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A Joyful Battle with a Cry of Thanksgiving

November 10, 2012

The ancient fathers have consistently described the spiritual life in terms of warfare.  In their writings and homilies, they often use terms such as battle, armaments, assaults, and weapons following Saint Paul’s description of the whole armor of God.  While this is an apt description of the spiritual life here on earth, it may cause us to lose sight of an important characteristic of Christian soldiers, they are joyful and grateful.  After all, we are not marching towards a defeat, but towards a radiant victory that has already been accomplished through our Lord’s glorious Resurrection. If we cling to our commander and king, His victory over death, sin, and the devil will be our victory, His Pascha (Passover) becomes our Pascha (Passover), which means robust spiritual health in this life and eternal fellowship with Him in the next.

“Christ is Risen,” the victory cry of Christians, fills the heart of the faithful with joy. Yet, we may ask ourselves, “How can we cultivate and maintain that joy on a daily basis?”  I believe joy wells forth in the soul when the soul meets the Lord and maintains a profound sense of gratitude.  If we recognize the great gift God has bestowed upon us through His Son Jesus Christ, how can we not be grateful?  Saint John Chrysostom refers to gratitude as a powerful weapon and unfailing source of wealth, that the Christian should use at all times. He notes that if we curse God over a personal misfortune, we cause ourselves to lose even more than we have already lost, but if we give thanks, we gain what matters most, our very soul. (Homily on the Statues, 1, PG 49.30). In this way, we also preserve our joy. Thanksgiving purifies our spiritual vision, so that we see with a piercing eye through “the crowd of worldly anxieties and the swarm of desires” to what matters most. (Saint John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew, 2, PG 57.29). It makes us more sensitive, for just as “the hope of the unthankful is like winter’s frost” (Wisdom of Solomon, 16:29) that deadens the soul and makes it numb, so the hope of the thankful brings the soul to life (Saint John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew, 25, PG 57.332). With such hope and thanksgiving even if our life becomes like a fiery furnace, we glorify God like the Three Children saying, “Blessed art thou, O Lord God of our fathers: thy name is worthy to be praised and glorified for evermore: For thou art righteous in all the things that thou hast done to us: yea, true are all thy works, thy ways are right, and all thy judgments truth.” (Homilies on Matthew, 3, PG 57.37) When one makes that saying a motto for one’s life, when one comes to be thankful for all things, one begins to acquire humility, the mother of all virtues.  A humble heart is one which our Enemy dares not approach.  “A humble, repentant heart O Lord thou shall not despise.”

In this sense, joy in Christ our true hope and gratitude for all He does for us are spiritual states of the watchful soul who senses the presence of the Holy Spirit, delights and seeks Him further in repentance and humility.  The joy and gratitude of which I am writing is not an emotional consequence of a “good day at work” or some worldly success-both of which are fleeting and will change in the flicker of an eye.  This is not a feeling or an operation of the intellect, but the fruit of the spiritual warfare undertaken and the healing work of the Holy Spirit upon the heart.  St. Seraphim of Sarov encouraged his followers by telling them, “True hope seeks the one Kingdom of God and is sure that everything necessary for this mortal life will surely be given. The heart cannot have peace until it acquires this hope. This hope pacifies it fully and brings joy to it. The most holy lips of the Saviour spoke about this very hope: “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28). Oh, if you only knew what joy, what sweetness awaits a righteous soul in Heaven! You would decide in this mortal life to bear any sorrows, persecutions and slander with gratitude. If this very cell of ours was filled with worms, and these worms were to eat our flesh for our entire life on earth, we should agree to it with total desire, in order not to lose, by any chance, that heavenly joy which God has prepared for those who love Him.”

A joyful heart attracts light and life.  Such a heart is able to remain undisturbed in this life with its passing fancies and allurements.  The joyful heart has found the pearl of great price, the hidden treasure of which Christ spoke in the Gospel.  The joyful heart remains in the world for a time, but is not of the world.

  1. susan permalink

    i am so thankful every day for the things you say. truly a gift at a time in my life when i have been unable to rise above a chronic despair

  2. Father Alexis permalink

    God bless you for your kindness. Know that in those moments in which you are grateful you have already risen above the chronic despair. May God give you the strength to broaden those moments until they encompass your life with a chronic gratitude and chronic hope that one day will open up into eternity itself.

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