The final area for discussion is joy. Of the many valuable insights from Alexander Schmemann in his book For the Life of the World, one of the most pointed and significant discussions is on joy. Schmemann suggests that “from its very beginning Christianity has been the proclamation of joy, of the only possible joy on earth[…]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.” He goes on to argue that “joy was given to the Church for the world—that the Church might be a witness to it and transform the world by joy.” Schmemann’s point is that the failure of Christians to be joyful is a failure to engage the world as God has prescribed. Too often Christians look like the rest of the world, struggling to make sense of the problems of this world and how the suffering and pain and evil can be compatible with the loving God they claim to know. They struggle to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4) in the face of such serious problems. But Schmemann counters, arguing that Christians “have ceased to believe that the feast, the joy have something to do precisely with the ‘serious problems’ of life itself, may even be the Christian answer to them.” Chesterton recognizes this dilemma as well, and he too argues that “everything human must have in it both joy and sorrow; the only matter of interest is the manner in which the two things are balanced or divided.” For Chesterton, as for Schmemann, the answer is clearly joy. Chesterton continues, “man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul.”
Part of faithfully educating students in a classical Christian school, particularly as it relates to formation, is to remind them that despite the trials of life, joy ought to be a dominant characteristic. This is not to say that students must always be happy, but they should always be hopeful. First Peter 3:15 says that we should always be prepared to give a defense for the hope that is within us. I often wonder why it is that so few Christians have ever had occasion to answer such a question, for their lives have never demonstrated a hope worth inquiring about. Schmemann and Chesterton are correct—the Christian life should be characterized by joy that is for the world, a joy that does not belittle the struggles of the world but demonstrates a hope that transcends the struggles. As classical Christian educators, part of a faithful education aimed at forming disciples to the glory of God must include encouraging, fostering, and modeling a life of joy. But this is by no means an easy task, for simply talking about the need for joy and teaching about joy is not the same thing as possessing and living out joy. Joy is perhaps one of the most unexplored areas of Christian education, and I do not make any claims at answering all of the issues, but the following are some hypotheses of what might help. First, as both Schmemann and Smith have argued, we must create a distinctly Christian cultural liturgy; joy cannot merely be an add-on or occasional outcome, it must become, in Chesterton’s words, “the permanent pulsation of the soul” of our institution. Prayer and participation in corporate worship together, including recitation of the stock responses like the Apostle’s Creed, are a good start. Second, the administration and faculty must model joy for the students, and this must be vulnerable enough to share the challenges we face so that they may see our joy despite (or, sometimes because of) our difficult circumstances. Third, we should encourage students in their expressions of joy, reminding them that as they enjoy God, the creation, and the life to which He has called each one, they are fulfilling their chief end.
It is one of Schmemann’s first statements about joy that perhaps sums it up best of all. “At some ultimate point, within some ultimate analysis, we inescapably discover that in and by itself action has no meaning. When all committees have fulfilled their task, all papers have been distributed and all practical goals achieved, there must come a perfect joy.” When our students graduate, paper in hand and practical goals achieved, will we have trained them to live lives of joy, joy that is for the world by bringing joy to the world? Faithful education, I think, requires that we have at least done our best.
Schmemann, For the Life of the World, 24.
Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 150.
Schmemann, For the Life of the World, 13.