Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

Gratitude: Theology and Doctrine

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"We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you" (Colossians 1:3). A thankful heart belongs to God. Communication with God consists of a set of connected tender interactions. Giving thanks is not contingent upon the petition being granted, but rather, thanksgiving is a fundamental principle that complements prayer and supplication. "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God" (Philippians 4:6). Thanksgiving is a companion of prayer and supplication regardless of the outcome and evinces a sure confidence in God that His will be done. The petitioner is endowed with peace and serenity by the assurance that the end result is in God's hands. Non-believers are confounded by this remarkable characteristic of "giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 5:20). Whether in gladness or in sorrows, gratitude is in the heart and on the lips of true Christians. By giving thanks in all circumstances, every predicament sheds its detriment at the feet of the Lord. St. Paul encourages the believers to persevere by a deliberate trio of stances—always, ceaselessly, and in everything. "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

The Church uses the word Eucharist, meaning "thanksgiving," because our Lord Jesus Christ offered Himself as the only acceptable Sacrifice. This Holy Mystery is the ultimate demonstration of love and the highest form of ransom and redemption offered by the sacred body and blood of Christ the Lord. "And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me" (Luke 22:19). Giving "thanks," and offering "praise," are sometimes interchanged in various translations of the Holy Scripture. Thus, praising and thanking God are spiritually equivalent in worship. Though God neither needs our gratitude nor our praise, it pleases Him that we engage Him in this form of dialogue because it is a relational context of love between a Father and His children. When the Lord healed ten lepers, but only the Samaritan returned, prostrated before Him, and thanked Him, He asked the whereabouts of the others that were healed (Cf. Luke 17:11-19). "Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?" (Luke 17:18). Thus, thanksgiving is giving glory to God, our Father.

The Church teaches us to pray the Lord's Prayer throughout the day, beginning with these words, "Make us worthy to pray thankfully, Our Father..." Every service in the Coptic Orthodox Church begins with the Thanksgiving Prayer. The Prayers of the Hours (Agpeya) include numerous psalms giving thanks to the Lord. In the opening prayer recited while kneeling down in worship and in the First Absolution at the end of the Prime Prayer (First Hour), we thank God for allowing us to pass through the night in peace. The Morning Gloria ascribes thanksgiving to God in a series of devotional glorifications. The Third Hour Absolution thanks our compassionate God who comforts us with the Holy Spirit in the hour in which He poured the grace of His Holy Spirit upon His saintly disciples and apostles. The Sixth Hour Absolution thanks Almighty God, our King, for making the times of the passions of our Lord Jesus Christ to be a time of prayer and comfort. Psalm 99 in the Ninth Hour says, "Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him, praise His name."1 The Blessing Gospel is read during this hour commemorating the Lord's compassion when He fed the multitude (Luke 9:10-17). The Sunset Prayer (Eleventh Hour) Absolution thanks our compassionate God and King for granting to pass through the day in peace until the evening. We pray, "Graciously Accord, O Lord," in Compline (Twelfth Hour), and say, "It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises unto Your name, O most high." Psalm 118 (1) in the First Watch of the Midnight Prayer declares, "I will give thanks to You, O Lord, with uprightness of my heart,"2 and in 118 (VIII), "At midnight, I usually arise, to give thanks to You for the judgments of Your righteousness."3 The Holy Gospel readings in the Midnight Watches remind us of the kingdom of God that awaits us through preparedness (First Watch—Matthew 25:1-13), forgiveness (Second Watch—Luke 7:36-50), and watchfulness (Third Watch—Luke 12:32-46). Thus, we are thankful throughout the day and night.

The stipulation of gratitude encompasses every aspect of life, every condition, and in whatever condition. The Apostle Paul states: "And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him" (Colossians 3:17). The Lord Christ demonstrated gratitude in His prayers by first thanking God, and thus, revealed the importance of thankfulness as a means of communication with God. "At that time Jesus answered and said, ‘I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes'" (Matthew 11:25; Luke 10:21). The Lord and Creator of the universe illustrated the significance of giving thanks before performing miracles as when He fed the five thousand. "And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted" (John 6:11). Again, He resounded the same method when He fed the four thousand, "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).

God expects that we offer one another heartfelt gratitude. Often, we are remiss in conveying appreciation toward each other. Gratitude is basic Christian ethics. Being supportive of each other and thankful for each one's gifts and talents are a common theme amongst Christian teachings, fellowship, and discipleship. We ought to build each other up by expressing gratitude, even for the smallest effort. Count all these as blessings and do not take anything or anyone for granted. We can learn from St. Paul who conveyed gratitude for the people, their increasing faith, and their love for one another. "We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other" (2 Thessalonians 1:3). Refusing or neglecting to express genuine gratitude for any and every effort is arrogance. Humility is the mother of all virtues and gratitude is a byproduct of humility. Gratitude is a gift from the heart. Therefore, broaden your heart and offer it generously.

God bless you.

Bishop Youssef
Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

1 Psalm 100 in the New King James Version
2 Psalm 119 [ Aleph -1 in Hebrew] in the New King James Version
3 Psalm 119 [ Heth -8 in Hebrew] in the New King James Version

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