Sermon – June 18, 2000 - Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock – all rights reserved
John 7:37-52, 8:12 ~ Acts 2:1-11
What is this Holy Spirit that came upon the Apostles, 50 days (Pentecost) after the Resurrection, ten days after Jesus Christ ascended into heaven?
It is many things. Here are some of the most important
First, it was a comforter – a confirmation to the Apostles and that the life and the teachings that they witnessed were far greater than any prophet before. Jesus kept His ascension promise. Indeed it was the fulfillment of the prophets and the salvation of humanity. From this point forward, they were enabled to teach, reach and preach to people so that they could understand and hear the message of the Gospel. They were strengthened to endure the struggles they would face – they were embolden to step forward, to be seen as followers of Christ. This is why we call Pentecost the birthday of Holy Church.
Second, it was a fire, a power that descended upon them – but they were waiting to receive the gifts. They had gathered together like us to celebrate the life, actions and teachings of God. Symbolically, we use special oil, Chrism or Muron, to be sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Oil was used to light lamps. Even with this seal (AKA Chrismation or Confirmation, we may not yet be aware of the power given to us, until we prepare for its descent into our consciousness. Once here, or rather once our consciousness is raised to meet the Holy Spirit, insight and understanding can be ours so that we are able to discern, to tell when and how to speak so that we are understood. But like a fire, if we are not prepared, it can burn us. That is why in Holy Church with all her regular and seasonal services, we prepare regularly.
Third, it was a spirit, energy – not necessarily visible to the profane.
(Note: It is a point of continuing discussion in Holy Church as to the gender of the Holy Spirit. Most of the Church does not seem to be overly concerned with this, tending to use a neutral gender. In English, our most neutral personal gender has been masculine. We can point to many of the Church Fathers and the early apostolic writers that refer to the Holy Spirit as the feminine nature of the Godhead. We can even point to Hebrew Scriptures for the feminine aspect. Elohim, the name of God the creator in Genesis, has a masculine beginning “EL” and a feminine ending “IM.” In Greek, Sophia (Wisdom) is most definitely feminine. However I am more inclined, as Holy Church has seemed to do through the ages, to let Christians use their own reason, research and experience guide them in this and similar matters.)
Fourth, it was also a blessing that could be passed on through the Apostles – through Laying on of Hands with this intent – we call this ordination, consecration but also apostolic succession. It is this historic lineage of the Holy Spirit by which Orthodox Churches are Apostolic.
Fifth, it is fully God, part of the Triune God, whose mystery is great and beyond today’s homily.
Do not be afraid when the Spirit comes to you. We do not become “slaves” of this Holy Spirit. It cannot help us, comfort us, or heal us without our willingness. As powerful as the Holy Spirit, God is – we have been granted free will.
Most holy and blessed Paulos Mar Gregorios (of blessed memory), in his fine discourse on St. Gregory of Nyssa called “Cosmic Man” talks about the Holy Spirit, its power and us:
“ This special power of the Spirit to generate and enhance the capacity for good actions is what the ancient tradition of the Church regards as grace. It is an act of God, but God’s agency does not overwhelm the agency of man…. receiving of the Spirit is not an arbitrary and capricious matter, however. The Holy Spirit acts more effectively in those who have made themselves holy – negatively by separating from sin and positively by practicing acts of virtue. The Holy Spirit’s special capacity is to do good through the will and agency of man without destroying man’s freedom…. [When] the Spirit abides in Man and Man becomes the Presence of God in Creation – [this] is what it means to be the Image of God.” (pp 215-217)
This process of theosis, of becoming “the Presence of God in Creation” is the Eastern Christian understanding that our two fundamental relationships (1- to the source and core of our being, 2 – to the created world in which we are placed) are inseparable. All of our moments alive, we can breathe the Spirit of life and work to become more fitting vessels of God’s presence OR we can serve the prospects of sin, which is at the very core of death. But we can only be filled with Spirit, and inwardly we already know this. And so have all true Christians before us that wait for us on the other side.
When we come to this place of acknowledgement that it is the Holy Spirit of God that we long for. We begin to wait and pray as the Apostles did on the first Pentecost that established Holy Church for the ages, even to the present age.
Today, we will continue the eastern Christian tradition of kneeling prayers at the conclusion of the liturgy, where we ask for all the blessings of the Holy Spirit descent upon the Apostles. As with many ancient prayers, they are colorful and full.
Besides Pentecost prayers and sacramental invocations, there are not many Orthodox prayers directed to the Holy Spirit. In preparation for our kneeling prayers and for greater insight, I would like to read two: one from St. Simeon the New Theologian and one frequently included in Byzantine services. Listen to the descriptions of the Holy Spirit and its power.
St. Simeon the New Theologian opens the Divine Hymns of Love with an invocation of the Holy Spirit. These are a few selected verses:
Come down, O true Light!
Come down, Life eternal.
Come down, hidden mystery
Come down, ineffable treasure
Come down, O constant rejoicing.
Come down, Light that never fadeth.
Come down, Eternal Joy.
Heavenly Majesty, Comforter, Spirit of truth, who art everywhere present and fillest all things, treasury of good gifts and giver of life, Come and abide in us and cleanse of all impurity and save our souls, O good One.