St Anthony of the Desert

Orthodox Christian Mission

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Fr Gabriel

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Blessing, Thanksgiving, and Saving

Blessing relates to the continuation of life. Where the rhythm of conception, birth, life, death occurs, there is the original blessing.  To be blessed is to receive good. In Hebrew tov refers to both goodness and beauty. Praise responds to goodness and beauty. Blessing is the means to maintain or guarantee the wellbeing of persons or communities; it is not a revelation so much as a process in creation.

God’s blessing is primarily upon creation. Life, the life force, and blessing all came to be regarded as holy because they have their origin in the Holy. God is the creator and the preserver of life, the source of providence. God’s blessing allows food to grow and people to prosper; the blessing preserves the Lebensraum, gives success to our endeavors, and grants shalom (wholeness, health, and peace are all indicated by this word) in the community.

The blessing in Genesis 1:28 is “be fruitful and multiply.” One’s whole life derives from God – even when nothing much seems to be happening.   We are blessed if we receive the creation as stewards. Stewardship is thankful use rather than rape or exploitation, even though we are aware that manufacture is necessary to bring some things to fulfillment. Grapes alone are a blessing, but wine extends the blessing through the work of our hands.

Saving has to do primarily with God’s action in deliverance. Family is the locus of blessing; the nation is the locus of salvation. Israel moves from saving to blessing upon entering the land (Joshua 5:2). The priest is the mediator of the blessing, whereas the prophet is the mediator of saving and judging. Kingship is supposed to be not only the focal point for the blessing that rains down upon all Israel, but also the guardian of the covenant. The roles of the three offices form a system of checks and balances.

The Saving God is the God who comes; the Blessing God is the One who is present. Blessing is a process in the creation itself and does not call for faith. Blessing is irrevocable (consider the rainbow sign). In the healthy soul blessing is internal; its external use is for the procuring of health or power or prosperity.

In Jewish practice, God is blessed for all things. Blessing and thanksgiving overlap; the Septuagint employs the same word for both actions: eulogein. It was not until the time of the Maccabees that the Jews used eucharistein, which became the common word in the N. T. for thanksgiving and from which we derive the liturgical term Eucharist.  The use of the word eucharistein stems from the work of Philo, the great Jewish scholar of Alexandria, whose work would influence not only the Jewish tradition but Christians as well (e.g. Origen and Clement). Philo used it to distinguish between thanksgiving and blessing.

The prophetic tradition in Israel claims things for God by blessing. In early Christian practice, we see a shift from blessing God for things to blessing the things themselves, which continues today. In the Didache, a very early Syrian church document, the Jewish forms of blessing are taken over but the customary themes of food, land, and people are supplanted by focus on Christ.

God’s work in both blessing and saving is reflected in the Psalms.