Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov, M.Div., M.A.A.Th., is the Rector of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia Orthodox Church in Mulino, Oregon (Western American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church).
Joy of Salvation
Another kind of joy is the joy of a person being saved. Imagine a person who is drowning. If someone was to throw him a rope and yell: “Hold on! I will pull you out!”–the person will likely experience a sense of joy. There is nothing particularly beautiful or pleasant about the rope, the person in trouble and his rescuer do not have a relationship and do not even know each other’s names, and yet the sinking man will be very glad to see both the rescuer and the rope. A similar feeling of joy may be experienced by a patient who has a deadly illness and needs a complicated and risky surgery. If, upon waking up from anesthesia, he hears the doctor say, “All went well. You will recover,” he will feel much joy.
It is the same in our relationship with Christ. If we see ourselves in the condition that truly afflicts us, if we realize that we are perishing in our sinfulness, if we understand that we are sinking in our passions, and if we feel the deadly illness spreading through our being; in other words, if we truly comprehend our helplessness and hopelessness in the face of the corruption which afflicts our nature–then the Gospel becomes the Good News for us, then we experience joy when we meet our Savior. In fact, it is only then that we are even capable of accepting Christ as our Savior. If we do not see ourselves in need of salvation, then we cannot accept Christ as the Savior, even if we say the word. If I know that I have cancer, then the oncologist becomes my doctor. If I do not know that I have cancer, then the doctor is just some doctor, but not my doctor. This brings us to yet another source of joy. The joy of being saved is a necessary component of a life in Christ, but this joy is imperfect; it is the joy of desperation; it is joy that is not free. There is yet another, more intimate, more perfect source of joy–the free joy of a heart in love.
Joy of Communion
When we are in love, we feel joy when we are with the person we love. We even feel joy when we merely think about the person we love, when we merely get a glimpse, when we but anticipate a thought in return, a glance, touch. This is perfect joy: the joy of being with Christ, not because He is “good for food, a delight to the eyes, and makes me wise,” but because I love Him; not because He threw me a rope, but because I love Him; and not because He is the oncologist who is saving me from a deadly cancer–which He is–but because I love Him and am joyfully willing to trade an eternal cancer-free life for one minute with Him, in His presence. This joy is the fruit of love, irrational, unconditional love–the love that is “patient and kind; that is not jealous or boastful; that is not arrogant or rude; that does not insist on its own way; that is not irritable or resentful; that does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right; the love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, they were ashamed of being naked and covered up with leaves. This is a rather odd thing: they were the only two humans on the planet, they were told to be fruitful and to multiply, they were naked before and were not ashamed in the least–and why should they have been? One is not ashamed of someone with whom he shares an intimate connection. But this connection was broken; Adam and Eve suddenly felt alone, cut off, separated; and now for Adam, Eve became the Other, and likewise, for Eve, Adam became the Other. What is even more devastating is that for them, God became the Other–He was no longer the voice in Adam’s heart, but someone walking off at a distance, from whom Adam and Eve decided to hide among the trees. They became cut off, separated from God, they “killed” His presence in their hearts in the same way that the prodigal son “killed” his father, took his inheritance, and left to “hide among the trees.”
The restoration of the broken communion of the two loving hearts, the return of the prodigal, is a source of joy for both the son and the father, the man and God: “And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him… And they began to make merry.” The son did not expect anything, not even to be accepted back as a son; the father did not demand anything. They were just joyful to see each other again. Perfect love produces perfect joy.
Watch for The Joy of a Life in Christ, Part 3 next week.
Click here for Part 1.
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