Today Americans (and friends of Americans) celebrate what is probably the most religious national holiday in the United States. Tradition has it that the first immigrants, whom we call “pilgrims” for their religious relationship to their new home, were helped by the Native Americans to survive. As they shared the harvest of their labors on this fruitful land, they gave thanks to the Lord, for all He had given them, and for life itself. When hunger, cold, and sickness threaten us but we nevertheless we survive and carry on, we have to know God has helped us once more.
The Israelites of the Old Testament gave us a precedent for offering thanksgiving to the Lord whenever they were saved from troubles, and also as a constant part of their life. There is the foreshadowing of the Eucharist, which means “giving thanks”, in Leviticus (7:12): If he offer it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the sacrifice of thanksgiving unleavened cakes mingled with oil, and unleavened wafers anointed with oil, and cakes mingled with oil… And an indication of the voluntary nature of our thanksgiving: And when ye will offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving unto the Lord, offer it at your own will (Lev 22:29). King David the Psalmist continually strummed his gratitude to the Most High: That I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all thy wondrous works (Ps 26:7). Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High… (Ps 50:14). I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving (Ps 69:30). Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms (Ps 95:2). Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name (Ps 100:4). And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with rejoicing (Ps 107:22). I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord (Ps 116:17). Sing unto the Lord with thanksgiving; sing praise upon the harp unto our God…(Ps 147:7).
Isaiah foretold to us the good things of the Lord to come, and the thankfulness of those who will inhabit them: For the Lord shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody (Is 51:3).
And after the coming of our Lord, the Apostle Paul also calls us to abide in state of thanksgiving: For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God (2 Cor 4:15). Being enriched in every thing to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God (2 Cor 9:11). For the administration of this service not only supplieth the want of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God (2 Cor 9:12). Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God (Philip 4:6). Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving (Col 2:7).
We can see from the words of St. Paul that our lack of want, even our abundance goes hand in hand with our thanksgiving, our giving glory to God for everything. God will provide, but we must always remember to give thanks for what He has provided.
Thankfulness to God is expressed again and again in our prayer life. We begin our day with the morning prayers, in which we say, “As I rise from sleep I thank Thee, O Holy Trinity, for through Thy great goodness and patience Thou wast not angered with me, an idler and sinner, nor hast Thou destroyed me in my sins, but hast shown Thy usual love for men, and when I was prostrate in despair, Thou hast raised me to keep the morning watch and glorify Thy power…” After we take our meals, we say: “We thank Thee O Christ our God, that Thou hast satisfied us with Thine earthly gifts…” And before we lie down to sleep, having supplicated the Lord in our evening prayers for forgiveness of our sins, we give thanks to Almighty God for granting us during the past day, by His grace, His gifts of life and health.
And when we attend Divine Liturgy we make a magnificent, ultimate prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord. Some parishes in the United States have a tradition of celebrating the Liturgy on Thanksgiving Day, or at least of gathering for a moleben of Thanksgiving. Although this day is traditionally observed as a family holiday, the parish may hold a Thanksgiving dinner for its “family in Christ”. But even if there is no opportunity to attend services on this day, we can always lift up our hearts in prayer before the festive family meal, and say this Orthodox prayer of thanksgiving:
Orthodox Prayer of Thanksgiving
O Lord my Savior and my Master, I, Thine unprofitable servant, with fear and trembling give thanks unto Thy loving goodness for all Thy benefits which Thou hast poured so abundantly upon me, Thy servant. I fall down in adoration before Thee and offer Thee, O God, my praises; with fervor I cry to Thee:
O God, deliver me from all adversities and mercifully fulfill in me such of my desires as may be expedient for me. Hear me, I entreat Thee, and have mercy, for Thou art the Hope of all the ends of the earth, and unto Thee, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, be ascribed glory, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
I praise Thee, O God of our Fathers, I hymn Thee, I bless Thee, I give thanks unto thee for Thy great and tender mercy. To Thee I flee, O merciful and mighty God. Shine into my heart with the True Sun of Thy righteousness.
Enlighten my mind and keep all my senses, that henceforth I may walk uprightly and keep Thy commandments, and may finally attain unto eternal life, even to Thee, Who art the source of life, and be admitted to the glorious fruition of Thine inaccessible Light; for Thou art my God, and unto Thee, O Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be ascribed glory, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.1
Today is a special day for Americans, but it also provides us with a wonderful opportunity to remind Orthodox Christians around the world to give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endureth forever.