This month we celebrate one of the great American holidays: Thanksgiving. We remember our Pilgrim forbearers who had endured an extremely harsh New England winter. Many of their family members died of cold and starvation. Yet some were preserved: a remnant of the colony survived. After a toiling spring and summer of growing crops and building houses so that they could survive another winter, they paused for a great celebratory meal, to give thanks to God for preserving them.
The description of this meal – who was invited, what they ate, and how they celebrated – has become the subject of lore. We know little about that experience. However we can still see the noble impulse that caused it: A recognition that all things good come from God, that we are sustained by Him, and that even in the midst of great turmoil He is there with us providing for us. This is the meaning of “thanksgiving.”
There is another thanksgiving meal, the true thanksgiving meal, which occurs more frequently than the national holiday. It is the Mystical Supper, the Divine Liturgy. “Eucharist” means exactly this; it is the Greek word for thanksgiving (“Evharistia”). How is the Divine Liturgy a thanksgiving meal? Think of the Pilgrims, or of the ancient Israelites. They grew crops which they knew were given to them by God. Then they in turn offered these gifts as a way of giving thanks to God.
We receive from God the gifts of grapes, wheat, water, and yeast. From these we produce the wine and bread which are offered. (“Prosphora” means “the things which are brought forward.”) At the Anaphora, the “bringing up,” we lift these gifts toward God, Who mystically changes them into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. We then receive His Gifts, consume them, and give thanks to God.
Our action – of giving thanks to God for His Body and Blood – is not complete until we go forth and do good works, imitating Christ. Thus at the end of the Liturgy we are called to “depart in peace” “in the Name of the Lord.”
Thanksgiving is a fundamental aspect of the Christian life. In fact, it is an essential statement of reality: All things come from God. If this is true, then we should unceasingly thank Him for the multitude of gifts we receive – many of which escape our notice.
Unfortunately, while we can recognize intellectually that everything comes from God, in our daily lives we often forget this. Instead we settle into two false realities. The first is that we take for granted the things which God has given us. We just assume they will continue to happen, as though they have no source, no cause. In this category are things like: our breath, another day of life, our health, our jobs, our families and loved ones, our continued material prosperity, etc. The second false reality is that we often give ourselves the credit for our accomplishments and successes. We fail to look deeper into the cause of these good things: Who made me smart or capable or talented so that I can accomplish this?
Both of these states – taking things for granted or giving ourselves credit – are forms of delusion. They are not reality. We did not self-create ourselves. We were made by God with our own unique set of characteristics. Anything we do is as a result of what God has given us. Furthermore, we have no control over when our life began or when it ends. Nothing is a given, an expectation, or an assumption. God sustains us each moment of each day.
The Psalmist describes the proper view toward everything we do: “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” (Psalm 127:1) How foreign this way of thinking is to our modern view! Yet this is reality. Anything else is delusion.
Let us learn to thank God for everything, great and small. Furthermore let us give thanks for all things good or bad, following the example of St. John Chrysostom (whom we commemorate on November 13). When St. John had been exiled from Constantinople and stripped of his patriarchal office, his final words as he was dying of exhaustion and sickness were, “Glory to God for all things.” Glory to God!
In Christ’s Love,
Father Matthew Swehla
See also: Thanksgiving In All Things ~Webmaster