On Thankfulness - A Homily on the Cleansing of the Ten Lepers (2022)

On Thankfulness - A Homily on the Cleansing of the Ten Lepers (2022) - Holy Cross Monastery



Man is a twofold being composed of body and soul, both of which have their corresponding passions and virtues.  Bodily virtues, such as self-control, fasting, the acceptance of hunger and thirst, are considered tools for cultivating the virtues of the soul. The virtues of the soul consist of courage, moral judgment, self-restraint, and justice, which, in turn, give birth to many other secondary virtues (ie. faith, hope, love, prayer, humility, gentleness, etc.). The importance of knowing the various virtues and acquiring them, writes St. John of Damascus, is that because through these we become more like God and in turn they enable us to enter into communion with him.[1]

According to St. Maximos the Confessor, the saints are spiritually vivified by union with Christ,… and they become living images of Christ, rather they become one with him through grace...

The life that the saints live is the life of Christ, writes Archimandrite Maximos Constas. This is why the imitation of Christ has a distinctively ascetic dimension, famously expressed by St Paul, who said: ‘I am crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’ (Gal. 2:20; cf. Lk. 9:23; Mt. 10:38), an identification that enabled the apostle to exhort others to: ‘Imitate me, just as I imitate Christ’ (1 Cor. 11:1). Through the voluntary crucifixion of asceticism, the identity of the… saint is taken up into the greater identity of the crucified Christ.[2]

Some of us are weak, others are strong; some are sickly, and others in full health; some are old, and some are young. Therefore when the body is strong, asceticism and all other hardships are indispensable and extremely beneficial, but when the body is weak, it is holy humility and thanksgiving which suffice for everything.[3]


The Gospel passage we have just heard is relatively straightforward, limited in its details, with a seeming obvious intention.

The Lord was on His way to Jerusalem through Samaria and Galilee, and before entering the town He was approached by ten lepers, who, standing a distance apart from him, pleaded with Him to have mercy on them. He answered their plea by instructing them to go and show themselves to a priest, and as they were on their way, all were healed of their leprosy. One of the lepers, a Samaritan, after realizing he was healed, turned around and returned to Christ and thanked Him. Jesus addressed him, asking where the others were, and directly said to this man that it was his faith that made him whole.

In its simplicity, even a child could tell us that the purpose of this account is the importance of thankfulness to God, but what is the importance of thankfulness? Why be thankful? Is it only a matter of politeness or good manners or a sign of a well-bred individual? Perhaps we think there is a social code that is important to keep, which amounts to my being upset if you do not thank me for something I have done for you. Even if these questions are worthy of consideration, the point in question is much deeper and has further-reaching effects.

The Israelites lack of thankfulness

There are many examples throughout the Old Testament, wherein the Lord mourns Israel’s lack of thankfulness despite His continued goodness and longsuffering towards them. An excellent example is found in the book of Ezekiel and begins with:

On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised.

The author continues by saying how God had been a mother to such an outcast people. Today, however, let us look at another example which we hear on Holy Friday during the Service of the Twelve Gospels:

Thus says the Lord to the Jews: O My people, what have I done unto thee? Or wherein have I wearied thee? I gave light to thy blind and cleansed thy lepers, I raised up the man who lay upon his bed. O my people, what have I done unto thee, and how hast thou repaid me? Instead of manna thou hast given Me gall, instead of water vinegar; instead of loving Me, thou hast nailed Me to the Cross. I can endure no more. I shall call My Gentiles and they shall glorify Me with the Father and the Spirit; and I shall bestow on them eternal life.[4]

General thankfulness

Here, we should note the beginning of our answer to the purpose of thankfulness. God has bestowed every gift upon the Israelites, but they chose not to remember them and therein chose not to thank God for His goodness and ultimately repaid Him evil for good.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (cf. 1 Cor. 4.7); whether it be intelligence, or a spiritual father, or a friend, or a spouse, or a child, or health or the sun to shine on our face, rain to nourish our crops, gas to power our generators, the gift of prayer through which we can come before our Creator when in plenty or in want; what do we have that we did not receive? Moreover, it is no help for someone else to tell us what we should or could be thankful for if we cannot or do not do so for ourselves.

Thankfulness leads us to union with God and unthankfulness will lead to forgetfulness, contempt and exclusion from the presence of God. For if God spared not the natural branches, writes the Apostle Paul speaking of the Israelites, take heed lest he also not spare us, Gentiles who are grafted into God’s tree of life (cf. Romans 11.21).

Recognizing the presence of God in the mundane

It is a common response that when one is asked how their day is that you often hear a reflection of the supposed, humdrum, mundane, tediousness, of the present day with: “Another day, another dollar.” However, the Prophet Jeremiah writes that God’s mercies are new every day for great is his faithfulness towards us (cf. Lam. 3.22). From a Christian perspective, each day is not the same as the previous with no hope for anything different or anything better. No, instead, every day is new. Every day is a new beginning, or do we think that God cannot break into this day, to grant us His grace, to help us to pray, to help us overcome our weaknesses, to help us get along with others, to help us love our neighbor, to help us love Him? Or do we lack the faith that God will make Himself known to us each day, to make His reality present to us, that He will not hear and not answer our prayers? Or do we forget the times that he has and neglect the simple pleasure of being at peace and praying to God?

Elder Pavlos of Sinai (of blessed memory) said that through illness many people find Christ, but, he says, the opposite is also true: It is not only through sorrows that one finds God, but through great joy as well, even if less often.[5]

St. Symeon the New Theologian says that our lack of recognizing the little ways in which God is with us each day, combined with our lack of faith that this will change, results in our lack of thankfulness and, therefore, is the reason why we deserve greater punishments. He writes,

This is our purpose, for this we were created and brought forth: that after having received lesser blessings in this world we may through our thankfulness to God and our love for Him enjoy great and eternal blessings in the life to come. But, alas, far from having any concern for the blessings in store, we are even unthankful for those at hand, and we are like the demons, or – if truth be told – even worse. Thus we deserve greater punishment than they, for we have been given greater blessings.[6]

Unthankfulness, indifference, ignorance of God’s continued blessings towards us not only engenders God’s wrath towards us but damages our own soul because we were created to be in communion with God of which thankfulness is a part of that communion, that keeps God’s blessings in mind and affect how we live in Him and with Him.

What is thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is a virtue that links us to our Creator and Savior, Jesus Christ. When we are weak and unable to engage in ascetic acts, thankfulness combined with humility suffices for everything, says St. John Damascene, as we noted at the beginning. Thanksgiving and love towards God procure the great blessings of God for us each day and eternally, says St. Symeon. What is more, in our contemporary time, St. Paisios of the Holy Mountain notes the importance of thankfulness as he defines the Greek word philotimo (φιλότιμο), a word which characterizes the life of godly people, which he describes as “the reverend distillation of goodness, the love shown by humble people, from which every trace of Self has been filtered out. Their hearts are full of thankfulness towards God, and to their fellow man, and out of spiritual delicacy (sensitivity), they try to repay the slightest good which others do them.”[7]

Thankfulness is not first and foremost a matter of politeness, good manners, or a social convention, but a spiritual act by which we commune with God and through which God also communicates with us. To not be thankful is characteristic of those who are already condemned. As the Apostle Paul writes: although “they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor were thankful and their foolish heart was darkened” (cf. Rom. 1.21).

On being thankful

So how are I to do this? How do I become thankful when I am not? The answer - we become humble through acts of humility; we become loving by acts of love, and we become thankful through acts of thanksgiving.

“But I’m not thankful,” someone may say, and maybe, by doing “acts,” I’m only fooling others, or even trying to fool myself. “No,” actually, it’s about learning to be thankful, not about fooling ourselves or others into thinking we are someone that we are not. It’s about imitating Christ as best we can.


This is where we are to begin. If we are one of the nine lepers who did not return to give thanks, this is where we need to start because the grace of God has revealed His goodness to us. We need to respond. Even if we do not feel thankful, by acts of thankfulness, the change of heart will come through the grace of God.

If we are one of the unthankful lepers, St. John Cassian observes that when the one leper returns to Christ, Christ asks, “Where are the other nine?” and St. John comments, “the Lord, asking for the other nine and praising the one, showed that he exercises an unceasing concern even with regard to those who are unmindful of his kind deeds. For this very thing is the benefit of his visitation – that it both receives and approves the grateful and seeks out and reproves the ungrateful.”[8]

May each one of us come to Christ in thankfulness, and recognize that we have received all things from Him. As the Lord told the leper that his faith had made him whole, so our faith will be shown through our thankfulness, and by His grace, we will commune with Him and be made whole.



[1] “On the Virtues and the Vices” in Philokalia, trans. G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware. (Faber and Faber: London, 1984)2:334-335.

[2] V. Rev. Archimandrite Maximos Constas, “Saints and Elders of Mt. Athos” @ https://www.academia.edu/69834726/Saints_and_Elders_of_Mt_Athos, last accessed on 12/17/2022.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Antiphon Twelve, TONE EIGHT, cf. The Lenten Triodion, trans. Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware (South Canaan: St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 2002), 583.

[5] Archbishop Damianos of Sinai, “Why is St. Catherine so Beloved” @ http://www.mountsinaimonastery.org/news-blog/why-is-st-catherine-so-beloved, last accessed on 12/18/2022.

[6] St. Symeon the Theologian, “On Faith” in Philokalia, trans. G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware. (Faber and Faber: London, 1984)4:21.

[7] Athonite Fathers and Athonite Matters (Souroti: The Holy Convent of John the Theologian, 1993), 20, footnote 7.

[8] “Third Conference” in The Conferences. Trans. Boniface Ramsey (New York: Paulist Press, 1997), 137.

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