On this day we gather together with our loved-ones and break bread to give thanks. Many times we are reminded that the Thanksgiving Holiday was instituted by President Abraham Lincoln during the latter stages of the American Civil War.
If we place ourselves back in that day, in the midst of the horrors of war – a war in which brother fought against brother, fathers fought against sons, countless families were divided – it is much easier for us to recognize the true solemnity of the President’s proclamation. This proclamation was heart felt and was a plea to the nation tattered and bloodied by war and struggle.
Lincoln issued his proclamation on Oct. 3, 1863, three months after Union Army victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, and at a time in which ultimate triumph appeared in sight. In his proclamation, President Lincoln wrote that the nation’s many blessings should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged” by the American people. President Lincoln declared:
I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning 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 <sp>dwelleth in the heavens.
So it seems that first Thanksgiving was a day of deep reflection and praise to our “beneficent Father Who dwells in the heavens”.
As Orthodox Christians, we daily give thanks – in our morning prayers, in our prayers before we eat, and in our evening prayers – giving thanks to our Lord for all things and in accordance to His Goodness and Will.
For the Orthodox Christian, Thanksgiving is a holiday celebrated every week and may even be celebrated many times during the week. Today the turkey is often the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal. However, there is a far more glorious “Thanksgiving” meal Christians have been eating for 2000 years, and it doesn’t include turkey. Throughout Church history, the practice of “giving thanks (The EUCHARIST)” has been closely connected with our remembrance of Christ’s death and resurrection:
Let us read from the Didache, a “user’s manual” for the early Christian community, composed between the 1st and 2nd centuries:
Chapter 9.—The Thanksgiving (Eucharist)
1. Now concerning the Thanksgiving (Eucharist), thus give thanks. 2. First, concerning the cup: We thank you, our Father, for the holy vine of David Your servant, which You made known to us through Jesus Your Servant; to You be the glory for ever. 3. And concerning the broken bread: We thank You, our Father, for the life and knowledge which You made known to us through Jesus Your Servant; to You be the glory for ever. 4. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Your kingdom; for Yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever. 5. But let no one eat or drink of your Thanksgiving (Eucharist), but they who have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, Give not that which is holy to the dogs. Matthew 7:6
Beloved, let everyday be a time of thanksgiving when we lift up our praises to God. We thank Him for the gift of salvation, because the body of Jesus was broken for our healing, and His blood was spilled for the forgiveness of our sins.
That is why we celebrate the Eucharist every week. As the Church has always done, we come together in the presence of God, participating in Christ as He feeds us with His own body and blood. We love thanksgiving so much that once a year isn’t enough for us!
O God of wonders, the giver of every good, come and dwell in us that we may praise Thee and give thanks to Thee forever!