Table of contents
V. Rev. Thomas Hopko
In the Gospel writings, the beatitudes introduce the teachings of Jesus and are traditionally considered to contain the most concise summary of the spiritual life of man. In the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, the beatitudes are chanted when the Book of the Gospels is carried in solemn procession to the sanctuary to be proclaimed as the Word of God to the faithful. Thus it is the clear teaching of the Gospel and the Church that one enters into the mysteries of Christ and the Kingdom of God only by way of following the Lord’s teachings in the beatitudes.
And He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for
righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for your reward is great in heaven (Matthew 5:2-12; Cf Luke 6:20-26)
Poverty in Spirit
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) This first beatitude is the fundamental condition for all man’s spiritual progress and growth. Before everything else, if a person wants to live the life of God, he must be poor in spirit.
To be poor in spirit is to recognize clearly that one has nothing which he has not received from God, that one is nothing except by the grace of God. This blessed poverty is called “spiritual” in Saint Matthew’s Gospel because first of all, it is an attitude of mind and heart, a conviction of the soul. It is the condition of man in total emptiness and openness before God, primarily in relation to the things of the Spirit, that is, to understanding and insight, to will and desire.
To be poor in spirit is to be devoid of all pride and trust in the power of one’s own spirit. It is to be freed from all reliance on one’s own ideas, opinions and desires. It is to be liberated from the “vain imaginations” of one’s own heart. (Jeremiah 23:17, Romans 1:21) For as the holy Virgin Mary, the perfect model of poverty in spirit, has sung in her magnificent song:
God has shown strength with His arm,
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And has exalted the humble and meek,
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty. (Luke 1:51-54)
Jesus Himself was poor, not only in body but in spirit. Not only was the Lord a poor man, without “place to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20) but His physical poverty was the direct result of His perfect poverty of spirit.
Truly, truly I say to you, the Son can do nothing of His own accord, but only what He sees the Father doing . . . I can do nothing on my own authority… (John 5:19,30)
If a person wishes to embark on the spiritual life, he must abandon all things and follow Christ in poverty of spirit To be poor in spirit is simply to be wholly set free from the sinful lusts of this world.
If anyone loves this world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. (I John 2:15-17)
The first revelation of the will of God is that His creatures must be poor in spirit. The violation of this spiritual attitude is the original sin and the source of all sorrows.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4) This is the second beatitude, and it logically follows the first. If one is poor in spirit, liberated from the spiritual and physical lusts of this world, he will necessarily mourn and weep over the conditions of man.
The poor in spirit know how foolish and sad it is to be caught by sin, to be victimized by falsehood and evil, to be wedded to destruction and death. Viewing the realities of this world without God, the world captivated by its own vain imaginations, the world thinking itself rich and prosperous and needing nothing but in fact “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17), the spiritually poor man can only mourn. Knowing what could be from God, and what is actually with God, he will mourn and weep like the prophets over sinful Israel, like Jesus over the corpse of Lazarus and the city of Jerusalem, (John 11:35, Matthew 23:37) like Jesus Himself in the garden, confronted by His own cup of suffering which was so senseless and cruel.
Blessed mourning for sin is essential to the spiritual life. But in the victory of Christ, it is not morbid or joyless. On the contrary, it is filled with hope, with gladness and with light.
As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting; for you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you… (2 Corinthians 7:9-11)
In his writings, Saint John Climacus (7th c.) follows this teaching of Saint Paul. It is the classical teaching of the Christian spiritual tradition. The end of blessed mourning is not despondency or remorse, it is repentance and salvation. It is the “mourning which causes joy.”
Mourning, according to God, is sadness of soul and the disposition of a sorrowing heart which ever madly seeks for that which it thirsts ...
Mourning is a golden spur in a soul which is stripped of all attachment and all ties ...
Keep a firm hold of the blessed joy-grief of holy mourning and do not stop working at it until it raises you high above the things of this world and presents you pure to Christ.
The fruit of morbid mourning is vain glory and self-esteem, but the fruit of blessed mourning is comfort.
He who is clothed in blessed and grace-given mourning… knows the spiritual laughter of the soul.
My friends, God does not ask or desire that man should mourn from sorrow of heart, but rather out of love for Him he should rejoice with spiritual laughter.
When I consider the actual nature of compunction, I am amazed at how that which is called mourning and grief should contain joy and gladness within it, like honey in the comb. (The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 7)
“So do not make a passion the remedy against passion,” says Saint Nilus of Sinai, “lest you anger… Him who granted you this blessing (of mourning and tears). For in shedding tears for their sins many people forget the purpose of tears, and getting into a frenzy, they go astray.” (Saint Nilus of Sinai, 5th c., Texts of Prayer)
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5) Meekness is an essential possession of the spiritual person. Jesus Himself was meek.
All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son, and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:27-30)
The apostles of Christ taught meekness. Saint Paul mentions it in all his writings and Saint James insists upon it.
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This wisdom is not such as it comes down from above from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits… (James 3:13-17)
To be meek means to be gentle and kind, to be empty of all selfishness and earthly ambition. It means, in a word, never to return evil for evil, but always in everything to overcome evil by good. (Cf. Romans 12:14-21)
Meekness means to distrust and reject every thought and action of external coercion and violence, which in any case can never produce fruitful, genuine and lasting results.
Meekness is to have the firm and calm conviction that the good is more powerful than evil, and that the good ultimately is always victorious.
To refer once more to Saint John Climacus:
Meekness is an unchangeable state of mind which remains the same in honor and dishonor. Meekness is the rock overlooking the sea of irritability which breaks all the waves that dash against it, remaining itself unmoved. Meekness is the buttress of patience, the mother of love and the foundation of wisdom, for it is said, “The Lord will teach the meek His way.” (Psalm 24:9) It prepares the forgiveness of sins; it is boldness in prayer, an abode of the Holy Spirit. “But to whom shall I look,” says the Lord, “to him who is meek and quiet and trembles at my word.” (Isaiah 66:2) In meek hearts the Lord finds rest, but a turbulent soul is the seat of the devil. (The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 24)
Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness
“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6) Strictly speaking, this beatitude of the Lord blesses, not the righteous, but the seekers of righteousness. It is those who are hungry and thirsty for what is just and good who receive the blessings of God who also says:
Do not be anxious, saying “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we wear?” For the heathen seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first His kingdom and its righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. (Matthew 6:31-33)
Man’s life consists in seeking, in hungering and in thirsting for righteousness. This is the spiritual teaching of the scriptures and the saints. The satisfaction and rest comes from God, but is a satisfaction and rest which itself always and for eternity becomes the basis of a new hunger and thirst. This is not in contradiction to Christ’s teaching that “he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35) It is rather the affirmation that the “inquiet” of man’s heart, as Saint Augustine (5th c.) has said, is created “toward God,” and that the “rest” which is found in Him is itself, as Saint Maximus (7th c.) has said, an “ever-dynamic rest,” always growing and developing in ever greater union with the uncontainable and inexhaustible richness and fullness of divine being and life.
Saint Gregory of Nyssa (4th c.) said it this way:
... the human mind . . . constantly flowing and dispersing to whatever pleases the senses… will never have any notable force in its progress towards the True Good. (i.e. God)
For it is impossible for our human nature ever to stop moving; it has been made of its Creator ever to keep changing. Hence when we prevent it from
using its energy on trifles, and keep it on all sides from doing what it should not, it must necessarily move in a straight path towards truth. (On Virginity)
Thus, in a certain sense, it (our humanity) is constantly being created, ever changing for the better in its growth in perfection; along these lines no limit can be envisaged, nor can its progressive growth in perfection be limited by any term. In this way, in its state of perfection no matter how great and perfect it may be, it is merely the beginning of a greater and superiorstage. (Commentary on the Song of Songs)
This spiritual teaching means that the truly spiritual person will not merely move from unrighteousness to righteousness, but will move for all eternitv in God to ever-greater righteousness and perfection, The hunger and thirst in this way is an essential characteristic of the living soul of the righteous person; it is the essential dynamic of spiritual life. The Apostle Paul has given this very doctrine:
... But one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature be thus minded . . . (Philippians 3:13-16) And we all, with unveiled faces, reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
There is no satisfaction for man’s spirit but God. It is the satisfaction of perpetual growth in union with God. To hunger and thirst for God, “for the living God” (Psalm 42:2) is spiritual life. To be filled and contented with anything else is death for the soul.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5:7) To be merciful is to be like God, for “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” (Psalm 103:8)
The Lord passed before Moses and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin . . .” (Exodus 34:6-7)
This also is the teaching of Christ in His Sermon on the Mount:
... love your enemies and do good and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for He is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:35-36)
To be merciful does not mean to justify falsehood and sin. It does not mean to be tolerant of foolishness and evil. It does not mean to overlook injustice and iniquity. God is not this way, and does not do this.
To be merciful means to have compassion on evil-doers and to sympathize with those who are caught in the bonds of sin. It means to forego every self- righteousness and every self-justification in comparison with others. It means to refuse to condemn whose who do wrong, but to forgive those who harm and destroy, both themselves and others. It is to say with utter seriousness, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” (Matthew 6:12)
According to Jesus, the spiritual person will be merciful because he himself is in need of mercy. The spiritual person will be merciful because he knows that he himself is a sinful man in need of God’s mercy and help. There is no one without sin, no one who can claim righteousness before God. If one claims to have no sin, says Saint John, he is a liar, and makes God a liar as well. (I John 1:10,2:4) The spiritual person, because he is in union with God, acknowledges his sin and his need for forgiveness from God and from men. He cannot condemn others for he knows, but for the grace of Christ, that he himself stands unworthy and condemned.
If Thou O Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with Thee that Thou mayst be feared. (Psalm 130:3-4)
The merciful person is merciful toward himself as well as others. This does not mean that he makes light of his sins and takes God’s forgiveness for granted. It means rather that he does not plague himself with neurotic guilt and remorse, surrendering to sinful scruples which are the death of the soul. It means that he trusts in the loving-kindness of God and knows, as Saint Paul has said, that no works of his own will ever deliver him from the need of God’s mercy and love.
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works, lest any man boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
Thus it is the continual reception of the mercy of God and nothing else, which empowers the soul to good works. And it is only the merciful who attain mercy from God. For all eternity man will be at the disposal of God’s mercy. At whatever stage of development he will reach, man’s prayer will always remain the central prayer of the Church: Lord have mercy on me a sinner! The holier the person, the greater is his sense of sinful unworthiness, the stronger is his dependence on the mercy of God, and the more he is merciful to the weaknesses of others.
Purity in Heart
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8) Purity of heart means to be free of all wicked motivations and sinful intentions, and to have no unworthy interests and self-seeking desires. It means to be totally free from anything which blinds and darkens the mind so that it cannot see things clearly and honestly. It means to be totally liberated from anything which captivates and darkens the soul so that it cannot reflect and shine with the pure light of God.
In another place in His Sermon on the Mount, the Lord has said.
The eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is sound, your body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 7:22-23)
The pure in heart are those whose eyes are sound. The pure in heart are those who can say with the psalmist:
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after;
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
Thou hast said, “Seek ye my face!” My heart says to Thee,
“Thy face, O Lord, do I seek.”
Hide not Thy face from me. (Psalm 27)
To seek but one thing, the face of the Lord, is purity of heart. To will but one thing, the light of the Lord in the depth of one’s soul, is to live in utter purity. It is for this reason that Christ’s mother Mary is the image of perfect purity. The holy Virgin is “all-pure” not merely because of her bodily continence, but also because of her spiritual soundness. Her heart was pure. Her mind was sane. Her soul magnified the Lord. Her spirit rejoiced in God her Savior. Her body was His spiritual temple. For this reason God regarded her humility and did great things for her. For this reason all generations call her blessed. For this reason she is “full of grace” and the Lord is with her. For she, in her simple purity could say to God: “Let it be to me according to Your word.” (Cf. Luke 1)
In the spiritual tradition of the Orthodox Church, purity of heart is an essential condition for union with God. When man’s heart is purified from all evil, it naturally shines with the light of God since God dwells in the soul. This is the doctrine of the saints as expressed by Saint Gregory of Nyssa.
... the man who purifies the eye of his soul will enjoy an immediate vision of God… it is the same lesson taught by the Word (i.e. Christ) when He said, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21) This teaches us that the man who purifies his heart of every passionate impulse will see the image of the divine nature in his own beauty.
You must then wash away, by a life of virtue, the dirt which has clung to your heart like plaster, and then your divine beauty will once again shine forth. (On the Beatitudes, Sermon 6)
The Apostle Paul has said the same thing in his pastoral letters.
To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and faithless nothing is pure; their minds and con- sciences are corrupted. They profess to know God, but they deny Him by their deeds; they are detest- able, disobedient, unfit for any good deed. (Titus 1:15-16)
If anyone purifies himself from what is ignoble, then he will be a vessel of noble use, consecrated and useful to the master… ready for any good work. So shun youthful passions and aim at righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:21-22)
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
Christ, the “prince of peace,” (Isaiah 9:6) gives the peace of God to those who believe in Him.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. (John 14:27) I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. (John 16:33)
This is the peace which Saint Paul lists as one of the “fruits of the Holy Spirit” (Galatians 5:22); the “peace of God which passes all understanding.”(Philippians 4:7) It is peace understood as “the liberation from passions, which cannot be attained without the action of the Holy Spirit.” (Saint Mark the Ascetic, 4th c., Two Centuries on Spiritual Law) The peacemakers are those who have the peace of God in themselves and spread this peace to those around them. This peace, first of all, is the freedom from all anxiety and fear. It is the peace of those who are not anxious about their lives, about what they shall eat and drink, about what they shall wear. (Cf. Matthew 6:25-33) It is the peace with which men’s hearts are not troubled nor afraid of anything. (Cf. John 14:27) It is the peace which exists in men even in the most terrible of human situations, in suffering and in death. It is the peace which is in the one who can say:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution or famine, or nakedness, or peril or sword? As it is written, “For Thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” (Psalm 44:22)
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)
The inner peace of God is not the absence of external conflict. The peacemakers of God are not those who are freed from terrific struggles in life, or those who can cause the absence and disappearance of strife among men. Christ Himself did not do this. On the contrary, the Prince of Peace Himself, the Lord who gives strength and peace to His people (Psalm 29:11), has claimed that He Himself will be the cause of much conflict among men.
Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it; and he who loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:34-39; Luke 12:49-53)
The blessed peacemaker is the one who bears witness to Christ and takes up his cross and loses his life for the Lord without fear or anxiety. He is the one who enters every human conflict until the end of time, fortified by the peace of God. He is the one who does not deny the Lord or compromise His truth by the exercise of violence, but bears witness by his own peace in the midst of conflict, the peace which is “not as the world gives.” (John 14:27) Thus, the peacemaker does not provoke others to irritation or violence, except by the truth and love of his life, and leaves all vengeance to the Lord. He is the one who follows Jesus in overcoming evil only by good.
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourself, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18, Deuteronomy 32:35) No, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” (Proverbs 25:21- 22) Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:18-21)
In making peace, the peacemaker himself is a son of God like the Lord Jesus Himself, who paradoxically and inevitably is the cause of much scandal and strife. (Cf. Luke 2:34-35, 7:23, 21:18)
Persecuted for Righteousness’ Sake
“Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake.” (Matthew 5:10-11) In saying these words, Christ promised that those who would follow Him would certainly be persecuted. This is a central prediction of the Gospel and an essential condition of those who accept it.
Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecute me, they will persecute you; if they have kept my word, they will keep yours also. But all this they will do to you on my account, because they do not know Him who sent me. (John 15:20-21)
True Christians will always be persecuted for Christ’s sake. They will be persecuted with Christ and like Christ, for the truth that they speak and the good that they do. The persecutions may not always be physical, but they will always be spiritual and psychological. They will always be mindless, unjust, violent, and “without cause” (Psalm 69:4, John 15:25) They will always be painful and the cause of much suffering. For “indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
(2 Timothy 3:12) A person embarking on the spiritual life must expect persecution and slander. He must be wary, however, of any false persecution complex, and must be absolutely certain that the suffering he meets is solely “for righteousness’ sake” and not because of his own weaknesses and sins. The apostolic scripture makes this precise warning:
For one is approved if, mindful of God, he endures pain while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it, you take it patiently. But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps.
If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or a wrongdoer, or a mischief-maker; yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God. (I Peter 2:19-21, 4:14-16)
The suffering of Christians must be accepted gladly, with mercy and love to those who inflict it. Here once again is the Lord’s own example, as well as that of His prophets, apostles, martyrs and saints. As Christ said, “Father, forgive them… ” (Luke 23:34), while hanging on the Cross; and as the first martyr Stephen prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:60), while being stoned, so all those who follow God’s righteousness must forgive their offenders “from their hearts.” (Cf. Matthew 18:35)
But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your cloak do not withhold your coat as well… Love your enemies, and do good, and give, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He is kind to the ungrateful and selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you… (Luke 6:27-38)
The generous and loving forgiveness of the persecuted for the persecutors is an essential condition of the spiritual life. Without it, all suffering “for righteousness’ sake” is in vain, and does not lead to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Rejoice and Be Glad
“Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven…” (Matthew 5:11) Joy is an essential element of the spiritual life, and is one of the “fruits of the Holy Spirit.” (Galatians 5:22) There is no genuine spirituality without joy. From the first pages of the Gospel, until the very end, the apostles of Christ, with Mary His mother and all of the Christians, are continually rejoicing in the salvation which Jesus has given.
By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:8-11)... your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you… ask and you will receive that your joy may be full. (John 16:22-24)
Christian joy is not earthly happiness, pleasure or fun. It is the “joy in believing.” (Romans 15:13) It is the joy of knowing the freedom of truth in the love of God. (Cf. John 8:32) It is the joy of being made worthy to “share in Christ’s sufferings.” (I Peter 4:13)
By His great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Without having seen Him, you love Him, though you do not now see Him you believe in Him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. (I Peter 1:3-8)
Spiritual joy goes together with spiritual suffering. It is wrong to think that joy comes only at the end when the suffering is over. Joy in Christ goes together with suffering in Christ. They co-exist and are dependent on each other for their power and strength. As blessed mourning over sin is the mourning that comes with the joy of salvation, so suffering in the flesh, in this world, is consonant with - and in a real sense is even caused by - the unspeakable joy of salvation. Thus Saint James can say that Christians should “count it all joy” when they “meet various trials,” knowing that the “full effect” of their steadfast faith is that they may be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1.2-3) And this is the firm conviction of Saint Paul as well.
... we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope-does not disappoint us, because God’s love his been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. (Romans 5:2-5)
It is the spiritual joy of Christians, the joy of the martyrs, which more than anything else, is the invincible witness to the truth of the Christian faith and the genuineness of the Christian spiritual life.