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“Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

April 6, 2014

Emotions are of great importance in our lives as human beings and as Christians. Carl Jung once observed, “Emotion is the moment when steel meets flint and a spark is struck forth, for emotion is the chief source of consciousness. There is no change from darkness to light or from inertia to movement without emotion.” In general, emotions motivate us, organize our world, and help us to adapt to changing situations. And it is significant that the Beatitudes conclude with the brightest and most blessed of human emotions, a rejoicing and gladness that are strikingly and peculiarly Christian, for they are intimately related to the person and work of Christ. Yes, there is suffering in life. We know full well that “in the world we have tribulation: but we are of good cheer, for Christ has overcome the world” (John 16:33) and we have put on Christ, cheerfully, joyfully, and with exceeding gladness. There is no room for puritanical gloom and dank pessimism in the Christian walk, for the virtues clothe the Christian in a joy, gladness, and optimism that the world cannot take away from us. Much research in psychology bolsters the finding that positive emotional feelings enhance empathy and altruism. Put in Christian parlance, rejoicing and gladness makes it easy to feel compassion and to love. How fitting that the Beatitudes are concluded with this final commandment of joy!

christ_the_true_vine_icon_athens_16th_centurySaint Paul likewise teaches Christians to rejoice using the very same imperative of other commandments when he writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” He doesn’t say in good times rejoice or when others affirm Christianity, rejoice. Rather, he specifies its unconditional nature by saying “Rejoice always.” Saint John Chrysostom comments on this Pauline teaching as follows: “I know indeed that to many this saying seems impossible. ‘For how is it possible,’ one may say, ‘that someone who is only human can continually rejoice? To rejoice is not difficult, but to rejoice continually seems impossible to me.’ After all, there are many reasons for sadness that surround us on all sides. A man has lost either a son, or a wife, or a beloved friend, more necessary to him than all kindred; or he has to sustain the loss of wealth; or he has fallen into sickness; or he has to bear some other change of fortune; or to grieve for contemptuous treatment which he did not deserve; or famine, or pestilence, or some intolerable exaction, or circumstances in his family trouble him. Indeed, there is no saying how many circumstances of a public or private nature tend to cause us grief. How then, he may say, is it possible to “Rejoice always?” In fact, it is possible! …He who rejoices ‘in the Lord’ cannot be deprived of that delight by any thing that may happen. For all other things in which we rejoice are mutable and changeable, and subject to variation. And not only does this grievous circumstance attend them, but moreover while they remain they do not afford us a pleasure sufficient to repel and veil the sadness that comes upon us from other quarters. But the fear of God contains both these requisites. It is steadfast and immoveable, and sheds so much gladness that we don’t feel the blow of other evils. For the man who fears God as he should, and trusts in Him, gathers from the very root of pleasure, and has possession of the whole fountain of cheerfulness. And as a spark falling upon a wide ocean quickly disappears, so whatever events happen to the man who fears God, these, falling as it were upon an immense ocean of joy, are quenched and destroyed!” It is the sense of God’s presence, God’s victorious and loving presence, in every situation that keeps a window always open for the light of grace to shine in and the breeze of the Spirit to refresh, thus transforming a barren landscape into a paradise in which God walks in the cool of the evening. When God is included in one’s “cognitive appraisal of stimulus or a situation,” a contemporary description of the source of emotional reactions, then rejoicing and being exceedingly glad does indeed become possible and imperative.

And although there is much that can cause great sorrow in this world, although there is much that can make people justifiably pessimistic, nevertheless, Christians rejoice. Nevertheless, Christians are optimists, not because they are dreamy idealists, but because they know Christ, because they’ve tasted Christ, and they have seen that through Him their lives have been transformed. Saint Nikolai of Zycha wrote, “I would not be able to call myself a Christian if I were not an optimist. And if I called myself a Christian and were not optimistic, I would not be a sincere Christian. And all of you who call yourselves Christians but are not optimists do so in vain. Christianity is the mighty fortress of optimism. Christianity is founded on faith, hope, and love, because only those three, faith, hope, and love, save… Let us be optimistic as Christians, because even the most despairing of us have found comfort therein… Let us think optimistically, because only optimistic thought reaches God. Let our emotions be optimistic, because optimism is the remedy for sorrow and the fount of true and eternal joy. Let us be optimistic with our work, for good works are woven into the work of God and are preserved eternally along with the work of God” (Homilies on Optimism and Pessimism).

Optimism, joy, and rejoicing in the midst of suffering can aptly describe the Saints throughout history. Through this beatitude, this approach to life is offered to all Christians as a precious inheritance. Elder Porphyrios truly lived this commandment and enjoyed living it fully. He used to say, “Whoever lives Christ becomes one with Him and with His Church. He has a zest for living. His life is different from the lives of other people. It is joy. It is light. It is rejoicing. It is resurrection. It is the life of the Church, the life of the Gospel, the Kingdom of God.” Such a person has Christ in his mind, in his heart, and in all of his being. And in the words of the Elder, “Christ is life, the fountain of life, the fountain of joy, the fountain of true light.” To rejoice and be exceedingly glad is truly possible when we find Christ, when we become like Christ, and when Christ is the primary focus of our lives. Then, we truly rejoice and are glad, not only because great is our reward in heaven, but because great is our reward on earth in the presence of our heavenly Savior.

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