The Winter Pascha, Chapter 23: Glad Tidings of Great Joy
The following is an excerpt from The Winter Pascha, by Fr. Thomas Hopko
The joy of the Messiah's appearance abounds in the Church's liturgical services of the Winter Pascha. When the "Hail" of the angelic salutation is translated "Rejoice," as it often is in the church services since in Greek that is what it literally means, there is an even greater presence of the "good news of great joy" for the faithful, since they, together with the whole of creation, are greeted with this salutation again and again in the songs of the festal celebration.
Let creation exceedingly rejoice,
For the Creator fashions himself as a creature.
And He who was before all things now manifests Himself as God newly revealed.
Let the wise men go to meet Him with their gifts;
Let the shepherds clap their hands in faith at the wonder;
and let mortal men join the angels with rejoicing.1
Be joyful, O earth!
Behold, Christ draws near to be born in Bethlehem.
Be glad, O sea!
And dance for joy, O company of prophets,
For today you behold the fulfillment of your words.
Rejoice, all you righteous!
Let the kings of the whole earth sing with rejoicing,
And let the nations be in exceeding joy!
Mountains, hills, and valleys,
Rivers, seas, and the whole of creation:
Magnify the Lord who now is born.
Rejoice, O Virgin,
The Theotokos who of the Holy Spirit
Has borne life into the world
For the salvation of all!2
One of the most devastating accusations that can be made against Christians is that they have no joy. Joyless Christians are a contradiction in terms. People who are bitter, complaining, condemning, accusing, dissatisfied and depressed are certainly not Christians. They can only be people whose life is untouched by grace, people whose existence is confined to the suffocating limitations of "this world" whose "ruler" is the devil and whose "form... is passing away" (Jn 12:31; 1 Cor 7:31). They cannot possibly be those who belong to Christ and the kingdom of God. For Christians by definition have Christ's "joy fulfilled in themselves" (Jn 17:13). They are people whose joy, which no one can take away, is literally full and complete (Jn 15:11; 16:22, 24).
In his famous book For the Life of the World, Father Alexander Schmemann speaks about the joy of Christians. From its very beginning, he says,
Christianity has been the proclamation of joy, of the only possible joy on earth. It rendered impossible all the joy we usually think of as possible. But within this impossibility, at the very bottom of this darkness, it announced and conveyed a new all-embracing joy, and with this joy it transformed the End into a Beginning. Without the proclamation of this joy, Christianity is incomprehensible. It is only as joy that the Church was victorious in the world, and it lost the world when it lost that joy, and ceased to be a credible witness to it. Of all the accusations against Christians, the most terrible one was uttered by Nietzsche when he said that Christians had no joy.3
Father Alexander goes on to say that before Christians can do anything else with all of their "programs and missions, projects and techniques," they "must recover the meaning of this great joy." he says that joy "is not something one can define or analyze. One enters into joy. 'Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord' (Mt 25:21)." And one enters into this joy, this exceeding great joy, he insists, only by entering into the liturgical, eucharistic life of the Church herself. Here, and only here, as in the celebration of the Nativity of Christ and His Epiphany in the world, can a person partake of that joyful reality for which the world itself was created in the beginning.
1Compline of the final day of the prefeast of the Nativity, December 24.
2Matins of the final day of the prefeast of the Nativity, December 24.
3For the Life of the World, p. 24.