I pulled up with my car in front of the church when my six-year-old daughter eagerly greeted me with great joy “daddy, daddy is back”. She was running toward me along the sidewalk of the parish center as I climbed half of the staircase to meet her. Without giving me a chance to reach one more step she opened up her arms and without hesitation threw herself toward me. For about five minutes she did not speak anything. I noticed her hug was getting stronger each moment.
What do we Orthodox Christians mean when we speak about joy? Is it a good feeling or an upbeat mood? Is it something like my daughter’s silent hug getting stronger each moment? Is it her thrust into my arms from six stairs up, knowing that I will catch her safely?
In the Gospel of St. John 15:11, Jesus Christ spoke to his disciples then, and is speaking to us today: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.”
The words that Christ spoke to his disciples are about his immeasurable love for us; the communion into which he invites us to have with Him, the Father and the Holy Spirit; the invitation to abide in His love and to share this love with others. If we indeed fulfill these words, we will have joy, which is not a good feeling or an upbeat mood. It is living in communion with God; it is the presence of the Holy Spirit in one’s heart and soul. It is knowing that we are in God’s arms; that we share in the love of the Holy Trinity; it is knowing that we are God’s children and that his love toward us is steadfast. The Christian joy is Jesus Christ our Savior: “then the angel said to them, Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” (Luke 2:10)
In his letter to Philippians 1:9-11, St. Paul, writes: “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” St. Paul’s words are those of prayerful heart for believers’ continued growth. For Christians it is imperative to progress in the faith. The life of an Orthodox Christian is not static, rather it is dynamic, that is, it is growing.
Most of us begin our Christian life in a cloud of joy. For some this cloud of joy continues to grow, while for others it dissipates. It is a common occurrence to go through the motions while our Faith becomes lifeless.
To change this lifeless course of one’s Faith, it is necessary to engage into the sacramental life of the Church. This change is aided by reading the Bible and the writings of the Holy Fathers, giving oneself to the Lord’s service, participating in the Liturgy and our communities’ activities, e.g. sharing our Faith and joy.
As we grow in faith, our old prejudices are overcome, our past hurts give way to the healing that comes from forgiveness and God’s love. Our life becomes more Christ-like, and we find it easier to trust God in the tough times.
Christian joy is throwing yourself into God’s arms. Christian joy is a journey that involves growth. Have you begun this joyful journey?