Author’s note: Although we have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), we will continue this series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!
We will begin this conversation where we often end other ones: with gratitude. We teach our children to say “thank you,” but gratitude is much more than remembering to say these words after receiving a gift or eating a meal! True gratitude is a lifestyle. Fr. Thomas Hopko, in his book The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality, says, “The spiritual person is the one who is grateful for everything. He is the one who receives everything with thanksgiving, and who knows that he has nothing except what he has received from God.”
St. Nikolai Velimirovich agrees, and elaborates in his Prologue from Ochrid: “For as long as you are on earth, consider yourself a guest in the Household of Christ. If you are at the table, it is He who treats you. If you breathe air, it is His air you breathe. If you bathe, it is in His water you are bathing. If you are traveling, it is over His land that you are traveling. If you are amassing goods, it is His goods you are amassing. If you are squandering, it is His goods that you are squandering. If you are powerful, it is by His permission that you are strong. If you are in the company of men, you and the others are His guests. If you are out in nature, you are in His garden. If you are alone, He is present. If you set out or turn anywhere, He sees you. If you do anything, He remembers. He is the most considerate Householder by Whom you were ever hosted. Be careful then toward Him. In a good household, the guest is required to behave. These are all simple words but they convey to you a great truth. All the saints knew this truth and they governed their lives by it. That is why the Eternal Householder rewarded them with eternal life in heaven and glory on earth.” This type of mindset – really remembering that everything, EVERYTHING, is God’s and we are simply His guests, staying in His home and borrowing His linens – completely changes our possessive assumptions and multiplies our gratitude.
Fr. Hopko continues his discussion on gratitude by pointing out that from the time of the Old Testament, thanksgiving has been central to life for the people of God. In the Old Testament times, sacrifices of thanksgiving were offered in the temple, and the Psalms sang thanks to God. This attitude continued in the New Testament times! The word “eucharist” means thanksgiving, so from that time to this day, our worship centers around being grateful: we lift up our hearts and give thanks to the Lord!
Fr. Hopko points out that the Scriptures and the lives of the saints are full of thanksgiving to God, not just for the “good” things, but for everything! The saints have shown their complete trust in God’s provision and care. They have modeled gratitude for us in their deeds and words. St. John Chrysostom reminds us that even things that may look bad to us can be used to bring spiritual growth and salvation by God’s grace! (And he did not just say this. He lived it. He was in the process of being exiled in old age when he died, and yet his last words were, “Glory to God for all things!”)
Fr. Hopko states that the opposite of gratitude is bitterness and complaining. If we are proud and covetous, we will complain about our life. Complaining shows that we are lacking a humble trust in God, and thereby we do not thank Him for everything! When we trust Him absolutely, we will be at peace.
Fr. Hopko closes his chapter on gratitude with this statement: “A person is grateful to the extent that he trusts in the Lord and has love for God and man.”
Read more of Fr. Thomas Hopko’s wise words about the virtues, as written in his book, here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues
Here are some scriptures about gratitude, how children benefit from living a life of gratitude, and a few ideas of ways to help our students learn about this virtue:
Scriptures related to gratitude (let your class read them, let each student select one to artistically copy/decorate, and/or assign each verse to a small group of students who work together to dramatically present their verse to the rest of the class):
And from His fullness have we all received, grace upon grace (Jn 1.16).
Sing praises to the Lord, O you His saints, and give thanks to His Holy Name.
Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving. Let us enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name!
It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to Thy Name, O Most High; to declare Thy steadfast love in the morning, and Thy faithfulness by night.
O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is gracious, for His mercy endures forever! (Pss 30.4, 95.2, 92.1, 107.1).
Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting; but instead let there be thanksgiving . . . always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father (Eph 5.4, 20).
Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thess 5.16–18).
Rejoice always in the Lord; again I say, Rejoice! Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4.4–7).
“…researchers are now turning their attention to how gratitude can better the lives of children, too. They’re finding that the experience of high levels of gratitude in the adolescent years can set a child up to thrive.” Read about some of the research and findings in this excellent article: https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-raise-more-grateful-children-1519398748
“Children who learn gratitude become more sensitive to the feelings of others. As gratitude becomes a way of life, empathy takes root and weeds out selfishness as grateful kids look outside themselves to the wide world beyond.” Read more here: http://www.shelivesfree.com/2014/03/raising-grateful-kids-in-an-entitled-world.html
Share this practical article (seven things parents can do to raise grateful children) with the parents of your students, after studying gratitude as a class: https://thehumbledhomemaker.com/raise-grateful-kids/
Need some ideas of ways to walk in gratitude? Check out this blog post:
“…a study conducted by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, reveals that cultivating gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25 percent… other studies have shown that kids who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and family.” Read more about why it is important to cultivate gratitude in our children, as well as 11 practical ways to do so, in this article: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrea-reiser/11-tips-for-instilling-true-gratitude-in-your-kids_b_4708019.html
Here is a very simple-to-prepare object lesson on gratitude. All you need is a box full of old/recyclable items and some imaginative thought! https://www.futureflyingsaucers.com/thankfulness-in-a-box/
Consider sharing a story (or two!) with your class to help them think about gratitude and thankfulness. These sites offer ideas of books that could be useful:
Find a variety of ideas of ways to teach gratitude, leveled by the children’s ages, here: https://www.today.com/news/get-grateful-20-ways-teach-kids-gratitude-tots-teens-1D80297963
Gratitude craft idea:
Use recycled jars to create “gratitude jars.” Invite each student to create their own “gratitude jar” label on cardstock. Use packing tape to affix the label to a jar. Fill the jar with gratitude discussion starters on slips of paper (a few examples can be found here: https://creativefamilyfun.net/gratitude-conversation-starters/ or here: https://modernparentsmessykids.com/free-printable-thanksgiving-gratitude-conversation-starters-2/, and your students can write their own on slips of paper). Or send a stack of small sticky-note paper with each student so they can write one thing they’re thankful for each day on a sticky note, fold it together so that the sticky side seals it shut, and add it to the jar. At the end of a month (or a year!), they can open each note to once again be grateful for all of those things!
Find a few gratitude-themed activities at this page. They are geared to Thanksgiving, but most of them could be used anytime you are teaching about the virtue of gratitude! http://www.dvo.com/newsletter/monthly/2012/november/funtimes.html
If your students have cell phones with cameras, or if you can round up enough digital cameras, divide the class into a few small groups, give each group a camera, and send them on a gratitude scavenger hunt. This activity (https://lets-get-together.com/2014/10/18/gratitude-photo-scavenger-hunt/) will help each participant to take a moment and realize how much is right around them that they are grateful for! (Note: if you take them outside to do this, round up a few teen or parent volunteers beforehand so that each group has an older supervisor.) You could also give this as a “homework” assignment at the end of a class discussion on gratitude. If you do it this way, invite the students to send you the pictures that they take, and you can compile the pictures into a presentation to share with the class or with your parish!
With older students, discuss the Akathist of Thanksgiving (https://www.stnicholasdc.org/files/Prayers/Akathist-of-Thanksgiving.pdf). Challenge them each to write a verse of their own.