“Do what makes you happy” is a common thought in today’s world. Everyone wants to feel happy, to have that positive emotion in our lives. Because of this, we try all sorts of things in pursuit of the “happiness” we desire. Sometimes we succeed – at least for a little – and feel happy. But we learn quickly that happiness is temporal – a fleeting positive feeling. It is soon lost.
Joy, however, God’s joy, is eternal. It is a deep-set “nothing can shake this inner peace” reality. What we all are truly seeking is not happiness: rather, we are seeking joy. We long for the deep, inner joy that comes only from God which is experienced by walking in His ways. In Nehemiah 8:10 we read, “…the joy of the Lord is your strength.” If joy is our strength, we can work as hard as we want to try to be happy: but in reality, it is joy that will strengthen us. So instead of doing what makes us happy, we need to do what makes us joyful.
The scriptures, the saints, and Orthodox theologians have much to say about joy. Here is a taste:
“Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me with Your guiding Spirit.” (Ps. 50:14)
“These things I have spoken to you that my joy remain in you and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11)
“…You now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” (John 16:22) Find more scriptures referring to joy here: http://yourvibrantfamily.com/bible-verses-joy/#_a5y_p=4906869
“Joy is not one of the components of Christianity, it is the tonality…that penetrates everything.” ~ Alexander Schmemann
“You and I were created for joy, and if we miss it, we miss one of the reasons for our existence. In fact, the reason Jesus lived and died was to restore the joy we had lost.” ~ Fr. Anthony Coniaris, Holy Joy: the Heartbeat of Faith, p. 1
“In the beginning, there are a great many struggles and a good deal of suffering for those who are advancing toward God. Afterward, however, there is ineffable joy. It is like those who wish to light a fire; at first, the smoke chokes them, and they cry. Yet by this means, they obtain what they seek, as it is said, ‘Our God is a consuming fire!’ (Heb. 12:24) So we, too, must kindle the divine fire in ourselves through tears and hard work.” ~ Amma Syncletica
St. Nektarios once wrote to Abbess Xenia: “Realize that your cheerfulness gladdens the faces of the Sisters and renders the Convent a paradise. On the other hand, your depression and sullenness are transmitted to the other Sisters, and joyfulness is banished from that paradise. Learn, therefore that the joy and cheerfulness of the Sisters depend upon you, and it is your duty to preserve these in their hearts. Do this even at times by forcing yourself. I counsel you not to surrender yourself to sorrowful fantasies, because this greatly depresses the hearts of the Sisters. Your reward will be great if you become to them a cause for cheerfulness. I give you this advice because I myself have it as a principle. When you gladden the heart of your neighbor… you may be sure that you please God much more than when you occupy yourself with extreme forms of askesis (i.e. prostrations, prolonged prayer, and fasting).”
An elderly saint of the church once counseled a young priest who sought his advice on how to help a young mother in his parish. “Tell her God forgives her… Tell her He forgives her for being lonely and bored, for not being full of joy with a house full of children. That’s what sin really is, you know: not being full of joy.”
Fr. Anthony Coniaris tells the story of a 70- year-old Romanian Orthodox priest in his book Holy Joy: the Heartbeat of Faith (Light and Life Publishing, 2003). This priest had been thrown into prison by Communists in the Soviet Era. His son died in jail, his daughter was sentenced to 20 years, his sons-in-law were also jailed, and his grandchildren had no food and had to eat garbage. Yet, in spite of this, the priest greeted everyone with the words, “Always rejoice!”
“One day, he was asked, ‘Father how can you always say rejoice—you who passed through such terrible tragedy?’
“He replied, ‘Rejoicing is very easy. If we fulfill at least one word from the Bible, it is written ‘rejoice with all those who rejoice!’ Now if one rejoices with all those who rejoice, he always has plenty of motivation for rejoicing. I sit in jail, and I rejoice that so many are free. I can’t go to church, but I rejoice with all those who can go to church. I can’t take Holy Communion, but I rejoice for all those who an. I can’t read the Bible or any other holy book, but I rejoice for those who do. I can’t see flowers, we never saw a tree or a flower during those years. We were under the earth, in a subterranean prison. We never saw the sun, the moon, the stars. Many times we forgot that these things existed. We never saw a color, only the gray walls of the cell and our gray uniforms. But we knew that such a world existed, a world with multi-colored butterflies and with rainbows, but I can rejoice for those who see the rainbows and who see the multi-colored butterflies. In prison, the smell was horrible… Others have the perfume of flowers around them, and girls wearing perfume. And others have pictures, and others have their families of children around them. I cannot see my children but others can. And he who can rejoice with all those who rejoice can always rejoice. I can always be glad.’” (pp. 67-69)
“A choir director once asked his choir after they sang a jubilant Easter hymn, ‘Are you happy?’
‘Yes!’ they said.
Then he said, ‘I suggest you notify your faces!’
“My face, your face, the face of every Christian should be notified to reflect the joy of forgiveness; the joy of repentance; the joy of the good news of Jesus; the joy of the resurrection; the joy of God’s steadfast love; the joy of the Kingdom; the joy of eternal life with God.
“How can this happen? It can happen through prayer. If there is any power that can transform our face, it is the power of prayer.” ~ Fr. Anthony Coniaris, Holy Joy: the Heartbeat of Faith, p. 113
Teaching your Sunday Church School students about joy:
“When you teach children, you convey to them not only certain knowledge but the spirit which is behind this knowledge. And you know that the one thing that the child accepts easily is precisely joy. But we’ve made our Christianity so adult, so serious, so sad, so solemn, that we virtually have emptied it of that joy. And yet Christ said whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child shall not enter it.” Listen to the rest of the podcast here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/wardrobe/joy_orthodox_style
Start a discussion on joy with older students by watching this “Be the Bee” episode: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/bethebee/prayer_and_joy