In 2011, I interviewed the abbot of the Monastery of Archangel Michael in Cyprus to ask about his beliefs regarding Saint Barnabas. Prominently displayed on his office wall were photos of a smiling monk in a casket. My wife commented that the man had a pleasant look on his face. Delighted that we noticed, our host—a monk from Mt. Athos—explained that shortly after his friend died he got the beaming smile because of what he was experiencing. I could not help but think I had never seen pictures of smiling dead preachers on the office walls of pastors in the United States, although tortured depictions of a dead Jesus on a cross are plentiful.
After our interview of the monk ended, our translator further explained Eastern Orthodox beliefs about joy and suffering: “The more you approach Jesus, who is Love, the closer you come to the cross. The more you love, the more you suffer. When you see others suffering, if you love them, you also suffer. Yet suffering brings happiness. It is not logical, but it is true. Monks are happy people. People may prosper but not be happy. In society, the loneliest people are those in the crowds of the city, not those in the isolation of the monastery. Monks do not suffer from loneliness.” He said that we should not avoid suffering but rather embrace it, for the more we share in Christ’s sufferings the more like him we become. He added that this view fundamentally differs from the health and prosperity preaching of many T.V. evangelists in America. So very true.