Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid, for I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people” Luke 2:10
Good morning Prayer Team!
What is joy? Have you ever stopped to think about the meaning of this word?
Joy is the feeling that a child has on Christmas morning when he or she tears the wrapping paper off of presents, not knowing what treasure lies inside but knowing they will like it. Joy is the anticipation as we arrive at the end of a journey and we’re about to greet a friend we haven’t seen in a long time. Joy is the warm embrace we exchange with a spouse or a child that never seems to get old no matter how often we do it.
This is the kind of joy that we are supposed to have about being a Christian. Tearing through the pages of the Bible, anticipating uncovering some great treasure like a child has on Christmas morning as he or she opens presents. We should have the same joyful anticipation that one feels at the end of a journey when we have made it through the journey of the week and are about to greet the Lord in church on Sunday mornings. And that warm embrace that we never tire of, that is the feeling we should have when we pray. For in prayer we embrace God and He embraces us.
Why is it that we don’t have more joy in the world? I mean, everywhere you turn, people seem to be angry, or cynical, or jaded. We are suspect of one another instead of trusting. So that the idea of joy seems like an idea of an age gone by.
I remember one year when our son was a toddler, that we came back from a vacation and as we entered into our house, he ran into his room and grabbed all his toys as if they were all brand new. As I think back on his life, that was one of his most joyful days. So, we know there IS joy in the world, and it is found in our children. It is found in innocence, even in silliness.
The Bible makes a distinction between child-ish and child-like. Jesus says in Matthew 18:3 “Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus encourages us to be child-like.
St. Paul, on the other hand, warns us not to be child-ish, when he writes I Corinthians 13:11 “What I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”
So, what is the difference between child-ish and child-like? Throwing a tantrum is childish. Pouting and crying is childish. Having to be told to do something 20 times is childish. These are things we should have left behind with our childhood years.
But what about the joy opening presents on Christmas morning?! What about the fun of playing a game? What about the ability to laugh easily and forgive quickly? These are things from our childhood that we should have in our adult life. Many people will scoff at the idea of playing a silly game. And yet a silly game provides the opportunity for pure laughter and unadulterated joy.
When we were children, we’d promise something by “crossing my heart and hope to die”. Today we promise something by a lengthy contract. We’d play “tag” and no one minded when it was their turn to be “it.” I can only imagine how an adult game of tag would go—endless arguments and appeals, and probably a good measure of cheating thrown in as well.
The Christmas season hopefully helps to take us back to the joy of childhood. Putting up a Christmas tree, putting up ornaments, turning on the lights, opening presents should be acts of joy.
Being a Christian should bring us joy as well. I confess there are times when I am not especially looking forward to going to Liturgy, when my mind is on other things than the sacred task I am doing. But more often than not, I feel joy when I celebrate the Liturgy. My liturgical joy is a child-like joy. I usually can’t wait to come, to pray, to worship. In the same way a child can watch a movie dozens of times and not get bored, I can offer the liturgy hundreds of times, and often many days in a row and still feel joy about it.
I confess that prayer is still more work than joy for me on many occasions. That is the thing I have to work on. I do know that when I pray a lot, that it does bring joy, it’s just a question of getting started.
Adding laughter and silliness to your life is a good thing. Of course, do it in a wholesome, Christian way. We shouldn’t have fun or silliness by demeaning ourselves or someone else. Help create environments where it is okay for adults to be silly, whether it is a game night, or a comedy movie night, karaoke, there are lots of possibilities. And when you pray, ask God to put a child’s heart in you, so that like a child, you can forgive easily, so that like a child, you’ll walk into church with a sense of wonder, which can then become joy. The news of the angel to the shepherds was not just “good news” but “good news of a great joy.” As we prepare to hear the good news again, may we prepare our hearts to joyfully receive it.
Come, God-inspired faithful, arise and behold the descent of God from on high! He manifests Himself to us in Bethlehem! Let us cleanse our minds, and offer Him a life of virtue instead of myrrh. Let us prepare with faith to celebrate His Nativity, storing up spiritual treasure and crying: Glory in the highest to God in Trinity! His good pleasure is now revealed to men: As the Lover of mankind He sets Adam free from the ancestral curse. (Hymn from the Royal Hours of the Nativity, Trans. Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Have a joyful day!
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The Orthodox Christian Network (OCN) is an official agency of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops. OCN offers videos, podcasts, blogs and music, to enhance Orthodox Christian life. The Prayer Team is a daily devotion written by Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis, the parish priest at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, Florida. Devotions include a verse from scripture, a commentary from Fr. Stavros, and a short prayer that he writes to match the topic.
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