“Anyone capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation and eternal joy.”
-Fr. Alexander Schmemann
For my birthday, my family gave me a journal. I decided I would use this journal as my “attitude of gratitude” journal. I had a gratitude journal app on my tablet but haven’t been able to use it because the charger for my tablet broke. So I am back to the ‘old school’ way of journal and pen. I am glad to be back to this practice because I have found it’s good for me to write a short list of things I am grateful for at the end of the day. No matter how rough my day may have been there are always many things to be grateful for.
I have noticed a trend regarding gratitude: boxes of stationary sets encouraging people to write daily thank you notes to others, journals for writing down a list of daily blessings, books encouraging grateful thoughts and practices, and blog challenges asking the blogger to blog about things they are grateful about for an entire month. My thoughts have been that these things are good but there was something about it all that made me think something is missing. Finally I realized what it was. It is not enough to only say thank you. Something must change because of our gratitude. We must show our thankfulness by living differently. Listing our daily blessings can become a self-centered act if we are not careful—dwelling only on me and all the wonderful things going for me at the moment.
Then there are the times in our lives that are filled with difficulty—times when we may find it hard to find things to be grateful for. We can fall into the health and wealth trap if we are not careful. Thinking ‘if life is hard right now we must not have God’s blessing upon us.’ God’s blessing doesn’t mean everything in life is going great, as we want, and there is no sickness or struggle in our lives. Certainly we see the struggle of the Christians being persecuted and killed right now for their faith and must know God’s blessing is ultimately about eternal salvation. Our thankfulness for this must be deeper than just a list of things that make us happy at the end of the day.
Thankfulness is so essential to our spiritual lives (to our life in its entirety). Being thankful for our many blessings needs to lead us to be more mindful of the Giver of our blessings and should lead us to be giving to others who are in need. Yes, practicing daily gratitude is good just as long as we do not stop there—with our list of blessings for the day.
The word “Eucharist” is a transliteration of the Greek word eucharistia which means thanksgiving. Just like with any act of thanksgiving, our participation in the Eucharist must not be a self-centered act. Participation in the Divine Liturgy (Mass) is not about just me and Jesus. Communion with God is the ultimate goal of receiving the Eucharist but this is not done in isolation, nothing about Christianity is done in a vacuum. Communion with God is communion with the Holy Trinity—a communion of three. Communion with God also requires communion with our brethren.
In Divine Liturgy at the Kiss of Peace, the priest tell us “Let us love one another, so that with one mind we may confess” and the people respond, “The Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, one in substance and undivided.” Without unity and love with one another we cannot profess the Holy Trinity. St. Nicholas Cavasilas puts it this way: “Since brotherly love goes hand in hand with love of God, and love of God is not found without faith in the living and perfect God, the priest, as soon as he has reminded us of love, and urged us to love one another, begins the profession of faith.” Shortly following the profession of faith comes the Eucharist: the one cup which makes us the one body of Christ.
The prayer following communion says, “Having partaken of the divine, holy, pure, immortal, heavenly, life-giving, and awesome Mysteries of Christ, let us worthily give thanks to the Lord.” At the end of Divine Liturgy there are additional prayers said, Prayers of Thanksgiving for having received the Eucharist. In these prayers we give thanks and ask for God’s blessing on our lives. One prayer from St. Basil says, “I thank you, O Lord my God, for you have not rejected me a sinner, but have made me worthy to be a partaker of Your holy things….Let them be for the healing of soul and body, the repelling of every enemy, the illumination of the eyes of my heart, the peace of my spiritual powers, a faith that cannot be confused, a love that does not pretend, a wisdom that is complete, the full observance of your commandments, the receiving of Your divine grace, and the attaining of Your kingdom. Preserved for them in Your holiness, may I always remember Your grace and live not for myself alone, but for You, our Master and Benefactor…”
We see in these prayers of thanksgiving what the act of being grateful should look like. We not only give thanks to God but ask for a radical change in our lives and to “not live for myself alone.” We give thanks and then ask God to heal us and give us the grace to live our lives for Him and others.
I fight self-centeredness all the time. I can dwell on my own struggles and not consider others around me. I can dwell on the things in life that are not going as I want them to, thinking only of what I need and not of how I can serve needs of others. Our Lord’s humility and self-emptying on the cross and in the Eucharist makes me stop and see my own pride and self-centeredness. And shows me how very ungrateful I really am.
Of course, I have to make sure not to stop there and be even more self-centered by dwelling on my own sins. Practicing daily acts of gratitude, participating in the Divine Liturgy weekly, and following the acknowledgements of blessings in my life with a change of how I live can help me to overcome the self-centeredness and lead me to truly live a life of thankfulness by not living for myself alone.
Having attended a monastery for so many years I have seen the example of the monk’s lives. Their main job as monks is to be professional prayers. There daily and weekly routines center around giving thanks in prayer and in the participation in the Divine Liturgy—the ultimate act of thanksgiving to God. These acts of prayer and thanksgiving are not done for themselves alone; it is for the entire Church and world that they pray, day in and day out. Their act of thanksgiving is not a self-centered act but a life giving one for the entire body of Christ.
We may not all hold the job of being “professional prayers” but as members of the body of Christ our actions, both good and bad, have an eternal effect on the entire world. Nothing is done in isolation. We can either increase the light or diminish it. Living a life of gratitude leads to salvation, and as St. Seraphim of Sarov has said, “Save yourself and thousands around you will follow.”