And Father Seraphim continued: “When the Spirit of God comes down to man and overshadows him with the fullness of His inspiration, then the human soul overflows with unspeakable joy, for the Spirit of God fills with joy whatever He touches. This is that joy of which the Lord speaks in His Gospel: A woman when she is in travail has sorrow, because her hour is come; but when she is delivered of the child, she remembers no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. In the world you will be sorrowful; but when I see you again, your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you (Jn. 16:21-22). Yet however comforting may be this joy which you now feel in your heart, it is nothing in comparison with that of which the Lord Himself by the mouth of His Apostle said that that joy eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for them that love Him (I Cor. 2:9). Foretastes of that joy are given to us now, and if they fill our souls with such sweetness, well-being and happiness, what shall we say of that joy which has been prepared in heaven for those who weep here on earth? And you, my son, have wept enough in your life on earth; yet see with what joy the Lord consoles you even in this life! Now it is up to us, my son, to add labours to labours in order to go from strength to strength (Ps. 83:7), and to come to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13), so that the words of the Lord may be fulfilled in us: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall grow wings like eagles; and they shall run and not be weary (Is. 40:31); they will go from strength to strength, and the God of gods will appear to them in the Sion (Ps. 83:8) of realization and heavenly visions. Only then will our present joy (which now visits us little and briefly) appear in all its fullness, and no one will take it from us, for we shall be filled to overflowing with inexplicable heavenly delights.–St Seraphim’s Conversation with Nicholas Motovilov
If one compares Orthodoxy with other forms of Christianity, one is frequently taken with the manifest dearth of, what one might call after St. John of the Cross, the “dark night of the soul.” It is true that there are a few accounts of Orthodox saints who have experienced this sort of spiritual phenomenon (indeed, the only examples that presently come to my mind are not canonized saints, but Fr Gerasim of Spruce Island, a friend of St Herman’s Monastery in Platina, and Lynette (Katherine) Hoppe [mp3 link].). But, for the most part, the Orthodox experience is one of light (e.g., the uncreated light of Tabor) and of joy. Indeed, the quality of the darkness of the uncreated light about which such luminaries as St. Gregory of Nyssa and Pseudo-Dionysius write seems, to me, different than that of St. John of the Cross or St. Teresa of Avila. Perhaps it is the Orthodox emphasis on the Resurrection and deification. That said, I’m not qualified to speak authoritatively on this matter.
Nonetheless, I think it is true, that the Christian experience is, at its core, whatever its attendant phases, one of ineffable joy. This has been infiltrating my conscious awareness in these last days as, without bidding, I have thought of the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov. I think the paragraph from his conversation with Motovilov is emblematic of the Orthodox life of joy.
I have been confronting several areas of personal fears of late. I don’t mean that to sound overly melodramatic. These are mere phantoms of the mind, spiritual delusions, which, for various reasons, have lodged in my thinking. When I encounter stresses to these particular areas, my reaction is one of fear and anxiety. This is not, it seems to me, a very Christian form of response. This is not to say there is no place for fear in the Christian life (though again, this is something about which I have no authority to speak), but, rather, it is to say, that it is dawning on me that the areas in particular in which I react with fear to certain stresses are things about which such fears are wholly misplaced.
The fears are misplaced because they have crowded out the very thing that is to form the core of the Christian life: faith in Christ. I can do the mental experiment: replace faith in Christ at the center of these anxious areas and all of them are qualitatively changed. More to the point, my present day and this very moment is changed. I do not have perfect love, of course, but Christ does. And if I embrace his perfect love for his Church (and for me) in just these fields of worry, I find that the fear is, indeed, cast out. “All these things will be added to you as well.”
This realization has, to a degree, brought me back to my first days after my chrismation, when the experience of God was so objectively real and heart-warming. This joy is strengthening, too. I find myself better able to confront these passions against which we fight. It is as though once one illusion falls, so, too, fall the illusions which surround our passions and by which they ensnare our wills. These soulish disciplines enacted by the body do not seem drudgery, but, indeed, life-giving and light.
What a blessed realization this is. Perhaps the myrrh streaming from St. Nicholas’ relics not only completed the healing process of my body, but brought to me a further spiritual healing as well.