THE ESSENCE OF ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN LIFE
Part 1 of 2
As pleasure is opposed to pain in the body, so joy is opposed to sorrow in the soul. A truly joyous soul knows and communicates with the true God who is its Creator asnd he understands his purpose and destination for which it came into this world and conducts his life in accordance with this knowledge. Holy Scriptures teaches us that love of the soul for God and truth and the soul’s sublime destiny is opposed by carnality. For this reason spiritual life starts with the harnessing and resctriction of carnal pleasures and this is what St. Paul reminds us:
“For the flesh desires against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary, one against the other, so that you cannot do all the things you would” (Gal. 5:17)
“Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; singing to yourself with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always unto God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting yourselves to one another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:18-21)
It would be good for all of us to seek and acquire this joy, for without it we will remain as empty shells, or like zombies. This joy is observed in the Prophets and many other holy people of the Old and New TestamentTestaments. Among them was Abel, the son of the first created Adam and Eve. Also our father Abraham and his son Isaac and his son Jacob the patriarch. Another was David the Prophet-King who wrote the Book of Psalms, and the first books of the Old Testament. Overflowing with the divine spirit fills the hearts of those who love God with the sweetest joy. Sadly, most men satisfy the desires of the body but ignore the needs of the soul, but this is their choice, and we will all on the last day be judged by God for our sad and empty condition. In vain do men give the body all that it demands, yet they allow their precious souls to starve and remain empty.
Mary, the virgin daughter of Joachim and Anna, was filled with joy even from her birth, for this Maiden was chosen out of the entire human race to give birth to the Son of God in the flesh. The first word spoken to the Virgin Theotokos by the Archangel Gabriel, was “Rejoice, Full of Grace!” She responded by accepting the angel’s proposal to bear the Son of God. The joy that filled her soul is similar to that which we should all seek to acquire. Radiating from ourselves to others the experience of this joy will cause them to pour into the Orthodox Church and by triune baptism they will begin to actually partake of that same joy. It is the joyous lives and self-sacrifice of Orthodox Christians that caused the Church to increase and spread throughout the world.
A most important teaching of our Lord is found in chapters 5, 6, and 7 of the Gospel of Matthew. The last verse proclaims this joy and shows the method of its acquisition. “The Lord took his disciples up to a mountain. “And he opened His mouth and taught them, saying the following.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they that hunger and search after righteousness, for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven; for so did they persecute the prophets which were before you (Matt. 5:1-12).
Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven!”
This is what our Orthodox Faith is about, jubilation, joy and gladness. “Make a joyful noise to God all you on earth. Sing forth His name; give glory in praise of Him” (Psalm 65:1-2). These words of the Prophet David show the wonderful relationship that all men are destined to have with God, a very intimate relationship that causes our hearts to overflow with joy and jubilation.
THE MYSTERY OF GOD’S PLAN
The Lord who created us destined us to become gods like him, in His own image and likeness, which requires one thing from us. Acceptance of His kind offer/ The Lord wants us to willingly accept what he freely offers – everlasting life. The condition he establishes is that during our brief lifetime, we keep His commandments avoiding sin and iniquity. He is the Living Truth who came down from heaven, so it is imperative that we believe Him, for to disbelieve Him is to be condemned for ever as He says. “Go forth into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he that does not believe shall be condemned” (Mark 15:15-16. The most harmful thing to the soul is to disbelieve the Son of God. We readily believe in many truths and many lies uttered by men, especially those of scientists and doctors. But we are slow or even refuse to believe the Living Truth whom the Father sent from heaven into the world dwelling among us filled with grace and truth.
CHRIST THE CENTER OF ORTHODOX LIFE
Behold, through the Cross, JOY has come into the world!"
As the true Church, all our attention ought to be directed toward Jesus Christ the Godman. We celebrate all the events of Christ’s life, especially His Passion, the wounds, the spitting, the crown of thorns, the mocking and slapping, the Cross, the nails, the vinegar and the spear. We repeatedly behold the sacrificial Lamb suffering everything for each of us so that we might live eternally in His Kingdom. The suffering and crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ is the source of all our joy. Nor do we weep for His suffering but only for our sins which is the actual cause. Every Sunday we utter these words. “Come, you faithful, let us worship Christ’s Resurrection; For behold, through the Cross joy has come into the world. Ever-blessing the Lord, let us praise His Resurrection. For by enduring the Cross for us, he has destroyed death by death.”