How often do you find yourselves being asked by your parents to say, "thank you?" Whenever you are offered a treat from a friend or an adult helps you out, you hear a voice from over your shoulder, "Now, what do you say?" Of course your parents want you to be respectful and use good manners, and this is why they teach you to say, "Thank you," but I wonder if we truly know what it means to be thankful.
Thankfulness is a state of being and a way of life for all Orthodox Christians, for you and me. A thankful spirit is a key characteristic of a Christian. It sets us apart from the world. It makes us different.
Thankfulness is more than a comparison of our own circumstances to someone else's. It is more than having enough food to eat, a nice home, good health, or financial security, because any of these can be lost in an instant. Thankfulness is being grateful to God for who we are, His sacrifice for us, and the hope and joy of everlasting life.
But how do we show our thankfulness to God?
Faith in Good Works
First, the Orthodox Christian life is a life of faith — faith in a Lord who laid His life down for our salvation. No one would deny the fact that the Christian life is one full of faith. But St. James tells us that if we have true Christian faith, it will be shown in our good works. He writes, "What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself (James 2:14,17)." He is telling us that if you have faith in Christ, and your life is locked into that faith, then your faith will naturally lead you to do good works.
The proof of your faith is in good works. Can the proof be found in your life? Again St. James says, "But prove yourselves doers of the word and not just hearers who delude themselves" (James 1:22). Too often we join the people who hear but fail to produce the works that would make us doers. By doing the good works that Jesus taught us to do, we show by our actions that our faith is real. The proof of thanksgiving in the Christian Life is Faith that produces good works.
Love Equals Sacrifice
But it doesn't just stop here. The Christian Life is a life of Love. Love not in just words but in action, and love in action is Sacrifice. Love is sacrifice. St. John tells us "We know love by this that He laid down His life for us (1 John: 3)." We must sacrifice our will for the will of Christ, just as He sacrificed His will for the will of the Father.
Many of you might be involved in sports and many of your games might take place on a Sunday morning. What do you? Do you continue to participate in a league that causes a conflict between you and your faith that holds Sunday morning as a time dedicated to the sacred worship? A faith that offers the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in Holy Communion for all the faithful to receive Him and become one with Him.
Which will you choose? If you sacrifice your participation in this league that plays on Sunday mornings, it is a real way of showing that you put God first. It shows that Christ is so important in your life that you want to show it by offering thanksgiving and worship to Him at Sunday Divine Liturgy.
We have already said that Works are the proof of Faith, and Sacrifice shows our Love. But there is one more aspect of our thankfulness to Christ that we need to think about.
Discipleship/Apostles for Christ
What does it mean to be a disciple? We know the original 12 Disciples followed Jesus, and traveled with Him during His ministry. They lived with Him and ate with Him, took on His ways, His teachings, His values, and His character. Not only that, but they also became apostles by teaching the faith to others, helping others to know Jesus.
They were true followers, true disciples of Jesus. We as Orthodox Christians in the 21st Century are also disciples by living as He taught us. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, "If you abide in my word you are my disciples indeed (John 8:31)." Jesus was saying that if you are trying to live your life the way I have taught you, then you are my follower. You can truly be called a Christian.
If you love the way He has told you to love — by SACRIFICE — then you are part of Him and the proof of your thankfulness is clear. If you try to walk in Faith, do His Works, and are obedient to His will, the proof of your thankfulness is clear.
A tree branch stays alive and bears fruit only because it is attached to and draws nourishment from the tree. We are the branches and Jesus is the tree. We draw nourishment through Him.
Being thankful to God is not just an idea. Often we say things but there is no substance behind it. Today we talked about real ways of showing our thanks to God - not just in words but in the way we offer our lives to God:
- Faith leads us to do works of charity, help those in need, offering our time and talents;
- Love encourages us to sacrifice our lives and be obedient to the will of God, so that our will is the same as the will of God; and
- Living a Christ-centered life and walking in His ways, as His disciples and apostles did, bring us to the very center of our Faith.
May the mercy and love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ be with all of you. Amen!!
Chris Avramopoulos is currently the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the Metropolis of Chicago. A '92 graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison and a '98 graduate of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, he worked as a Pastoral Assistant/Youth Director for the parish of SS. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church, Palos Hills, IL for 5 years. He has been working in the field of youth ministry for over 12 years.