A Sermon on Great Thursday. On Thankfulness

April 8/21, 2011

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!

This day speaks to us about the difference between a person who is on the path to God, and the person who is on a path away from God. What is the difference between the bodiless spirit that we call an Angel, and the bodiless spirit that we call a demon? This day tells us of a great mystery, and one of the greatest keys to human existence. This mystery and key, as well as this difference between a demon and an Angel, between a servant and an enemy of God, can be found in only one word—in the Greek, "Eucharist," in [English], "thankfulness."

The soul that is capable of gratitude to God will be saved. The soul that is incapable of gratitude to God—disregarding the life it has received from Him, disregarding all the blessings, and the trials that impart wisdom to that soul—condemns itself to the same fate as did the ungrateful spirits, the bodiless beings we call demons, condemn themselves. And the ungrateful person makes himself like the demons, and like Judas. If you listened attentively to the Vespers and Matins services on Thursday about the Gospel events for Friday, you have caught many times these words: "ungrateful Judas," "the ungrateful council of the Jews," and "ungrateful mankind."

The Eucharist is thanksgiving, a common service of thankfulness to God. We must understand this, feel it, and experience it, even if human life—from the worldly and everyday point of view—happens to be difficult and tough. It is no accident that in one of the Old Testament readings for today, we hear a conversation between Job and the Lord God. Job was a man who endured terrible trials, deprivations, and loss. God asks him: Where wast thou when I founded the earth?(Job 38:4). When did you yourself come into this life, into being from non-being? Can you imagine yourself without God's plan for you? No, you cannot. And there is nothing left for you to do other than to believe in God's love; to believe as did the Apostle Paul, that Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him (1 Cor. 2:9). And Job found Eucharist in his heart—thankfulness to God, Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, which we all will approach today, and at the center of which are the Savior's words: After the Lord had given thanks to God—thanks, that ahead of Him waited the cross, mockery, rejection, betrayal by His disciples, and suffering; thanks for what will happen with His Church in the future—after this, did he brake the bread and give it to His disciples with the cup of wine, with His Body and Blood (cf. Lk. 22:19).

In this is the essence of prayer, the essence of Christianity—of prayer, because one of the holy fathers said these remarkable words. People very often ask, "How should we pray? What is prayer? Teach us to pray." This holy father answered very simply: "To pray means to give thanks." Simple and clear. But our task is to comprehend these words spoken by a great ascetic, which came out of his ascetical experience, his wisdom, and from everything he had experienced and considered; taken from his heart, which was filled with God's grace.

Are we thankful to God? Let each one answer this in his heart. And if we answer sincerely and honestly, we will remember that our heart may be thankful to God, but it may also be indifferent; it can even be full of murmuring and ingratitude. The choice depends upon us alone. There is nothing more terrible—and we know this from our own human experience—than ingratitude.

How many parental hearts have broken when they witnessed with horror that the child they raised, loved endlessly, to whom they had given their all, but in whom they were unable to inculcate a feeling of gratitude, had no gratitude for all they have done. But you can't make them thankful.

Judas made a gesture of gratitude—an external gesture: he kissed his Teacher, but his heart was filled with evil, murmuring, hatred, and ingratitude. But the thief, whom we remember in the same chant at the services about the ungrateful Judas, suddenly admitted his whole life as he suffered on the cross and saw the Man, likewise crucified. Seeing the Lord's great humility, meekness, love, and thankfulness to God, the thief recognized in Him the Son of God, and came to know what many, many students of theology are unable to know—he recognized Him as a Man to Whom he could turn for the forgiveness of his sins; He recognized in Him, in this humble and despised, crucified King of the universe, the Son of God, and said, Remember me, O Lord, when Thou comest in Thy Kingdom. This thief suffered, but there was no murmuring in his heart against the King of the universe; there was no murmuring against the One Who allowed this suffering to happen to him, a thief.

People have different talents, but everyone is given the talent of thankfulness. Only, some bury it in the ground, while others increase it and return it to God a hundredfold. Beware of ungrateful people! If you see an ungrateful person, pray for him without judging him, for by judging him we fall into the same sin, and we are anyway so often ungrateful to God, to our loved ones, even to our closest ones, to other people known and unknown to us. But just the same, beware of ungrateful people. Parents, teach your children to be thankful. This is the most important thing that we can cultivate in them. I am not talking about external knowledge. But spiritually, you must teach your children faith and thankfulness, and everything else will be added unto them. But if you object, and consider that thankfulness should grow by itself in your child's heart, you are cruelly mistaken. The devil will not sit back with arms folded, but will begin to instill his characteristic ingratitude into the hearts of your children. You will reap the fruits of your inaction, and of the most frightful human fault—ingratitude, which will alarm and horrify you. Only after long and serious trials, when very little can be changed, your children will admit their mistakes. But as you well know, this often happens too late.

It is the same for us in our relationship to God. We will not over-moralize, for we all understand what the Lord expects from us. As one humble and meek, He says, My son, give me thy heart. Then He falls silent, and says no more. Nevertheless, He has said what he expects from man. By producing thankfulness in ourselves, we create a spiritual life in ourselves, and make ourselves sons or daughters of God; we make ourselves Christians. In approaching the holy chalice, the main thing that a Christian who has prepared himself for Communion experiences is the feeling of thankfulness to God for everything known unknown, for what we understand and for what we do not understand, that the Lord brings to pass in the world and in each one of us. In this is either our faith, or our faithlessness.

But concerning other people, it is as Archimandrite John (Krestiankin) once said: We should love people, but whether or not they love us is none of our concern. We can repeat the same thing here—we should thank all the people we meet along our life's path, but whether or not they are thankful to us, whether or not they express their thanks to us (and the heart catches this unmistakably) is also none of our concern, however painful it is to say it. We only need to take care, as Fr. John would say, that we thank them, no matter what.

I congratulate you all with Great Thursday, and with the fact that today we will all celebrate that thankfulness to God, the mystical, yet so important for temporary and eternal life of man, Eucharist—Communion of the Body and Blood of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov)
Translation by Nun Cornelia (Rees)


J Clivas4/29/2016 1:56 pm
It is God, the Holy Spirit in our neighbor that we should love. If the neighbor does not have the Holy Spirit in him
and in fact denies God, what then? Pray for him?
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