making itself more present. Last week I told someone that when we give thanks it increases our awareness of God and opens our hearts to receive even more blessings–not because the blessings would not otherwise be there but because we are so often unable to see them. If we don’t “take note” of those things, they tend to disappear, like a dream, and we are, often enough, left with the bitterness that can only see what we don’t have. Given that thought from last week, I decided to write down some of the insights I’ve been given and for which I am grateful. Otherwise, they, too, seem to disappear. Here is what I wrote just this morning before seeing your blog: “To give thanks is to open our eyes to God; as our eyes are opened, we are more and more able to see that He is everywhere present and filling all things. So, if the ‘pure in heart’ shall see God–is thanksgiving a path to purity of heart?’ Your words, I think, are my answer. Thank you.

  6. The question: How does one give thanks properly when much of the existential reality of one’s life makes it difficult to live?

    I recognize the principal but find it deeply difficult to apply when I see people I love being hurt, when I see evil seeming to triumph.

  7. Michael,
    Our giving of thanks is between us and God, if you will. That evil seems to triumph, or that things are difficult, are made truly tragic if those existential realities are also allowed to destroy the relationship of thanks between us and God. I often think of giving thanks as an “offensive strategy” for living. It falls under the Biblical story of the Three Young Men. Confronted with the wicked kings threatening fire, they affirmed that “Our God is able to deliver us.” But noted that if He did not deliver them, “Nevertheless, we will not bow down to your image.” Our giving thanks always, at all times, is a loud, existential “Nevertheless!” that echoes through the universe.

  8. So, is that part of what is meant by “Resist not evil but overcome evil with good?”

  9. Father,
    Beautifully put. Thanksgiving always reaps in love and thus shares in its qualities — patience, long suffering and kind, etc. It is the means by which we acquire the Holy Spirit. I daresay it pretty well defines the blessed eternal state.

  10. Michael,
    a “technique” that can be of some help “when much of the existential reality of one’s life makes it difficult to live” and to give thanks in the midst of seeing “people we love being hurt” is the patristic notion of “constant remembrance of death”.
    This all powerful remembrance and firm eschatologicall view of everything can acquire such strength that it becomes the next closest thing to the complete transformation only bestowed through God’s Uncreated Light…
    The (on the face of it) ‘otherwordly’ constant vigilance it bestows, is not otherworldly at all, as it makes sense of the senselessness and futility of this world in the most paradoxical way.
    It is closely related to: “Now is the son of man glorified and God is glorified in him”, and takes its true power from His Cross.

  11. I don’t want to be philosophical, but I think it is appropriate to thank God any time for anything. He is presently holding together everything he created out of nothing. His energy is present — it is the very grounding of everything we may see, hear, taste, touch or smell.

    It is not his fault that we have sinned and suffer the consequences individually and together. That’s all mixed up. We bear one another. So pointing fingers is useless and withholding thanks is pointless. He deserves thanks for every opportunity we have, even opportunities wracked with pain and sorrow when comfort and peace for ourselves or those we love don’t seem to exist.

    We have in Christ a perfect companion for pain and sorrow because he knows and understands us and will redeem it all for us. Because God himself is for us, our enemies can only watch on if we thank him through everything.

    We can grieve and thank. We can eat and thank. We can sing and thank. We can suffer and thank. Praise be to god that nothing can separate us from his love in Christ.

  12. This post (& the comments) are so good and true.

    It feels easier to give thanks when things are as I want them to be – but if that is all I do, am I loving God or just myself?

    When Christ was in agony in the garden or when the nails were being driven into his hands and feet, do we imagine that he was complaining to the Father? Certainly not.

    Christ’s continued thankfulness through physical pain, emotional abandonment and massive betrayal ultimately rendered sin and death powerless over him. Without it, I do not think resurrection would not have been possible.

    If I learn to give thanks at all times, even when suffering, I am truly living in union with Christ. However, this is not something I accomplish; it is where he leads and what he teaches me when I agree to follow.

    (I am writing the thoughts that come to me as I reflect on this post – which is not the same as living it. But I am thankful, Fr. Stephen, for your words help me see where I need to go.)

  13. Mary,

    Suffering is never an end in itself — the chief goal of which is the perfecting of the saints. The glorified wounds of Christ like the uncreated light are without boundaries (“uncontainable”) — they are literally the means by which our union with God, and each other is established.

    May God continue to bless all!

  14. Dino, remembrance of death and indeed the whole thanksgiving for everything can just as easily lead to a fatalistic apathy as to enlightenment; an estrangement from bearing one another’s burdens in community as God inspired service.

    I am a contrarian so I can’t help but think of Sts. Demetrios and Nestor, especially St Demetrios and his reputation for being rather aggressive in protecting those he loved.

    There is a place for fighting in the more normal sense of the word. Otherwise we might as well be Gnostics. It may be a small place, a limited place but a real place nonetheless where a warrior can with a full heart without rancor or hatred take to the physical battlements knowing it is a good day to die but not easily.

    Darkness comes in many forms and some are physical and must be met with physical force. That way is fraught with danger especially in these times but I think it is wrong to rule it out.

    My son has a deep, strong protective nature. He has told me many times he would rather die than standby while someone else came to harm.

  15. Michael,
    of course – if one’s motives are love that “crucifies itself and not the other” then there is space for such a reaction. The person who is aflame with the ‘eschatological’ orientation (in a similar way to what we witness in St Ignatius for instance) will have the discernment to choose the right action far more than one that is not immersed in that knowledge [Hebrews 13:14]

  16. Yes Dino you are right. The remembrance of death is a temporary measure helpful as a recollection of the “hammering” of the logismoi. Death (man’s) is trampled by “Death” (God’s … not an elephant’s). The offering must be acceptable to God (not man).

  17. A Church that is not Pascha shaped is only a repository for unremitted sins (cf. Matt 23:27).

  18. Dino, as Father Alexander F.C. Webster wrote in his book: “The Pacifist Option” (a worthy read). The refusal to act can also be a problem.

    Motives are never pure. There is darkness and sin in everything we do with the possible exception of the greatest of saints.

    My son is willing to put himself (body and soul) at great risk to protect others and to confront evil. That has always scared me, but it something intrinsic to him.

    His willingness to risk brought another young man to the Church who was about as far away from her as one can get. It took my son over 9 years. For a considerable part of that time he was walking on the edge of the abyss himself spiritually and physically.

    At one point Jesus was merciful to me and showed me in a dream that He was looking after my son.

    If the worst happens and we are faced with physical persecution, my son will not go peacefully.

    I for one have difficulty saying that his motives are such that he would be shut out of the kingdom.

  19. Not being ‘shut out of the Kingdom’ is one thing, -and it certainly sounds to me more than plausible in the case you describe. (Your Son does sound a bit like St Peter)
    Following the perfection of Christ is another though. (The perfection of the Cross) Ultimately, there is no meaning in existence without it. However, there are obviously numerous ways to approach Him, all are valid within His providence.

    In fact, we see both ‘reactions’ in Christ, (notwithstanding the need for our motives to be as aligned to His as -with His Grace- they possibly can).
    I am thinking of the incident in the Temple in John 2 : 16 of course.

    Allow me to expound on something else though: I am uncomfortable with the secular terminology of ‘pacifism’ (passive) describing the fervent desire of martyrdom (active) (as we see in St Ignatius for instance which is what I generally have in mind). There is more ‘zeal’, more ‘fire’ more ‘joy’ in martyrdom than in any other route to perfection. That is why there is no Apostle (even including the ‘exception’ of St. John who eventually died peacefully) who was not a great martyr…
    ‘Pacifism’ passing for martyrdom is like using the expression ‘something went pop’, for ‘there was a nuclear explosion!’.

    Coming back to what you expressed, I do fully understand and agree with what you are saying about ‘motives are never pure’, (with the “possible exception of the greatest of saints”), but isn’t that all the more need to -in the very least- never lose sight of the guiding star of Christ’s (and his Saints’) perfection?
    ‘Motive-wise’, isn’t that perfect Love the only thing that is never abolished? that never disappears [1 Corinthians 13:9]?, even after all reasoning, speculation, dogma, scripture, prophesy is abolished it is the love that does not consider the self[Revelation 12:11] that will remain forever, as the Orthodox dogmatise about the interTrinitarian communion.
    This reminds me what a
    true comfort it is in Orthodoxy to know that for the Fathers of the Church, the authority of the Church does not coincide with either the Bible or the Ecumenical Councils, but with the experience of the perfected ones, perfected through illumination and deification – the Prophets, Apostles and Fathers, those who were perfected in the Theosis of the Uncreated Light-, (and ‘expressed’ the Bible and the Ecumenical Councils). The foundation of Patristic perception of “authority” is that empirical verification, instead of uncontrolled reasoning and reflection of those who have not experienced that stage of perfection.
    It is therefore a great joy to direct ourselves and others to that perfection, while also knowing that we are not ‘shut out’ when we fall short. However, we also know that we all fall short and we therfore never justify anything short of perfection as if it was fine/perfect.

  20. Yes and my son seeks to purify his heart. St. Peter. I never thought of him. I can see it though. Gregory of Nyssa is his saint.

    All: please pray for my wife some unknown ailment with fever and unremitting intestinal cleansing.

  21. Pacifest is not a good word you are right — the English word ‘peacemaker’ is quite active but I believe the Greek is even more so.

    Martyrdom is the nuclear option but as T.S. Eliot said in his play “murder in the Cathedral: “To do the right deed for the wrong reason is surely the greatest treason”.

  22. I was reading D.B. Hart’s new book today and came across a few choice words: “The gratuity of all things”.

    For those who know whence “the gratuity of all things” comes it’s natural to stop discourse and just give thanks.

    from “The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss”.

  23. Michael Bauman,
    I find it is noteworthy that, if we adhere to the ‘ascending order’ of the Beatitudes (as per the patristic understanding), the “highest” is martyrdom, and the one before is peacemaking, in order they are:
    1) the poor in spirit
    2) those who mourn
    3) the meek
    4) those who hunger/thirst after righteousness
    5) the merciful
    6) the pure in heart
    7) the peacemakers
    8) those who are persecuted
    (and when when people “insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you” because of Christ)

  24. In hesychastic stillness, the Church fathers were able to understand why people persecuted Christ. Like the elephant with generational memory, fallen man does not possess the noetic faculty of distinguishing between echoes that come within himself and the song of the Agape spirit.

    It is at this point that the Lord sometimes uses the “megaphone” of illness, purely as a salvific “instrument” and out of love.

    St Maximos differentiates between two kinds of pain:

    “…where pain in the soul results from pleasure in the senses. This pain associated with indulgence of the passions was introduced by Adam through the fall. The other kind of suffering which brings about the healing of this syndrome is a pain in the senses which is associated with pleasure in the soul. This is the suffering which is associated with the pursuit of virtue and which was introduced into the world through the incarnation of Christ.

    (Source: The Philokalia: Exploring the Classic Text of Orthodox Spirituality. Edited by Brock Bingaman, Bradley Nassif p.236)

    I hope this helps…

    In Christ.

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