November 26, 2020 – On this Thanksgiving Day, I wanted to take the time to remind people about the true meaning of thanksgiving and maybe to provide a little history lesson as well. So many of us don’t always feel grateful for the things we should. Often, when we are going through struggles, disappointments or frustration, we are not feeling thankful; it’s difficult to feel gratitude during those times. But when things are going really good in our lives, we fail to take the time to stop and thank God for His blessings. Yet, when things do not go our way, we rush to condemn God and ask Him why He would let this happen to us. This reflects all too well our sinful and fallen nature that gratitude doesn’t come naturally to us. We have to work conscientiously on it, struggling to remember to be always grateful and thank the Lord for our blessings.
Gratitude is connected, I believe to repentance. When we repent for our sins, we remember that we all fall short of the glory of God, that we are all sinners and thus we remember to be grateful for the many blessings God has gifted even to sinners such as us in His infinite mercy.
A Little History
It has been said the history of Thanksgiving began when Pilgrims and Native Americans gathered together to celebrate a successful harvest. The first Thanksgiving was held in the fall of 1621 and was a three-day feast. The Pilgrims were joined by approximately 90 of the local Wampanoag tribe, including Chief Massasoit, in celebration. They ate fowl and deer for certain and most likely also ate berries, fish, clams, plums, and boiled pumpkin. Though the current holiday of Thanksgiving was based on the 1621 feast, it did not immediately become an annual celebration or holiday. Sporadic days of Thanksgiving followed, usually declared locally to give thanks for a specific event such as the end of a drought, victory in a specific battle, or after a harvest. It wasn’t until October 1777 that all 13 colonies celebrated a day of Thanksgiving. The very first national day of Thanksgiving was held in 1789, when President George Washington proclaimed Thursday, November 26 to be ‘a day of public thanksgiving and prayer,’ to especially give thanks for the opportunity to form a new nation and the establishment of a new constitution. Yet even after a national day of Thanksgiving was declared in 1789, Thanksgiving was not an annual celebration. – Fr. Timothy Pavlatos
Father Pavlatos of St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church wrote a “A True Thanksgiving” back in 2012 to remind us of our history and where this holiday comes from. He begins by talking about the earliest historical references to a feast by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe to celebrate a good harvest. This feast was a celebration, but not yet a national holiday. George Washington then proclaimed November 26th to be a national day of public thanksgiving and prayer. It wasn’t until President Abraham Lincoln, in the midst of the civil war, wrote a proclamation declaring Thanksgiving Day a national holiday to be observed.
Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation
On October 3, 1863 in Washington, D.C. President Lincoln issued the following proclamation regarding the need for a national day of thanksgiving and giving praise to the Lord for our blessings. He also ties in the need for us to repent for our sins and ungrateful behavior.
The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart, which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.
In the midst of a civil war unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict, while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well as the iron and coal as of our precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore.
Excerpted from an article about the History of Thanksgiving, our population has steadily increased notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the imposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union. In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed. – President Abraham Lincoln
It is clear that in the midst of this cruel and horrid civil war between brothers President Lincoln wanted to remind everyone of our common heritage and be uniting in its message to all Americans. Sadly, following Lincoln, modern Presidents like Franklin Delano Roosevelt decided to denigrate this national holiday, and he attempted to change the date of it. Then the moneylenders and greedy businessmen turned it into a time for “shopping” by declaring the day after Thanksgiving “black Friday.” This of course reduces the meaning of what was supposed to be a time of contemplation, prayer, repentance and gratitude into a secular day of commercial consumerism.
Focusing On Our Blessings
Interestingly, the word Eucharist comes from the Greek “eucharistia” – which literally translates as “thanksgiving.” This is a reminder that to the Christian, everyday should be a celebration of thanksgiving.
St. George Orthodox Church reminds us of the importance of having always an “attitude of gratitude,” they write of the story about Jesus and the ten (10) lepers:
‘Where are the nine?…Where are the nine?’ This is what Jesus says (v.17) after He heals the ten lepers in today’s Gospel from the Twelfth Sunday of Luke (17:12-19). He says this because only one of the ten returned to Jesus, glorified Him and gave Him thanks (v.15-16). And that one leper was not even a Jew, He was a Samaritan (v.16), a foreigner (v.18). Now some people today might say Jesus should have been nicer and thanked the one leper for returning to Him instead of focusing on the nine who did not. But Jesus did not do this. ‘Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?’ (v.17) He says, and further emphasizes the point by adding, ‘Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?’ (v.18).
The lesson of course is the importance of thanksgiving, being thankful, having an attitude of gratitude. Jesus Himself sets the example when He feeds the 5,000 in the wilderness. And He took the seven loaves and the fish and gave thanks, broke them and gave them to His disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitude. (Matthew 15:36; Mark 8:6; John 6:11). This event was a prefiguring of the Eucharistic/Last Supper when Jesus did the same thing, And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. (Matthew 26:26-27; Mark 14:3). The word Eucharist comes from the Greek ‘eucharistia’ which means ‘thanksgiving.’ Thus, what’s the most profound way we say ‘thanks’ to God? It is by humbly preparing for, the receiving of, and responding to the reception of the Body and Blood of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, many of us do not prepare properly, do not receive frequently, and do not respond appropriately to the receiving of Holy Communion. ‘Where are the nine?!’
Jesus is not the first person to give thanks to God. He comes in a long line of faithful figures from the Old Testament who were blessed and healed by God and remembered to give Him thanks. King David, the author of the Psalms, started many of them with an expression of thanksgiving. The Church lifts up the Book of Psalms for us as our official prayerbook. And King David shows us the importance of giving thanks to God before asking anything of Him in prayer. Long before King David, after God led the Israelites out of Egypt, He gave them the Law through Moses. And in that Law were instructions for how to worship God. And part of that worship was sacrifices and some were offerings of thanksgiving to God. God made us, He knows how we work and He knows that by being thankful, we work better. Even modern research studies show that people of faith are more thankful and that those who are thankful are more happy and generous.
However, because we live in a fallen world in which are humanity is corrupted by sin, thanksgiving does not come naturally. It is not automatic. It is, like many good, holy and righteous things—a habit—a way of thinking and behaving that must be cultivated and exercised in order to flourish and grow. Instead of cultivating thanks, we often to the exact opposite by wining and complaining. How many of us even bother to take the time to count our blessings? And if we do not, how will we know how blessed we truly are. And if we don’t think we are blessed then we’ll always walk around with a sense of entitlement, like somebody always owes us something. – St. George Orthodox Church
This attitude of entitlement spoken of by St. George Church is so prevalent today among the youth. Having been starved of prayer and God’s word that used to be taught in our schools, they are spiritually blind and are like lost sheep, wandering around about the fall off a cliff. They lack respect for their elders, and most have never stepped foot in a church. Let us say a prayer for our youth today that they may find Christ and be saved. They are truly our future, and we pray they become grateful and wise to the ways of the enemy. Finally, let us recall the wise words of the apostle St. Paul in his second epistle to the Thessalonians on Thanksgiving and Prayer.
The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Thessalonians
1:1 Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: 1:2 Grace unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
1:3 We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth; 1:4 So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure: 1:5 Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer: 1:6 Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; 1:7 And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, 1:8 In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: 1:9 Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; 1:10 When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.
1:11 Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power: 1:12 That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
2:1 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, 2:2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.
2:3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; 2:4 Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.
2:5 Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? 2:6 And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.
2:7 For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.
2:8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: 2:9 Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, 2:10 And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
2:11 And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: 2:12 That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
2:13 But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: 2:14 Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2:15 Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.
2:16 Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, 2:17 Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.
3:1 Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you: 3:2 And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith.
3:3 But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil.
3:4 And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we command you.
3:5 And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ.
3:6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.
3:7 For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; 3:8 Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: 3:9 Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.
3:10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.
3:11 For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.
3:12 Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.
3:13 But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing.
3:14 And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.
3:15 Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
3:16 Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace always by all means. The Lord be with you all.
3:17 The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write.
3:18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving, full of prayer, good food and good company!