Tag Archives: Joy

Gleanings from a Book: “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail

Note: This book sat on my shelf for several weeks, waiting until I had time to read and review it. Despite the delay, it turns out that the timing is perfect. Here we are, right in the midst of the Paschal season, and the book is full of references to the Resurrection of Christ. And it should be so! For how else can we, Christ’s followers, better celebrate His Resurrection than by responding with joy? If we truly know and believe what He has accomplished for us, our “light and momentary troubles” – yes, even the impossible ones we may be facing at this very moment – pale in comparison to His victory. St. John Chrysostom’s homily which we all just heard at Pascha says, “Christ is risen! And the angels rejoice!” My brothers and sisters, let us join with the angels!

Phoebe Farag Mikhail’s book “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” is a balm for the disheartened soul. The author has found a way to simultaneously calm, soothe, and reassure the reader while also challenging them to live in an attitude of godly joy. Readers will step away from the book knowing what they need to do, with tools at the ready to assist them as they pursue true joy.

The book begins with an invitation section which answers the question, “What is joy?;” then offers insights into who/what steals joy from our life. The (much larger) second section of the book introduces seven joyful practices. These seven practices which the author offers as means to the pursuit of joy include: praying the hours; visiting the sick; repenting; giving thanks; offering hospitality; praying arrow prayers; and singing praises to God. Each practice is expounded via stories (both from the author’s experience and from others), scriptures, quotes from Church fathers, contemporary writings, scientific findings (as appropriate), and more. The book closes with an appropriate epilogue, casting the joy-filled light of the resurrection on a modern story of martyrdom which to the world seems to be only a tragedy.

The author admits that it took her five years to write this book from beginning to end. This was not because she had to search for so long to find all the right quotes or because she only has to write in the few moments left here and there to a wife/mother (who also happens to be a Coptic priest’s wife). Rather, she took five years to write the book because, at one point as she was writing, she found herself not practicing joy. She wanted the book to be genuine, tested, lived, so she set the writing aside and worked on her heart. It is my opinion that it was worth her wait. The text is a smooth blend of stories, practical advice, and wisdom founded on the strong base of Scripture and the wisdom of the Church fathers.

Although the author is a Coptic Orthodox Christian, this book is written in such a way that any reader who wants to live a more joyful Christian life will benefit greatly from having read the book. The references to Christian practices exercised in Ms. Mihail’s Church may differ from some other expressions of Christianity, but the ideas behind them are helpful to any follower of Christ. “Putting Joy into Practice” helps its readers to find practical ways to live out St. Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians (and to us): “Rejoice always… for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (I Thess. 5:16, 18)

If you are generally a joyful person, read this book. It will give you reasons to continue choosing joy, as well as  tools to boost your not-so-joyful days. If you are a complainer and grouch, say a prayer and then read this book, but prepare to change your attitude. Ms. Mikhail’s challenge is difficult to dodge, because the scriptures and Church fathers are pretty straightforward. Regardless of the attitude of their heart at the beginning of the book, readers will step away from it with a smile on their face and – better yet – with joy in their heart.

Purchase your own copy of “Putting Joy into Practice” here: https://paracletepress.com/products/putting-joy-into-practice

Find additional writings by author Phoebe Farag Mikhail at her website, http://beingincommunity.com/.


Here are a few gleanings from this book:


“Why is living in joy so hard? What can we do to live in the joy of the Resurrection when there are so many ways our joy can be stolen? As I pondered these questions, they led me on a path of trying to learn why joy is so hard, but more importantly, to learn how to live in joy, how to protect it from the thieves that strive to steal it, and how to share it with others.” (p. 8, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)


“We might not be happy every day; in fact, we might face suffering every day. But we can have joy every day. Running after joy is akin to holding a cup upside down. Joy is there, waiting to be given, but it doesn’t enter in. Rather than running after joy the way we might seek after pleasures or happy circumstances, we must instead rest and reorient ourselves into a posture of receiving, not running. The practices I share here are meant to help us reorient ourselves, to turn our cup right side up so that joy enters, and we exclaim, in the words of the psalmist, ‘My cup runs over’ (Psalm 23:5).” (pp. 15-16, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)


“Joy thieves can be just like the little animals that steal tomatoes from the garden. On the outside, they can be small, cute, and furry, even comforting, and yet somehow they can still manage to steal our joy. The early church fathers called them ‘the passions.’ In this context, passions are not to be completely confused with our modern use of the word to describe a positive, driven desire to do something good or meaningful. Nor are they to be confused with the ‘passion of Christ,’ which is related to the Latin word for suffering and endurance. Rather, these passions are extreme versions of human behavior that lead to sin.” (p. 22, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)


“Praying the Hours helps us, even in the bustle of our days, to stand in God’s presence and feel this ‘fullness of joy.’ The Hours are not just for ascetics, then, but even for busy, distracted laypeople, an anchor to pull us away from the storms of life into God’s presence and the presence of the entire community of believers. The moment I pick up my prayer book to pray, someone else is praying the same prayer, someone else has prayed another prayer a few moments before me, and others will be praying when I stop. In this way, when I pray the Psalms, I become part of an eternal chorus, even if it seems like I am praying alone. ‘For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’ (Matthew 18:20)” (p. 37, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)


“The common thread running through these experiences is that visiting the sick is not about finding the right words to say, giving a sermon, or asking intrusive questions. A visit to the sick that brings the joy of the Holy Spirit is a visit that provides giving, listening, and connection. Bring bright flowers, a gift, a meal, or your hands and feet to serve when needed or asked. Bring listening ears and the ability to be silent when necessary. Bring a smile, a song to sing, or a story to tell. Bring a piece of art or craft you have made—-or bring supplies to create something together. Be joy, and expect the experience the joy of visiting Christ himself. Christ certainly needs no sermons from us.” (p. 61, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)


“Repentance makes room for joy within us, room that was previously filled with sin, shame, and fear. When we repent by turning our lives around like the prodigal son and the Samaritan woman, we experience its joy, and it is contagious. The heavens rejoice. The church rejoices. We cannot help sharing that joy with others, so they too might encounter Christ. Putting joy into practice means practicing repentance, even on a daily basis.” (p. 76, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)


“I am learning… that when I thank God ‘in any condition, in every condition, and in whatever condition,’ I might not be asking God to take me out of a condition of suffering, or even to see a silver lining around that suffering. Rather, I am thanking him in that condition of suffering, and sometimes I might even thank him for that suffering… Thanking God for suffering is… acknowledging that perhaps that suffering can serve a greater purpose.” (p. 85, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)


“Sometimes discovering who needs hospitality is a matter of taking a few moments to sit outside, linger on your front porch, or say hello to the neighbor living on the same floor in your apartment building. We might feel overwhelmed by great needs of the world presented to us on the news, but it is our simple acts of hospitality that will change the world, not our worries.” (p. 122, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)


“These days, when we find ourselves waiting, we fill the time by looking at our smartphones, checking our social media feeds or our emails, making every moment a constant input of information—often information we cannot control or tasks we cannot take action on while in line or sitting in traffic. This can add to our general sense of stress and lack of control… Using arrow prayers can help us reclaim control of our time and energy. Information overload drains us, but prayer fills us.” (pp. 127-128, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)


Need to learn a few “arrow” prayers? Here are some of the arrow prayers found on pp. 136 -137 of “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail. You may wish to print them onto cardstock, cut them apart, and glue to decorative paper or a blank index card (which you can decorate if you’re so inclined). Place these prayers around the house, in your purse or briefcase, even in the car so that you remember to pray.


“The joy of the Lord’s presence starts in the fiery furnace, not outside it… We begin the hymn [of the three saintly youths in the fiery furnace] with an exhortation to the youth in the fire to sing to the Son of God who is there with them in their suffering—and therefore also in their joy. This exhortation applies to us as well. We don’t wait to praise God until after we are saved from the furnace, when our prayers are answered the way we hope they will be. We praise him even in our troubles, acknowledging and confessing that he is there with us in those troubles. When we can wipe away from our eyes the smoke of our problems and praise him, we see him in his glory there—and this is powerful. This is joy.” (p. 146, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)


“My hope is that, by drawing from examples of how my church helps us live in the joy of the Resurrection, this book might open your eyes to the ways your tradition helps you practice joy. Once you begin to see it, whether you are in a happy situation or in great pain, it is all joy.” (p. 163, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)




Lazarus Saturday: An Appropriate Beginning to Holy Week

In a matter of days, we will be celebrating Lazarus Saturday. What a perfect introduction to Holy Week, and what a glorious way for our Lord to reassure his followers of His power that even conquers death. It was, in a sense a “spoiler alert” of what was to happen in the days ahead!

Lazarus Saturday is the only time in the church year that the resurrectional Divine Liturgy is celebrated on a day other than Sunday. It makes sense: after all, on Lazarus Saturday, Christ raised His very dead friend Lazarus from the dead, a precursor of his own death and resurrection! His raising Lazarus demonstrated Christ’s power over death, giving His followers a reason to hope during the events of the week ahead of them.

Let us make it a priority to attend the Lazarus Saturday Divine Liturgy with our children. What a beautiful way for our families to begin Holy Week, with the joy and hope of a resurrection pointing us all to the hope and joy of our Lord’s resurrection (and, God willing, one day, our own resurrection), to come! It does mean attending Divine Liturgy two days in a row, however… (Molly Sabourin blogs about that challenge, along with why it’s worth meeting that challenge, at http://www.antiochian.org/node/25669.)

Here are a few resources that we can use with our children to better prepare for this special celebration:

A brief description of the feast/the icon of the feast, along with suggested ideas to enhance family participation can be found at  http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/feasts/lazsat.htm.

We can re-enact the story as a family, complete with a toilet-paper-wrapped “Lazarus,” and discuss the significance of the event as suggested at http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2012/03/lazarus-arise.html.

We may read about (and watch a few short videos about) Greek traditions for Lazarus Saturday at http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2011/04/greek-traditions-for-saturday-of.html. We may be inspired to bake “Lazarus Bread” as Matushka Constantina did, and wrote about at http://lessonsfromamonastery.wordpress.com/2013/04/27/lazarus-saturday-baking-lazarakia/.

We can read through the song “Rejoice O Bethany” as a family, making sure that our children understand the words as much as possible. It tells the story so well! Practice singing the song: at least the first (and again, last) verse, so that our children can sing along. Listen to the song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rju5GyVtfnQ

Best of all, let us all attend the Lazarus Saturday Divine Liturgy, and participate in the service. It sets the atmosphere for Holy Week and prepares our hearts for what lies ahead. Holy Week is a beautiful journey, and Lazarus Saturday is the appropriate first step.

O Christ God, when Thou didst raise Lazarus from the dead, before Thy Passion, thou didst confirm the universal resurrection. Wherefore, we, like babes, carry the insignia of triumph and victory, and cry to Thee, O vanquisher of death, Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord. ~ Orthros Troparion for Lazarus Saturday

Preparing for the Nativity

We are rapidly approaching the season of the year when we joyfully prepare our hearts to celebrate the birth of Christ. Here in America, Christmas reminders are everywhere. In stores and some homes, decorations are already going up. Christmas music will soon surround us. Invitations to festive celebrations are coming our way. And, of course stores are offering all kinds of “holiday sales.” But do any of these things (decorations, music, celebrations, or sales) truly prepare our hearts to celebrate Christ’s birth?

Thanks be to God for the Nativity Fast, which offers us as Orthodox Christians the opportunity to focus on what this time of year is truly about: the coming of Christ in a human body. The fast offers us time to pray, to ponder, to attend more services, to not over-consume (food or stuff). It is counter-cultural; or perhaps better said, super-cultural; and that is refreshing to our souls. So how can we, as Orthodox Christians parents heading into a fast, help our children embrace this time which is so different from what much of the world around us is choosing?

There are many wonderful ideas to embrace the fast. As far as decorations are concerned, we can decorate our homes with decorations that point our hearts in the right direction. For example: we can make a Nativity Fast wreath, which focuses each week on a different theme for the week, and at evening prayers each night, light the candle for that week and remember the theme for the week, perhaps discussing how it was evidenced in your lives that day. (See http://www.stjohnaz.org/stjohnaz/index.cfm/resources/feasts-of-the-church/orthodox-advent-wreath/ for more) Another decoration possibility would be to decorate a Jesse Tree (see http://festalcelebrations.wordpress.com/2007/12/27/jesse-tree-project-2008/ for ideas), which will daily walk our family through the story of mankind from creation to Christ’s birth. Or, we can create and use an Orthodox “Advent” calendar such as this one (http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/xmas/advcal.htm), which can add to the daily remembrance of what the season is truly about. Or we can choose to wait until Christmas Eve to decorate/set up their Christmas tree, to heighten the focus on Christ and His birth. We as parents need to decide what is best for our family: what will best point our children towards Christ.

As for the other seasonal opportunities listed above, let us also use them as learning moments with our children. As for Christmas music, as a family, we can enjoy Christmas music, but let us also sing together Orthodox songs such as the Nativity Troparion and Kotakion, helping our children learn these important hymns of the church. We can celebrate with others. But let us also invite family and friends to a festive celebration during the 12 days of Christmas, perhaps introducing some of our family/friends to the original “12 Days of Christmas” celebration. (See http://www.antiochian.org/content/let%E2%80%99s-celebrate-12-days-christmas for more ideas on this.) We will probably take advantage of sales in order to purchase needed items or gifts. But let us also teach our children that “holiday” means “holy day” and doesn’t (or shouldn’t) have anything to do with sales.

The Nativity Fast is a great opportunity to focus on Christ’s birth in the midst of a selfish season in our culture. Let us fully take advantage of this opportunity by actually doing fewer outside activities during this season. Instead, let us try to pray more. Let us read more from the scriptures and the lives of the saints. Let us look for those in need around us and try to help them as we can. Let us eat less, and pray for the hungry when our stomachs growl. Let us daily offer thanks to God for at least one thing we haven’t recently thanked Him for. In the face of a consumer, “me centered” culture, let us fly to Him about whom this season was (no, IS) meant to be: Our Lord, and God, and Savior, Jesus Christ.

May God bless us as we enter the Nativity Fast, and grant us the ability to point our children to the true meaning of this season.