By Stergios N. Sakkos
From the Book "You, all-laudable Mother", pp. 35-45
Joy is a great and vital theme in our life. Man was created to live in the joy of paradise and he actually experienced it in his communion with God. But disobedience to God’s will, sin, took him out of paradise. So, ever since he lived with the great poverty caused by the lack of joy. But he did not stop looking for it wherever he suspected that he could find even a trace of it, a drop of joy. Man could be described as a "beggar of joy and a hunter of truth" or "a beggar and hunter of true joy".
Of course, the Lord, in his Sermon on the Mount, blesses those who mourn (Mt 5:4) and the Lord’s brother James exhorts: “Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.” (Jas 4:9). Also, our Church always and especially during the period of Lent, strongly emphasizes mourning, repentance, deep distress for our sins. Perhaps this caused a misunderstanding: that Christians have nothing to do with joy but only with mourning. Some even equate Christianity with gloom. They claim that the Gospel opposes to joy, that it supposedly does not allow Christians to laugh and rejoice.
All this is said by those who do not know our Christian faith and they ignore the Bible. If they had read the book of Psalms even once, they would have found out how often it refers to joy, and in fact to complete, perfect joy. Perfect joy is both an internal and external state. It springs from the depths of the heart and is expressed in a variety of ways: “A happy heart makes the face cheerful” we read in the God-inspired Proverbs (Prov 15:13). Few of the many references from the book of Psalms will be cited here: “Therefore my heart is glad, and my tongue rejoices” (Ps 15:9 [16:9]). “I will be glad and rejoice in thy mercy” (Ps 30:8 [31:7]). “O let the nations be glad and sing for joy” (Ps 66:5 [67:4]).
We must remember that there are two "joys": the true and the false; the joy of the Church and the joy of the world; the joy of Christ and the joy of Satan; the joy of purity and holiness and the joy of debauchery and prodigality. Our Lord has made things clear. He gave us the attributes of true joy, of His own joy.
And what is Christ’s joy? How does it stand out from the joy of the world? Christ’s joy has two basic features: permanence, " no one will take away your joy" (Jn 16:22), and fullness, " I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them" (Jn 17:13; cf. 15:11). That is why the apostle Paul urges the faithful: " Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" (Phil 4:4; cf. 1 Thess 5:16).
Jesus Christ in the famous farewell speech to his disciples, after the Last Supper, reveals that God is triune. It is very interesting that in that same speech (see Jn 13-16) the Lord presents another holy trinity, which has to do with our spirituality, with our sanctification. He speaks of love, peace and joy, which in fact He distinguishes from those of the world; He refers to His own love, to His own peace, to His own joy; “Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” (Jn 16:20).
These three great and important gifts that Christ gives to his disciples, namely love, joy and peace, which are connected with the Last Supper, are recorded by the apostle Paul as the first three fruits of the Holy Spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace” (Gal 5:22). What an amazing combination! How much it reveals and teaches us! Consequently, in order to have Christ’s love, to enjoy true peace, permanent and complete joy, we need the Holy Spirit. Only by the Holy Spirit do we obtain these great things, because these are His fruits.
That is why virgin Mary radiates with joy! She is the one who received in her life the visitation of the Holy Spirit in a unique way, as the angel foretold her: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). With the Holy Spirit, the humble girl of Nazareth conceived the fruit of life, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, the donor of true and so the complete and inalienable joy. Thus, how can she not shine like the sun? She radiates her Son’s radiance. This is how the evangelist John saw her, as he writes in Revelation: "a woman clothed with the sun" (Rev 12:1). This is how she has been experienced by the Church in the first Stasis (A) of the Akathist Hymn, in the first Salutation that greets her with this verse: “Rejoice, through whom joy shall shine forth; Rejoice, through whom the curse shall vanish.”
Do you want, then, to see joy not depicted in a painting, nor imprinted in a poem, but embodied in a person? Worship virgin Mary with reverence. She is the inexhaustible source of joy and the model of true joy. In the Small Supplicatory Canon (Small Paraklesis) we chant: " With gladness fill my heart, Most Holy virgin Lady, for you are she who received the abundant joy". Those who want to study joy, those who want to acquire joy, those who want to keep joy, those who want to rejoice, those who want to sing and praise the incarnated joy, let kneel before the blessed and highly favored Maria. In her virgin person they will meet joy at the highest and perfect degree.
"Your birth, O virgin Mother of God, proclaims joy to the whole world, for from you arose the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God;” we sing on the feast of the Nativity of the blessed virgin Mary. She is the one who gave birth to the source of true joy, the sun of righteousness. Her completely special and unique relationship with Jesus Christ made her a spiritual sun, which radiates joy to all, young and old; to the happy she increases their joy and to the sad ones she dissolves their sorrow. She did not cease to radiate joy even during her hard hours of pain, when she saw her Son naked, humiliated, wounded, hung on the cross; when a sword pierced through her soul, just as Simeon had prophesied (see Luke 2:35). In those moments when the pain pierced her soul, no other mother has ever experienced a pain greater than this one, the virgin Mary patiently endured. The Holy Spirit from within comforted and guided her, so that she could interpret the Lord’s Passion, to see in it the redemption of the human race. This is wonderfully expressed by many Theotokia and in fact Stavrotheotokia, which are chanted in the Services of Wednesday and Friday.
The value of a good and ripe fruit becomes obvious when we place it near a rotten or an unripe one. Genuine currency is better valued when compared to counterfeit currency. Similarly, the joy of our Most Holy Lady, the most favoured and obedient God’s servant, who co-operated in the mystery of our salvation, shines more dazzlingly when we compare it with the situation in which our race was led by Eve’s disobedience. This is what the second verse points out: “Rejoice, through whom the curse shall vanish.”
Our Most Holy Lady incarnates, expresses and gives to all of us the greatest, the strongest joy, because she played a unique role in the world history. She became God's partner in the fulfillment of the First Gospel=First Good News (see Ge 3:15)
• to crush the devil,
• to get rid of the "curse" of sin which Eve's disobedience brought us,
• and to lead us to salvation.
And while the ancestor of our race, Eve, by disobeying God’s will caused a curse on us, the virgin Mary with her free submission to God’s call brought the antidote to that first curse, redemption into the world and offered to all of us joy.
Of course, the Redeemer of mankind, the only and irreplaceable one, is Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul writes it simply and clearly in his Epistle to the Galatians; "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us" (Gal. 3:13) and our Church chants with gratitude in the “Kathisma” of Holy Thursday: “You have redeemed us from the curse of the law by Your precious Blood. Having been nailed to the Cross and pierced with a spear, You have poured forth immortality upon mankind. O our Savior, glory to You.” His Most Holy Mother is raised and honored for her special and unique relationship with the Redeemer. The Word of God took her own blood to become man and it is this blood that He shed on the cross for our redemption!
Our life can be characterized as a “valley of tears”. It is intertwined with sorrows and tears! And yet Christians, by believing in the Lord the Savior and through the intercessions of Ηis Most Holy Mother, can experience the exhortation of the apostle James; “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various temptations” (Jas 1:2). They can rejoice with the apostle Paul, who in his adventures and sufferings never lost his joy; “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you” is what he writes to the Colossians (1:24) from the prison of Rome. From there he also wrote the famous Epistle to the Philippians, also known as the Epistle of Joy.
This does not mean that Christians remain insensitive to grief and various forms of pain. Anything but that! However, they live a mystery; even in pain they retain Christ’s joy. The joy of the world proves many times to be sad and its pleasure painful. On the contrary, in our Christian faith sorrow becomes joy, pain turns into sweet pleasure! Even the greatest suffering, which is caused by sin, which is the root and cause of all the pains in our lives, is neutralized in faith, because Jesus Christ’s redemptive blood "cleanses us from all sin" (1 Jn 1:7). With sincere repentance and confession of our sins, with a conscious sacramental life, we get rid of the burden of sin and live that peculiar kind of joy, which the holy Orthodox Fathers call " joyful sorrow".
When somebody experiences reconciliation with God, then all other burdens, all sufferings and problems, no matter how serious they may be, cannot take Christ’s joy away from them. These are his cross, through which he will be led to the resurrection. Our Church declares it “for behold through the Cross, joy has come in all the world”. In addition, our Jesus Christ said that the joy of his faithful is complete and no one can take it away. It cannot be taken away even by disease, slanders, persecutions and hardships, not even when the world defames us; even when our dearest friends betray and abandon us and turn into deadly enemies, not even by death! (see Rom 8:35-39). No one and nothing can steal from us Christ’s joy, the virgin Mary’s joy, the true joy that sanctifies us, enlightens us and guides us to the eternal land of joy, to the Paradise of our Lord. There is where the virgin Mary with all the saints live, where we all long to go. May we, with her intercessions, be able to hear the Lord to say about us as well; “Well done, good and faithful servant … Enter into the joy of your lord.” (Mt 25:21.23).