“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials” -James 1:2
As Orthodox Christians, we are always being invited into a home of joy and gladness inside of the Church; our ancient church did not only survive years of martyrdom but was built on the blood of the martyrs. We are a church that continuously celebrates and is called within our structure to be joyful.
“Almost all days are feast to the Coptic Church. Although she is known for bearing the cross, she is eager to have her children live in the midst of sufferings in spiritual gladness. She is capable, by the Lord’s help, to raise them above tribulations. In other words, the Coptic Church is continuously suffering and joyful at the same time; her feasts are uninterrupted, and her hymns with a variety of melodies are unceasing” -Father Tadros Malaty
We might ask, how can we be “continuously suffering and joyful at the same time”? How does this make sense? This is probably a question we are asking ourselves right now in the midst of COVID-19, seeing people’s lives being taken, our churches and jobs being closed, and our society becoming closed off to one another, it is very easy to ask ourselves, where can we find joy in this time? While it may seem tough, it is the most fitting time for us to find joy in our lives and within ourselves.
“Putting joy into practice in this regard is the ultimate paradox- to be joyful, one must pour oneself out into the most “joyless” of situations” – Phoebe Farag Mikhail
The Joy Thieves
We must begin backwards first, discussing what steals our joy. The early church fathers refer to these as “the passions” which include gluttony, lust, greed, anger, envy, sloth and vainglory. Each of these feelings begins within our thoughts and is initially innocent but develops into a sin when we have an imbalance. For example, gluttony begins with hunger, a natural desire, but develops into something worse. These passions steal our joy and quell the spiritual hunger within us. Right now, in this time of social distancing, it can be easy for us to fall into these lusts stemming in our boredom and free time, they say an unfed mind devours itself, when we fill ourselves with pleasures that steal our joy rather than with Christ who fulfills our joy. As well, stressors and anxieties can turn our minds from Christ if we do not stay on guard. In this time, the world will send us panic and alarm, but we must stay with our eyes attentive to our spiritual lives in order to secure our joy in Christ. The devil has worked tirelessly from the beginning of time to take our joy, in the liturgy we say “Holy, Holy, Holy, truly O Lord, our God Who formed us, created us and placed us in the paradise of joy. When we disobeyed Your commandment by the guile of the serpent, we fell from eternal life, and were exiled from the Paradise of joy.” He will work now again in this stressful time to take us again away from joy, but we ought to keep our eyes on Christ.
“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” John 10:10
So, how do we attain joy?
The first practice we can take in order to attain the joy which comes from Christ is through prayer, specifically through the Book of Hours and arrow prayers.
“In Your presence is fullness of joy” Psalm 16:11
The book of Hours is the easiest place to begin in our journey towards joy. It is set up perfectly for us with a clear schedule and structure for us so that no matter how scatter-minded we may be, we have a prayer made before us that we may pray. Making time within our days to pray the hours pulls us out of the storm of our daily lives and helps us reorient and bring our mind back to God and His commandments which bring us joy. Especially now, while our churches are closed, we can still join one another in praying the Hours within our homes alone knowing there are countless others praying at the same time as you praying the same words as you. Another prayer we can practice is an arrow prayer, a short phrase we pray within our minds to keep our minds on God throughout our day no matter what we are doing and where we are.
“There is no need at all to make long discourses, it is enough to stretch out one’s hands and say “Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy. ’And if the conflict grows fiercer day, ‘Lord help!” -Saint Macarius of Egypt
The most common arrow prayer is the Jesus Prayer, “My Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy upon me, a sinner”. This prayer has helped generations of Christians throughout history and can help us. However, an arrow prayer can be any phrase for each of us, many verses from the Psalms, Scriptures and liturgical prayers can be used. Anything that brings our minds to God will work and over time, every time we pray this prayer, we will find peace and joy at any time in our days no matter what is happening around us. These two methods of prayer direct us to the ultimate source of joy, God the Giver of Life.
The most important thing we can do in our lives is to repent and this is the absolute peak of joy. We
often envision and associate repentance with sadness and humiliation as it is a reflection upon our weak
and sinful state and asking Christ for forgiveness and mercy. But it is in fact a joyous occasion that Christ rd th
is continuously asking us to partake in with Him. On the 3 and 4 weeks of the Holy Lent, we see great celebrations of repentance in the readings of the Prodigal Son and the Woman at the Well. Both individuals came in humility and genuineness and were received with love and joy. We are both the Prodigal Son and the Woman at the Well in our relationship with Christ, we must come in our weakness and burdens and God will lift us up and bring us to Himself, the Giver of all good things.
“Repentance is joy in heaven and on earth. It is written, “There will be joy in heaven over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:7,10). So if you wish to make heaven joyous, repent. It is joy on earth also: joy for the penitent, the pastor and all the Church. Repentance is joy, as it is an invitation to liberty for the captives. (Isaiah 61:1). It is joy for the freedom from slavery of Satan and sin, joy in the new pure life, and joy in forgiveness. It is a joy, for repentance is the life of victory and the song of the victorious.” -His Holiness Pope Shenouda
While we remain in these trying times, we must cling to these practices to keep our joy from being stolen by the fear and panic being spread. Joy is not an overnight process and will seem to come and go. But we must cling to the joy we find and use that as fuel to continue our journey knowing God will continue to guide us.
“Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” – Nehemiah 8:10
Remember that Christ is the source of our joy and will give us His grace readily when we come to Him in prayer and repentance.
“You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11