January 9, 2024

The Pastoral Problem of Joy

By Protopresbyter Fr. Thomas Vamvinis

The Pastoral Problem of Joy

Much joy has become a pastoral problem. Cathartic fear has been discarded, not because it "involves torment", according to the first epistle of John the Theologian, but because it is not tolerated by the arrogance of people who have been enslaved by their passions, and have made their will a sacred asylum, which must be respected by all and healed (with the ancient Greek religious meaning of the word).

Indeed, God created us to rejoice in paradise and not to fear anything. However, we sinned and death entered our nature. Now we live with decay and death as constant companions. In this situation our nature was dominated by cowardice and fear and we slipped into selfishness.

The pastoral care of the Church has been replaced in the consciences of many (including Orthodox Christians) by various psychological theories, mainly theories of hedonism, which aim at the release from all mental pain, remorse or guilt, without repentance, without casting off the "old man". The "much joy" of psychotherapeutic techniques is a serious pastoral problem, because the preaching about the healthy fear of death or hell, which presuppose faith in the evangelical teaching of judgment, has become hard to bear. We have become unable to think about the judgment and due to psychological repression we consider it an outdated teaching or completely unrelated to the theology of the Church, which we consider unilaterally as a theology of joy and love.

The Path Towards Love Is Long

In such a crises of conscience we must refer to the texts that the Church has for the guidance of its flock. Let us dwell in this case on the passage we have already mentioned from the first epistle of John. He writes: "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love" (4:18).

Obviously, it is presumptuous to boast that one is "perfect in love", that is to say, that one has no enemies, that one is ready to sacrifice themselves for everyone or to sacrifice anything of their own to minister to their brethren, that they are not bound by anything material and have identified their will with the will of God, who "wants all men to be saved."

Saint Nikodemos observes: "Indeed, one is not perfect in love who fears judgment and hell, because such fear belongs to those who are beginners and imperfect in virtue and not to those who are perfect in it."

Saint Justin Popovich in his interpretation of this verse notes: "The path by which Christ's love is perfected in us is very long and difficult. This is because... evangelical love grows, lives and is perfected only through the other evangelical virtues: prayer, fasting, meekness, humility, longsuffering, hope, faith and others."

Saint Nikodemos also talks about the fear of beginners and the pure fear of the perfect, referring to Saint Maximus the Confessor. However, the perfection of love through the long path needs the discerning fear of the beginners, and it is for this reason, after all, that Christ, preaching to the people, described the day of judgment.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

Become a Patreon or Paypal Supporter:

Recurring Gifts

Contact Form


Email *

Message *