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Towards a Theological Approach to Thanksgiving

November 29, 2023
Analysis by Theodore Kalmoukos

The Thanksgiving Day we celebrated last week it is rightly considered the most genuinely American celebration on the calendar of our great country. It is a day of remembrance, recalling the profoundly religious act of the pioneering immigrants who, sweaty and weary from their journey, hungry and without water, lifted their hearts and hands in a stance of a prayer of gratitude to the benevolent God for the food sent to them, which was like “mana from heaven.”

Since then, this day has been established to be celebrated even by those indifferent to Faith. It is as if today the inhabitants of the United States, perhaps unknowingly, acquire their essential identity and form, becoming “thankful and doxological beings.” I do not believe there is a better and higher identity for a person than to be in a constant state of gratitude and doxology to God – “always and for all things” – as everything comes from God and returns to Him.

Allow me to make one more observation: Thanksgiving Day resonates very much with the teaching of our Orthodox Church, which is generally characterized by thanksgiving, as the entire life and structure of our Church revolves around and is revealed through the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, the Church acquires its “other form,” the eucharistic and loving form, and is charismatically called to become “of the same body and the same blood the of Christ, (σύσσωμοι και σύνναιμοι Χριστώ)”  – borrowing the felicitous expression of Saint Nicholas Kavasilas.

Through participation in the Eucharist, a person becomes ‘divinized’, as it is the blood of the God-Man (Θεάνθρωπος) and Philanthropic Christ that flows everywhere, “into all members, in our joinτs, into the kidneys, into the heart.”

We have so many reasons to thank God and our Creator continually. Firstly, for the great good and miracle of life, through which we become co-creators and collaborators with Him. Also, for health, this greatest gift, which, if absent from our lives, turns life into constant torment and uninterrupted bitterness. Just think about how many fellow human beings on this Εarth at this moment cannot perform even their most basic vital functions, while we take them for granted.

Another reason for gratitude is our children, who are our invaluable treasures. Parents, siblings, relatives, friends, and colleagues – all of these are reasons for gratitude. Moreover, the fact that we are “fellow citizens with the angels and fellow citizens with God” through our baptism and admission into the State of God, namely the Church, is significant. It is not a small thing to be a member of the Body of Christ, the Church. For all these reasons and many others, it is worth making a day of thanksgiving for the visible and invisible blessings provided to us ceaselessly by the love of God.

Let us not forget that we continue to exist because God continues to love us, regardless of who we are, how we are, how sinful or virtuous we may be – and He accepts us into the Church without questions and “spiritual examinations.” After all, the Church is not a sect of pure and sinless individuals, as some misguided pietists proclaim, because those of us who are sinners, would be excluded. In this sense, the Church is “the other way” of existence through which we exist as brothers and sisters, fellow beings, and fellow travelers, as participants in the “body and blood of Christ” through the Eucharist, which is identified with the Church.


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