Christ and Paul regularly thanked God.
The four Gospels frequently depict Jesus giving thanks at meal times. Paul often gave thanks, especially for members of congregations under his guidance (see Ephesians 1:16, Colossians 1:3, 1 Thessalonians 1:2 and 1 Thessalonians 3:9).
He also commanded them to give thanks themselves (Ephesians 5:20, Philippians 4:6 and Colossians 3:17).
According to the Book of Revelation, the inhabitants of heaven will render thanks to God forever. Post-biblical Christians carried on this tradition.
For instance, around A.D. 125, the Athenian philosopher, Aristides, recorded that Christians thanked God every morning and every hour for God’s lovingkindness and daily food.
Christians also rendered thanks when a child was born to them and when one of their children died “as for one who has passed through the world without sins.”
They similarly rejoiced and gave thanks when a Christian died, knowing he or she has escaped to heaven from this wicked and troubled world.
Even before Aristides, in the first century, when some apostles were still active, the church at Rome wrote to the congregation at Corinth that all Christians ought to give thanks and glory to God because He made and fashioned us, gives us bountiful gifts, starting before we are born, and many other blessings (1 Clement 38.3f).
In eastern Syria about a century later, the Christian Tatian wrote that we should thank God whenever cured from an illness, even when the cure was assisted by drugs.
In Italy about Tatian’s era, Ptolemy discussed the relationship between the Law of Moses and that of Christ.
He wrote that Christians are to continue sacrifices to God, not of animals or incense but by gifts of glory, praise and thanksgiving and by helping their neighbors.
The thank-offerings of the Old Testament have been replaced by the oral thanks of Christians.
Clement of Alexandria was dean of the world’s foremost Christian school in the A.D. 190s. In refuting a heresy, he wrote that these particular heretics should nevertheless give God thanks for the gospel (Stromata 3:3).
Clement wrote that the role of model Christians is to render thanks and request the conversion of their neighbors (Stromata 7:7).
A more general reason is: “though God needs nothing let us render to Him the grateful recompense of a thankful heart and of piety, as a kind of house-rent for our dwelling here below.” (Protrepticus 11)
Clement’s student, Origen, reiterated Christ’s thanksgivings for foods, as does 1 Timothy 4:4. According to Origen, we give appropriate thanks by contemplating the beauty of the world and participating in it.
Hebrews 13:15 instructs Bible readers to sacrifice to God by “the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name,” as did Ptolemy three-quarters of a century later.
Clement of Alexandria advised that Christians should give thanks for the material world “with all gratitude and a sense of exaltation beyond it” (Stromata 3:14).
Most comprehensive was bishop Ignatius of Antioch in Syria: “Take heed, then, often to come together to give thanks to God and show forth His praise. For when ye assemble frequently in the same place, the powers of Satan are destroyed” (Letter to the Ephesians 13:1).
The Holy Scriptures link thanksgiving with prayer, as witnessed by the example of Jesus in the Gospels and Saint Paul in Ephesians 1:16, Philippians 4:6, Colossians 1:3, 1 Thessalonians 1:2, and 1 Timothy 2:1, the last of which exhorts that “supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks be made for all men.”
According to Hippolytus, “a great thanksgiving” is to accompany the 3 p.m. prayer every day (Apostolic Tradition 36:5). Hippolytus was a bishop in central Italy who in A.D. 217 compiled a directory of existing church practice as it had been handed down from the apostles.
He recorded that other thanksgivings were included in the noon and 3 p.m. prayers (Apostolic Tradition 36:2,5).
Clement of Alexandria would have us also thank God just before going to bed for the good things we received (Paedagogus 2:10).
As noted earlier, Ignatius recommended that Christians render thanks whenever they gather together, which should be “often” and “frequently.”
Jesus rendered thanks before every meal; Aristides’ Christians did it hourly at least.
Hebrews 13:15 instructs “let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.”
David W.T. Brattston is a retired lawyer residing in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada. A longer version of this article first appeared in Malankara Deepam, an annual publication of the Malankara Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church in North America. It is used with the author’s permission.