When most people think about Thanksgiving, they imagine many things, from crisp, colorful leaves and cornucopias to roasted turkey and freshly baked pumpkin pie. They celebrate the pilgrims’ coming to this country. We may be hard-pressed to think of a more “American” holiday than this one. Orthodox Christians recognize Thanksgiving as well, but a little differently than most other Americans. To us, it doesn’t just last one day. We celebrate it every day of our lives.
Thanksgiving defines our Faith
In Holy Orthodoxy, we should give thanks every day, not just once a year. This, in effect, makes every day Thanksgiving Day for us. In the Vespers service, we hear in Psalm 104: “I will sing praises to my God while I have my being”. Likewise, during Orthros/Matins, during the Praises we sing, “Let every breath praise the Lord”. We even make this declaration during the Divine Liturgy itself: “It is meet and right to hymn You, to bless You, to praise You, to give thanks to You, and to worship You in every place of Your dominion” (from the Anaphora). Praise and thanksgiving is what we do. It defines who we are.
Our ability to transcend our base instincts and truly come to know God, is what separates us from every other creature God made. As human beings, we were made in His image and given minds capable of thought, reflection, and growth. Our Lord provided us a way to participate in perfect union with Him. We are the only creatures God created that are both physical and spiritual in nature. As such we can go beyond the physical world in which we live and rise up to God. It is our ability to worship, to devote ourselves to God and love Him as He loves us, that makes us precious in His sight.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t thank God as often as we should. Thus, the Orthodox Church reminds us constantly to do so through our divine services. Thanksgiving literally defines our Faith. That is why the Sacrament of Sacraments is called the Eucharist — from the Greek eucharistia, or thanksgiving.
Why should we thank God?
On Thanksgiving Day, Orthodox Christians have a unique opportunity to show the rest of America what this holiday – Holy Day – is all about. Those who fled religious persecution and landed here understood why this Holy Day was so special. They celebrated their safe arrival. They gave thanks to God for all the bountiful gifts with which He blessed them. And so, we should all do the same.
This is a day to reflect on the things for which we are grateful. And then take time in prayer to thank God for those things. But why should we thank Him?
Because the life He gave us is sacred. Above all things God has given us, the chief among those is life itself. He created us in His image and likeness. God gave us the breath of life; He is the source of our being and the reason for our existence. In His love, Almighty God created us to commune with Him, and now we can have that kind of life with Him in the Church. So perhaps the better question is: why shouldn’t we thank Him, for our very life and all the blessings within it?
As you gather together with your families and friends this Thanksgiving Day, as you worship in the presence of our God, remember to give thanks. In Him we have life that is sacred, abundant, and eternal. And for those lives we should be eternally grateful.