According to what rules does Paschal joy abide in the soul, and what should we do if this joy leaves us?
Irina Sechina of Milorsedie.ru speaks [Russian] with Archpriest Konstantin Ostrovsky, head of the Krasnogorsk Deanery near Moscow:
It is disappointing that after all the labors of Great Lent, Paschal joy, having barely given comfort to our souls, quickly vanishes. We sadly eat our shish kebab and despondently watch our TV series—we are finally allowed to do that. But maybe our sorrow is not about this?
Joy does not depend on the feast.
It is a common occurrence when we, like other sinful people, immediately after Pascha return to the habits that we gave up for the time of Great Lent. Father Konstantin believes that spiritual “backsliding” of this kind is in the order of things.
“Through this the Lord shows us our weaknesses, so that we might learn humility. Many good virtues in us are poisoned by pride. This happens to each of us when as a person gets proud of his spiritual accomplishments.”
True, it is disappointing that we tend to quickly and to no purpose squander all that we gained over Great Lent. But we are disappointed not because we lose something good and precious but because we thought that we were able to preserve all this, that we would be good forever. It seemed we had enough strength to do it.
“According to St. Theophan the Recluse, if a humble person commits some minor sin, it does not surprise him. But if an arrogant person commits a sin, it comes as quite a surprise.”
And the latter may lose heart. In Fr. Konstantin’s view, the Lord teaches us in this way, and our main task is to reconcile ourselves to it. Then peace and joy will reign in our souls, and it will not depend on feasts or daily life.
“The life of every single person is in the hands of God. Each one of us. In order to feel it with all our hearts we need to commit our own selves into the hands of God, so that our only desire is to do the will of the Almighty. And the Lord also leaves something in us for training, in order to comfort us when we are meek and to humble us when we are arrogant.”
Joy does not tolerate pride.
In Fr. Konstantin’s opinion, our pride mingles with all aspects of our life, which are poisoned by it; thus, our spiritual joy as well as genuine repentance are transient. “We are unable to rejoice in God because we always rejoice in ourselves as well. We say, ‘I am so good, I have prayed so perfectly, the experience of Gospel events touch me so deeply—I truly grieve for Christ’s Passions, I truly rejoice at Pascha…’ Thus, joy cannot abide long in our souls, which are like vessels full of holes.”
St. Seraphim of Sarov heartily greeted everybody with the words: “Christ Is Risen!” He always witnessed to the Resurrection of Christ, and not only on Pascha, but all year round, because he sincerely believed and felt that Paschal joy accompanies us at all times.
Most of us do not feel Pascha that way—and that is normal. It is not necessary to artificially engender the feeling of joy. “In order to avoid disillusionment we should admit that we are not like St. Seraphim of Sarov and are unable to greet all with the words, ‘Christ Is Risen!’ with all our hearts,” Fr. Konstantin says.
“Now many write about joy. They say, ‘Why are modern Christians so gloomy if Christ called upon everybody to have joy.’ I think that to propagandize joy is absolutely incorrect. We come to church in order to pray and receive the Holy Body and Blood of Christ—our Church unity is based precisely on these things, not on emotions. This is what the Church is like.
“Calling forth some emotions is a dangerous mistake. These emotions will be false. Many Church Fathers even counsel us to conceal from others the gift of abundant spiritual joy (if God should grant it to you).”
Joy does not seek for itself.
As a matter of fact, the Church gives us all that is needed for natural, not artificial, joy.
Many people read the Gospel, so even if it is hard for them to concentrate, they will still find it easy to understand the meaning of Church hymns and chants.
Our relationship with God is much deeper than our emotions.
Fr. Konstantin gives an example: “A mother of many children is tired. She grows faint from exhaustion and all she wants to do is sleep. But it does not mean that she no longer loves her children at the moment or loves them less than when she is nursing them or smiling at them.
“We know that many saints had different [spiritual] states. The podvigs (ascetic labors) of some saints were seen by everybody, while others did not perform any special outward spiritual labors, yet they achieved perfection and were glorified by God. One striking example is St. Dositheus. Outwardly he did not exceed any of the brethren in ascetic labors. Nobody noticed that he was performing the great labor of obedience. He cut off his own will for the sake of God’s will.”
Joy cannot be earned.
As is generally known, after the midnight Paschal service everybody breaks his fast. There is the cracking of eggshells, the smell of sausage, joyful hugs and toasts… At last! And shish kebabs in the country-houses, premieres at cinemas, rock music in our earphones instead of the “boring” classical music are ahead of us. And so, there is an impression that we regard Church life as our “obligation”, and Great Lent—as a prolonged mining shift.
So when the feast comes, our “interval between the shifts” comes with it: We take our hard hats off, wash the coal dust from our faces, and hurry to the fields to drink and make merry until the next shift… Meanwhile, the time of fasting, the opportunity to pray at the Liturgy, to receive Communion and all that happens at the Church are God’s great gifts of to us, and not our duties to Him.
Fr. Konstantin holds that we must be happy with these gifts and thank God even for several hours of Paschal joy:
“During the period of the Fast, God loosens the fetters of passions with which we are bound. The Fast is a gift of the Church, a gift to all of us. And Paschal joy after Great Lent is another gift and evidence of the reality of Divine grace—so that when Paschal joy is taken away from us (and it will inevitably be taken away), we might remember it, remember that it is really possible to rejoice in the Resurrection of Christ.”
Joy lives by hope.
Our feelings are short-lived and weak, they deceive us. We have tasted a little Paschal joy, but after two movies and three evening parties our joy disappears and it is replaced with sorrow at our own weakness. How can we keep our balance? How can we not feel despondent, and at the same time, not indulge ourselves in our humility: “I am so weak, O Lord, there is no getting away from it. I admit that I am not St. Seraphim of Sarov, so let me go and watch the next TV series!”
Fr. Konstantin is of the opinion that humility is not enough—repentance is also needed. “Not only must we be conscious of our inability to refrain from watching entertainment shows, but we must also repent of it instead of giving way to despair. Imagine an inmate of a Nazi concentration camp who has joined an insurgent committee and is now preparing for an uprising. But while the revolt is being organized, he continues working at the fascists’ factories! Of course he is not particularly enthusiastic about it, but he does it with the hope that the uprising is underway, and that with the help of the allied army it will succeed.
“In our case, with the help of God we are freed from passions. So not only should we accept ourselves as we are, but we should also pray to God and ask Him to strengthen us in this struggle. ‘I have frittered away time throughout the week, have watched various rubbish on TV, have not thought about God, so I have lost the joy of the Resurrection of Christ. But I believe in Him, I believe that the Lord will reform me—however painful it may be for me to accept this—and will awaken my heart to love and joy’.”