Christian Gratitude: A Fundamental Hallmark of Orthodox Spirituality


The text of this article, translated from the Greek, is taken from an address by Father Cyprian, a brother of the Holy Monastery of Sts. Cyprian and Justina in Fili, Greece, and Secretary of the Holy Synod in Resistance. It was delivered on October 4, 1999, at the convocation held annually at the Novotel Convention Center, in downtown Athens, to honor the Name Day of Metropolitan Cyprian of Oropos and Fili.

My heart is inundated with sincere joy at this moment, because, by the Grace of Christ our Savior, I am fulfilling an obedience which, although very difficult, is at the same time very gratifying. The great difficulty in question concerns my many inadequacies, of which you have assuredly always been well aware; and I ask your forgiveness for these. However, the great delight involved derives from the fact that this evening, at our annual Eucharisteria [Thanksgiving], we are celebrating the twentieth anniversary of your Episcopacy.
This anniversary is very important for our monastic Brotherhood, for your wider flock, and for our Church; it is an anniversary which prompts us to undertake an historical retrospective of two decades filled with accomplishments for the glory of God. Such an anniversary is, naturally, a source of special joy and gladness for your spiritual children.
Now, every happy anniversary is directly bound up with gratitude; that is, it reminds us of, and underscores, our debt of gratitude and thanksgiving both to our Lord and to the people whom His philanthropic right hand has used as instruments for His glory, for our sanctification, and, in general, for the progress of His salvific work.
I hope, therefore, our Most Reverend Metropolitan, that you will allow me, rather than mentioning those historic stages in your twenty years as a Hierarch that portray your contribution to the Church, to focus my attention, instead, on the topic of gratitude.

Let me take this opportunity to proclaim with a loud voice, from this podium, that we are most deeply grateful to you, since, among many other things, you have taught us, and continue to teach us, in word and deed, that very gratitude which is the predominant component of your personality. Hence, let my address this evening, which centers on gratitude, be viewed as a spiritual repayment to Your Eminence for your untiring toils, during twenty continuous years, for our edification and consolation. I invoke the protection and strengthening of our Lady Theotokos and our Holy Patrons, Saints Cyprian and Justina, that, by your prayers, I might expound on this subject.
I shall, at the onset of my address, pose a crucial question: Is gratitude really a matter of concern in our crisis-ridden era? Unfortunately, this question is raised not only by worldly people, but also by pious Christians, who not only do not practice gratitude in their lives, but who neither reflect on it nor perceive its absence as a serious deficit. This constitutes, in the fullest sense of the term, a very grave sin. How, indeed, is it possible for Christians, who are deemed worthy of the greatest gift—that is, of being members of the Body of Christ — to be unaware that gratitude is the fundamental hallmark of Orthodox spirituality and an indispensable element of our Christian identity?
We observe with profound distress that this ignorance concerning gratitude constitutes yet another proof of the corruption which the Orthodox ecclesiastical ethos has undergone, owing to the influence of a worldly mentality. Such a mentality leads man, a rational creature fashioned according to the image of God, into behavior that is more irrational than that of irrational animals. Is this characterization perhaps exaggerated? I shall let a Patristic text provide us with the answer. This text relates a very charming, moving, and instructive event, which speaks for itself and introduces us to the important issue of gratitude.
A hyena, having a blind whelp, took it in her mouth and delivered it to St. Makarios of Alexandria. She pushed open the hatch of his dwelling with her head, went inside, and threw her whelp at his feet. St. Makarios picked it up and ascertained that it was blind. He spat on its eyes and prayed; the whelp then immediately opened its eyes. After suckling it, its mother took it and departed.
On the following day, the hyena brought St. Makarios the hide of a large sheep. The Saint looked at it and said to her: Where did you find this? You must have eaten a sheep. And so, since it is the result of an injustice, I will not accept it from you. The hyena then bowed her head, knelt, and left the hide at the Saints feet.
The Saint said to her: I tell you, I will not accept it, unless you swear to me that you will never again cause distress to poor folk by eating their sheep. At this, she nodded her head, as if to agree with St.  Makarios. The Saint then accepted the hide which the hyena had [in gratitude] brought him.

Let us now attempt to approach, as succinctly as possible, the theological foundations of gratitude as an indispensable hallmark of human nature. Orthodox Tradition teaches us that man is a eucharistic being, that is, a rational creature who exists in an unceasing communion of love (agape) with his Creator and is oriented towards Him with an insatiable disposition of gratitude, thanksgiving, and doxology. Man has this innate capacity for love and thanksgiving because he is fashioned according to the image and likeness of God; it is precisely for this reason that he bears the seal of gratitude indelibly within himself. God freely created man out of His exceeding goodness, in order that man might participate in Divine Goodness; and the Lord created beneficently so that His creatures, the recipients of this beneficence, might gratefully commune with Him, offer thanksgiving and glory to Him, and thus become partakers of Divine glory. The desire to glorify God, says St. Basil the Great, is by nature implanted in all rational creatures. St. John of Damascus, in a summary of Patristic teaching on this subject, makes these telling remarks:
Since, therefore, God, Who is good, and preëminently good, was not satisfied with contemplation of Himself, but in His exceeding goodness willed that certain things should come into existence which would enjoy His benefits and participate in His goodness, He brought all things, both invisible and visible, out of non-being into being and created them—including man, who is a compound of the visible and the invisible.
In connection with this, it should be firmly emphasized that we become fully aware of this loving, grateful, and eucharistic nature of man in the sacred Mystery of Divine Communion. What takes place here? In this Divine Mystagogy, we have a foretaste of the eschatological glory of Deified human nature in the sanctified atmosphere of thanksgiving and doxology to God; in the Liturgy, there is revealed to us the fulfillment of the Kingdom of Heaven—that is, the communion of God with His rational creatures in the glorified Body and Blood of the God-Man, Christ the Savior—and we experience this fulfillment in our lives.
Mans gratitude to his Creator reaches its highest point in this supernatural Mystery, because his fallen nature receives the most sublime gift of re-creation, renewal, and Deification in Christ, as St. Symeon the New Theologian writes with profound lyricism:
Therefore, in partaking of Thy Flesh, I partake of Thy Nature, and I truly participate in Thine Essence, becoming a communicant and also an heir of Thy Divinity in the body, greater than the Bodiless Powers, I reckon, and I become a son of God, as Thou didst say, not to the Angels, but to us, thus calling us gods: I said: Ye are gods, and all of you the sons of the Most High.
Therefore, the supernatural and all-holy Mystery of Divine Communion is, in truth, the Mystery of Gratitude. For this reason, as St. John Chrysostomos marvelously puts it,
the dread Mysteries, full of such great salvation, which are celebrated at every Liturgy, are also called a Thanksgiving [Eucharistia] because they are the remembrance of many benefits, and they signify the culmination of God's Providence towards us, and in every way cause us to be thankful to Him.
From this perspective, that is, of man's nature as a eucharistic being, we can now understand very clearly the persistence of the Holy Fathers in exhorting us to be unceasing practitioners of gratitude. This is the will of God, St. John Chrysostomos pithily assures us, that we always give thanks; this is the mark of a virtuous soul. And to the question of why this is the will of God, the same Saint responds simply and precisely: God accepts nothing so much as a grateful and thankful soul. In another place, he reiterates: Nothing so gladdens God as when one is thankful.
However, it would be very useful for us to mention also the immediate practical results of blessed gratitude, in order to dispel—apart from anything else—the mistaken idea of some, that gratitude pertains only to the contemplative life and eschatological recompense. In the first place, we should not forget the following important truth: in order to preserve a benefaction in the best way possible, we should always remember it and constantly thank God for it. For the best preservative of any benefaction, say the Saints, is the remembrance of that benefaction, and a continual thanksgiving.
Next, the immediate result of continual thanksgiving is the following: when our Lord ascertains that we respond with gratitude to His gifts, He gives us richer gifts and never ceases from doing good to us: For such is our Master, affirm the Saints, that, whenever He sees that we are grateful for what has already come our way, He bestows lavish gifts on us and never desists from doing good to us, rewarding the gratitude of those who show obedience.12 In emphasizing this idea, Abba Isaac the Syrian adds that, when he who is benefitted thanks God, it is as if he provokes His Goodness to give greater gifts than the previous ones: Gratitude on the part of one who receives provokes the Giver [God] to give greater gifts than before.
We should also keep in mind that constant remembrance of God's gifts ultimately proves to be our best instructor in the virtuous life, since it unceasingly prompts us to strive gratefully to reciprocate God's love: Remembrance of benefactions [and gratitude for them] will be a suitable instructor for us in the virtuous way of life.
I shall conclude this section on the immediate practical benefits of Grace-filled gratitude by extolling, in particular, its value for us as an invincible weapon whereby we can repel all the devices of the demons: There is nothing so good as thanksgiving... We have one weapon which is the best, and sufficient to repel all such devices as these:  in everything to give thanks to God.

End of Part I


Source: http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/gratitude.aspx

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