Dear Fr Raphael, Andreas, and others,
I've very much enjoyed the recent contributions to this discussion. Two points have come out in the most recent posts: namely, the question of joy in relationship to the virtues, and the counsels given in the patristic texts towards the attainment of joy.
On the question of joy and the virtues, the following two comments help to frame things in:
One important issue to address here is the different way in which we pursue joy as compared to the other virtues. [...] Why then is there this difference in how we approach joy and in how we try to attain the other virtues?
from the previous posts (which are all wonderful), the thought occurs that perhaps joy is not a virtue and whereas we work towards the virtues, joy is a gift of the Spirit, the feeling of grace which unexpectedly comes upon us when we have shown love for Christ by trying to keep His commandments.
This is a very interesting distinction. It is telling to note that joy is not normally listed in various patristic catalogues of the virtues; but rather, it is listed as among the 'gifts of the Spirit' (see Galatians 5.22-23) towards which the virtues lead. I'm reminded of a verse by Alexander Pope:
"What nothing earthly gives or can destroy,
The soul's calm sunshine and the heartfelt joy,
Is Virtue's prize. A better would you fix?"
I'm also reminded of our reading group on St Innocent of Alaska's text, The Way Into the Kingdom of Heaven
, in which we addressed his comments on 'blessedness' and 'happiness' (not quite the same as 'joy', but not unrelated), as the gifts of the Spirit in response to toil (see especially posts #78 and onward in that thread).
Elder Porphyrios sees joy as the fulfilment of the love imparted in the human heart by God, that is made manifest through struggling after that love:
"Christ is joy, the true light, happiness. Christ is our hope. Our relation to Christ is love, eros, passion, enthusiasm, longing for the divine. Christ is everything. He is our love. He is the object of our desire. This passionate longing for Christ is a love that can not be taken away. This is where joy flows from." (Elder Porphyrios, Wounded by Love, p. 96)
This seems in line with the majority of patristic texts, which see joy as the harmony of creation in authentic communion with God, with is grace, rather than as a virtue per se
-- virtues normally being those paths of action and behaviour that lead to such communion. This is, however, not hard-and-fast, and there are some passages that interpret virtue in a manner to which joy might find an entry. Yet the standard is to see joy as the fruit of a life fed by virtuous living. From St Ignatius of Antioch:
"Virtues and vices are the food of the soul, and it can feed on either one, turning to whichever it desires. If it is bent toward moral excellence, it will be fed by virtue - by righteousness, temperance, meekness, endurance. In other words, it is just as St. Paul says, 'Being nourished by the word of truth' (1 Tim. 4.6)." (St Ignatius of Antioch)
This leads into the second point, which is on the counsel given in the patristic texts towards the attainment of joy. Fr Raphael noted above:
In our life in Christ we try to be patient, to be humble, forgiving, etc. In this there is something direct towards which we aim even if we do not yet understand the goal nor can find a direct way towards it.
But to try to be joyful in such a direct manner is something we rarely hear of or are counseled towards- except perhaps to avoid despondency; but which does not necessarily equate with joy. So the way towards joy is more indirect it seems than the other virtues.
This I find extremely interesting, as it is indeed rather rare to find texts that counsel directly for the direct attainment of joy (a notable exception being the writings of St Seraphim, already hinted at earlier in the thread; see the quotations I offered in my post #26
). Instead, as you say, the texts tend to see joy as something attained through
the work of direct attainment of the virtues. Seeking joy in-and-of itself, much less attempting to 'practice' joy in-and-of itself, tend to be discouraged as prone to delusion. Rather, what one normally sees is counsel such as the following from St John Chrysostom:
"If thou desirest joy, seek not after riches, nor bodily health, nor glory, nor power, nor luxury, nor sumptuous tables, nor vestures of silk, nor costly lands, nor houses splended and cnspicuous, nor anything else of that kind; but ursue that spiritual wisdom which is according to God, and take hold of virtue; and then nought of the things which are present, or which are expected, will be able to sadden thee."
What emerges out of seeing joy in relation to the virtues, and thus the manner in which it must be obtained (i.e. not directly, in the way that we are called directly to grapple with the virtues), is that joy, understood as the fruit of communion in God, must be attained in the same way as all communion in God: ascetically. That is, it is through the keeping of the commandments, the virtues
, that communion is made real in the human heart; and all the fruits of that communion -- including joy -- are laid bear to the human person through that ascetic endeavour. Which ties back directly to St John Klimakos on joy coming through 'grief', which is for him a type
of true ascesis.
I very much welcome others' thoughts and further discussion.
XB, Dcn Matthew