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In reading the account in Saint Luke’s Gospel, in which Christ healed ten lepers, we learn how only one leper – and a Samaritan at that – returned to Him to offer thanks: “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.” This prompted Jesus to ask out loud, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” [Luke 17:11-19]. Therefore, in addition to the healing of the ten lepers that occurred instantaneously—“And as they went they were cleansed”—and which demonstrated that Jesus was not made unclean by close proximity to these lepers; we encounter what is perhaps an even deeper meaning to this narrative: the centrality of thanksgiving in one’s relationship with God. The nine lepers who were healed, but who failed to return before Christ to praise God and offer thanksgiving for their healing, may have rejoiced in their new-found good health. But perhaps they remained in a self-absorbed preoccupation that blinded them to the real nature of their healing, and thus made that healing not as thorough, complete, and “holistic” as it was meant to be.
Perhaps we should add that in no way was Jesus being petulant, or even petty, in demanding thanksgiving from those who He had helped (unlike us when we are offended when we do not receive our “deserved” thanksgiving when we render someone a favor or good deed). To state the obvious, Jesus does not need such a response to satisfy any interior motivations or hidden agendas! The Lord’s sole concern is that His heavenly Father be glorified for His great mercy and acknowledged as the source of all that is “good.” Christ wants us to manifest our “eucharistic” nature, so often obscured by a self-generated sinfulness that leaves us “missing the mark” (the meaning of the Greek word for sin – amartia).
To be thankful (from the Greek eucharistia or thanksgiving) is a profound biblical reality and practice: “O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good….” This is just as dominant a theme in the New Testament as in the Old: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth….” This brings to mind just how thoroughly we stress the role of thanksgiving in our lives as Christians. I would stress three inter-related themes that hopefully characterize our lives and of which we are quite conscious.
1) We are “Eucharistic beings.” Created according to the image and likeness of God, we receive our lives and all that is in the world around us as a gift from our Creator. We are not self-sufficient beings, but dependent upon God for all things. We are fully human when we are eucharistic, when we offer thanksgiving to God in a spirit of humility and gratitude. Thus, it belongs to our deepest human nature—our very interior structure—to be eucharistic. A non-eucharistic person is dehumanized in the process.
2) We belong to a “Eucharistic society.” This is one more way of describing the Church. It is as members of the Body of Christ that we fulfill our role as eucharistic beings by a constant sense of thanksgiving and gratitude. The Church supports the world and is the “place” within the world in which the eucharistic dimension of our humanity is expressed on behalf of the entire world and creation: “Thine own of Thine own we offer unto Thee on behalf of all, and for all.” And that offering is made with a deep sense of thanksgiving. For within the Church we respond with faith to the ultimate Gift of God—Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. If the world fails in its vocation to be eucharistic, we continue to uphold the world precisely by being eucharistic.
3) We receive the Eucharist. Here, the term Eucharist refers to the very Body and Blood of Christ, or Holy Communion, as we also call it. The Divine Liturgy can be called the Eucharistic service of the Church, in and during which we receive the Eucharist after we thank God for the entire economy of our salvation: “And we thank Thee for this Liturgy which Thou hast deigned to accept at our hands….” Ideally, at least, we want to arrive at church for the Liturgy not with a sense of fulfilling a “religious obligation,” but imbued with a deep sense of thanksgiving before our “awesome God” Who has done everything possible to endow us with His Kingdom which is to come. Unworthy though we may be, God has made us worthy to receive the Eucharist as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet in His eternal Kingdom.
We have a common vocation as “Eucharistic beings,” that belong to a “Eucharistic society,” and who receive as a free gift of grace the Eucharist. And for this we are profoundly thankful to God!
About the Author: Father Steven Kostoff is rector of Christ the Savior-Holy Spirit Church, Cincinnati, Ohio. He is also a member of the adjunct faculty of the theology department at Xavier University in Cincinnati, where he has taught various courses on Orthodox theology.