Archimandrite Kyrillos Kostopoulos
The return to the deification of reason is a feature of the modern era, though its impressive technological achievements also involve the fear factor and the risk of surprises for the future of humankind.
What is rare and often totally lacking is existential joy.
Western Puritanism projected a ‘watered-down’ Christ and a ‘watered-down’ Christian life, far from ‘rejoice always’ (1 Thess. 5, 17). People today are looking for real joy and aren’t finding it.
We need to understand, however, that joy, as our most sublime feeling, can’t exist and be expressed outside the realm of our own being or without dynamic reference to other people.
So a requirement for joy is the spiritual state of the person concerned and a positive attitude towards others. Saint John Chrysostom aptly remarks: ‘Those who are in God are always joyful. Even if sorrow befalls them or even if they’re suffering, such people always rejoice (ΕΠΕ, 22, 30, Thessaloniki 1983).
Lots of people ask: ‘Does God rejoice?’. We read in Isaiah ‘and in the same manner that the bridegroom will rejoice over the bride, so will the Lord rejoice over you’ (62, 5). This is why God wishes his creation to rejoice and be glad: so that it will unite in coming into communion with him, its Creator. ‘For I will rejoice in the Lord; I will be glad in the Lord my savior’ (Hab. 3, 18).
This personal, social and eschatological dimension of joy entered the life of humankind in the historical events associated with the Lord as God and human person. The finding of the ‘lost sheep’, the reconnection with Christ, the Chief Shepherd, is a cause for personal and collective joy. ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the sheep which was lost’ (Luke 15, 6).
The odes of the Mother of God and Zachariah confirm the joyous fact of the redemption and salvation of the human race: ‘My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my savior’… ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel for he has visited and brought redemption to his people’ (Luke 1, 46 and 68).
As God and human person, the Lord is the source of joy. Apart from fear (in the sense of ‘respect and awe’) his resurrection and passion are also an occasion for great joy. ‘And they quickly left the tomb with fear and great joy’ (Matth. 28, 8). And also ‘saying this, he showed them his hands and his side. And the disciples rejoiced at seeing the Lord’ (John 20, 20).
This is precisely why the existential imitation of the pain and suffering of Christ is completed with existential joy. ‘Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds’ (James 1, 2), says Saint James, the Brother of our Lord. This is because the struggle ‘in Christ’ and ‘for Christ’ involves trials and sorrows. As Saint Peter aptly remarks, ‘In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith, of greater worth than gold refined by fire,…’ ( 1Peter 1, 6).
Joy in Christ is inalienable. Nothing in this world can take it away from us. In any case, Christ himself has promised ‘… and no-one shall take away your joy from you’ (John 16, 23).
Basil the Great enumerates the reasons why we should be joyful: ‘the reasons for us to rejoice are obvious: a) because we came into being from non-being; b) because through word and the mind we can understand the beauty of creation; c) because we’re able to distinguish good from bad; d) because, having been estranged from God through sin we have been recalled to intimacy with him through repentance; e) because we have hope of resurrection, of the enjoyment of angelic blessings, the kingdom in heaven’ (ΕΠΕ, 6, 84, Thessaloniki 1973).
This is why, when writing to the Philippians, Saint Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, urges them: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. Let me say it again, rejoice’ (4, 4).
Alas, people today, particularly the young, are living in desperate individualism, far removed from any association with their Creator and other people. Without ideals and visions, they’re trying to be joyful in a milieu of the empty pleasures of consumerism, drugs and satisfaction of the passions.
But joy, what Basil the Great calls ‘a skipping of the soul’, is an existential fact of life. And this fact is the fruit of the Holy Spirit: ‘for the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace and patience…’ (Gal. 5. 22). If we understand this eternal truth, we’ll really be joyful.