Archimandrite Markella (Pavuk)
After the Fall of Adam and Eve, all of their descendants, us included, are doomed to all kinds of hardships and sorrows in life, which ultimately end in death. It seems that there absolutely no reasons for joy. But did the Lord God really create man to mock him so severely?
It is, of course, not so. For the sake of man’s salvation from sin, the curses, and death, the Lord Himself endured terrible sufferings and death on the Cross. All who sincerely believe in Him and try to fulfill His holy commandments are given blessedness and joy in this life and in the future, eternal life.
Having sinned, we immediately punish ourselves: Our body undergoes all kinds of illnesses, and the soul falls into sorrow and despondency. To dispel sadness, unbelievers come up with different entertainments for themselves, beginning with music, song, and dance, and ending with the unlimited consumption of alcohol or drugs. But in most cases, this multiplies sorrow. This isn’t about it being forbidden to man to listen to music, to sing, to dance, and to drink alcohol. All problems begin when man delights in nothing but these things: neither his family and friends, nor his work. “You are my kin and friend as long as you give me money and treat me to wine, with or without reason, and when you fulfill all my wishes. If you don’t want to listen to me, and make a feast for me or share financially, then you’re worse than an enemy.” But can you really live so bleakly and materialistically?
How do we find true joy in life?
The first step is repentance—that is, awareness of our sins, our wrongdoings before God and others, and a sincere desire to fix our lives. This step is hardest of all for any person, because due to some strengths, it is nearly impossible to know and admit your weaknesses. One has two university degrees, another has a position of responsibility, or a stably high income, or is very beautiful. Another has none of the above, and is lazy and weak-willed. But only through self-knowledge can a man attain true joy in life. They knew this already in the pre-Christian epoch. Nosce te ipsum (“know thyself”) taught the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates. And St. Ambrose of Optina in the nineteenth century loved to tell his spiritual children, who would turn to him with all possible problems and impatiently thirsted to immediately reach passionlessness and the heights of knowledge of God, “Know thyself—and that’s enough!”
Attentive, regular confession, which is best done according to the Ten Commandments of God, can attune us to self-knowledge. I must look at myself without any self-esteem and see how I sin against every one of the commandments. Everyone gathers a large bouquet of sins, which is not fragrant, but rather spreads the smell of death and makes our lives and the lives of those around us joyless, and sometimes turns it into pitch black Hell. Remember, the elders foretold that in the last times, in the monasteries they will live as in the world, and in the world as in Hell.
Go up to a drunkard and ask, “Are your drinking buddies really more important than your family? Look, your wife is suffering and your children wish you were at home, but instead, you’re drinking with some vagabonds who would sell you for a glass.” However, he picks their company, which, to him, is sweeter than the company of his wife and children. Is there really some kind of Divine punishment in this? No, the man himself is striving for Hell, he loves it there, his life does not have the light of the Lord, and he doesn’t want to go to Him.
Hardly does a man turn his face to God, when immediately, although sometimes with material losses, everything changes—he becomes peaceful and joyful.
The second step is that we must learn how to sincerely forgive those who have voluntarily or involuntarily offended us. Without such forgiveness, the remission of our sins and our personal repentance is impossible. The Lord speaks very clearly about it: For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Mt. 6:14-15). Usually a thousand excuses are found to prove our rightness and not to forgive. But for all our struggle for truth, we lose the most valuable thing in life—joy, and in the end, it turns out that we’re wrong. As one sage told one man, “You have much truth, too much truth, but little mercy, and that means you are wrong.” And the holy apostle James writes, Mercy rejoiceth against judgment (Jas. 2:13).
A multitude of objections will pour forth that it’s impossible to live that way; if you forgive everyone, you will stay as poor as a church mouse. Indeed, the majority of us, having weak faith, can barely sustain such a measure of forgiveness. But, it is at least necessary to strive to learn at first to forgive at least the small things, otherwise the mark of offence will be reflected on our faces, and there will never appear there even a glimpse of joy.
The third step is to accustom yourself to doing good and not only as a professional or service obligation, but as altruistic mercy in your free time. This is one of the most effective ways to attract Christ into your life. The Lord always gives His almighty help to those who selflessly help others. There is a double joy in this: Those whom you helped rejoice, and we ourselves, naturally, rejoice that we could support them.
Nowadays, gratuitous help is gradually becoming a rarity. In the first place, most people have self-interest. We should show at least a little selflessness and mercy in relation to others—and Christ Himself will immediately bless your life with joy.
The fourth step towards joy is to wean yourself off of bad habits of constantly judging others, even those who truly deserve condemnation. Christ the Savior calls us to this: Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again (Mt. 7:1-2). Why must we not judge others? St. Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia answers this question: “Those whom we call publicans and harlots, are, for God, caught thieves, while I, and all of you—we are thieves, but not caught. A detained and humiliated thief, and a harlot, known to all, covered with shame, humbling herself and repenting, are much higher than us, who, having good names, live hidden and suspect lives.”
Again, many say, “So, what should we do—let evil flourish, if we can’t judge anyone?” No, of course, we must fight evil, but there are various means of fighting. When we fight it physically or through verbal abuse, then evil, as a rule, has the tendency to spread even more. As life shows, you can’t always fight fire with fire. The holy apostle Paul exhorts: If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good (Rm. 12:18-21). Why is such advice given? God wisely arranges everything in life so that the greatest joy a person experiences is not when he triumphs over others, but when he triumphs over himself, his own laziness, negligence, sins, and passions. All Christians have the opportunity to be assured of this when they do not blame others for their own personal problems in confession, but sincerely repent of their sins.
The fifth step to joy is prayer. Some go to church to pray as servitude. Laziness overcomes us at home, and so as not to pray, we find every kind of thing to do. If we stand in prayer, then the mind is constantly scattered to secondary objects. He who has no experience in prayer will ask with bewilderment, “What kind of joy could there be in prayer?” But in fact, it gives great consolation. After all, prayer is not some psychological auto-training, as non-believers think, but an unseen connection with the source of our life—God. Only in conversation with Him can we glean inspiration in all of our usual tasks. With prayer, any task, even the most difficult, goes smoothly. And conversely, without it the very easiest task becomes unbearably complicated. That is why it’s so important to read the morning and evening prayers at home, and not forget about prayer before and after food, and before the beginning of any work. It is especially necessary to go to the Church of God every Sunday and on feast days. There, thanks to common prayer with others, our prayer is strengthened manifold. It is, perhaps, nearly impossible to see someone who would leave church after the Divine Liturgy with a sorrowful face. One of the important fruits of prayer is unspeakable joy, which is incomparably beyond what the world can give us with all of its entertainments.
Archimandrite Markella (Pavuk)
Translated by Jesse Dominick