The Act of Giving Thanks as a Way of Life

cathedral1The act of giving thanks is among the most fundamental acts of love. It lies at the very heart of worship – in which, in the words of Archimandrite Zacharias, there is an exchange. In giving thanks we make an offering which itself is always inferior to what we have received – but which is itself an enlargement of the human heart. To live rightly in the presence and communion of God is to live in a state of constant thanksgiving. For from Him we receive all that we have – our life and existence, all good things, the hope of redemption, and the joy of communion. The offering of thanksgiving is the acknowledgement within our heart that we ourselves are not the author of any of these things, but are rather the recipients – those who receive gifts from God.

The offering of our heart in the giving of thanks is itself an act of joy and of love. It is a moving away from ourselves as the center of our existence and the recognition that our true life is centered elsewhere – in Christ Himself.

We are also the recipients of many things from others around us. No one is self-sufficient. There is no such thing as a “self-made” man. The offering of thanks is a matter of living in our right mind – the failure to give thanks, an act of insanity (unwholeness).

With all of these things in mind, the teaching of Scripture to “give thanks always for all things” becomes yet clearer. We offer thanks not “from time to time,” or “whenever we feel grateful,” but always and for all things. Such an offering is itself an act of communion, a receiving of the love of God through gratefully acknowledging His gifts. To refuse to give thanks is, for the same reason, a rupture in our communion with God.

The Holy Eucharist (eucharist=”thanksgiving”) is thus not simply a sacrament which is celebrated in the Church on an occasional or even regular basis – but a description and revelation of the truth of our life. We were created to live “eucharistically,” always giving thanks to God.

It seems to me no coincidence that St. John Chrysostom, the author of the most common Eucharistic prayer in the Orthodox Church, offered his last words as a Eucharistic offering. Exiled to the very edge of the empire by an ungrateful Emperor, St. John’s last words were, “Glory to God for all things.”


About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





10 responses to “The Act of Giving Thanks as a Way of Life”

  1. Michael Avatar

    Another wonderful post Father Stephen!

  2. Victor Avatar

    Thank you Father,
    I’m going to a Moleben of thanksgiving this morning so it was nice to wake up to this! I especially appreciated what you said about the heart being enlarged through thanksgiving. It reminded me of Psalm 119:32 “I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart.” Can you speak to the relationship between obedience and thanksgiving? I have the sense that thanksgiving is a concrete action, not an emotion which we are to conjure up through sheer force of will or by imagining happy feelings. To be sure we must apply our will, but it seems to me that obedient action both leads to and flows from the enlarged heart of thanksgiving. It is a much lighter yoke and easier burden than wandering about in the world of passion-based emotions trying to “feel” thankful.
    Thank you Father

  3. luciasclay Avatar

    The deeper meaning of your blog title emerges. 🙂

  4. Ian Avatar

    Thank you Father.

  5. Margaret Avatar

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen! This is something I need to be reminded of constantly and encouraged to do constantly! (And I thank God for Fr. Stephen and his family!)

  6. Stephen W Avatar
    Stephen W

    Fr. Stephen, Very nice post. I have a few questions and thoughts about thanksgiving (not the holiday). First, thanksgiving and praise seems to be a crucial point in our relationship to God and our existence in general, since we were created as Eucharistic beings. Every human being has been given the gift of life and the chance to obtain to the image and likeness of God. This all seems great in a theological discussion but the reality of the situation seems to be that there is a great chasm between believing this to be true with our minds and acting with thanksgiving in our hearts, knowing that God will somehow work out all things to His glory. Many are even able to see that God loves all mankind but can not fully understand the methods used and therefore find it hard to be thankful. For some it may be easy to do this. All temptations do not seem to be created equal. A person may be born into poverty, abused, neglected, rejected and have no sense of God or His love, if they have any concept at all. The concept of praise and thanksgiving would be far from their mind. Another person may be given everything, highly educated and still reject the idea of giving thanks to God. We could argue that the person, to whom much was given, failed to see themselves in the proper relation to God and the person who was given little didn’t even know that a relationship to God was desirable or even possible. How do we thank God for all things even when we don’t not fully grasp or understand this gift of life that we have been given or what purpose it serves? No one has asked for this “Gift” and many would gladly return it if they could. I am not stating here that I am one of these people but as a social worker, I see much poverty and cycles of seemingly impossible pain. Many seem to perpetuate learned behaviors – including poverty- and they find themselves somewhat comfortable, even when presented with a way out (this could be an analogy of all of our lives in relation to Christ). The road, however, does seem dark and grim for some. Do you have any thoughts on these questions and comments? I have been thinking about these things for awhile now. Sorry for the length of these thoughts!

  7. fatherstephen Avatar

    Interestingly, I have been re-reading the Brothers Karamazov, and just last night read the chapter “rebellion” in which Ivan does not argue against God’s existence, but against a world in which the innocent suffer. “I refuse the ticket,” he says.

    The problem is as you well stated. For myself, I think that the mystery of evil is such that many people are simply victims, must be prayed for, must be helped as we can – but cannot be judged. We live in the midst of a terrible battle in which many show no sign of the victory that is complete in Christ. Unlike Ivan, I do not refuse the ticket. I believe that the mystery of Christ is found particularly in His solidarity with human suffering and death – by which we are healed. He trampled down death by death.

    I would also observe that though many appear only as victims (while others do not) we are all in the same existential/ontological position – in Hades awaiting our deliverance. Some have learned to sing the Lord’s song from within this furnace – and others have not yet. For the time being, he have to sing on behalf of others who do not.

    That’s probably not an answer – but a witness.

  8. Karen C Avatar
    Karen C

    “I would also observe that though many appear only as victims (while others do not) we are all in the same existential/ontological position – in Hades awaiting our deliverance. Some have learned to sing the Lord’s song from within this furnace – and others have not yet. For the time being, he have to sing on behalf of others who do not.”

    I love the beauty of this truth. Thank you, Father.

  9. Stephen W Avatar
    Stephen W

    Thank you Fr. Stephen, this is very helpful. I meet many people that seem to hold this view, that Ivan does, of God. They may call themselves Atheists but seem to be angry towards christians and God in general. I might ask how can one be so angry at something that does not exist? To their defence I might add that many Christian have set forth a fairly twisted view of God and they are only products of that culture. I think you are right by answering as -“a witness”.
    I have realized over time that most people who are suferring are not really looking for rational answers, but for a witness. They are looking for someone to share their pain and identify with that pain. Christ as we know did this and we as Christians can not help anyone until we are at least willing to identify with the pain of others. I will certainly keep trying to pray for and identify with those around me. I hope I am on the right track?

  10. fatherstephen Avatar

    It’s the only track I know.

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