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Giver of Life:  The Holy Spirit In Our Daily Experience

a 12 June 2011 posting on Orthodox Christianity Then and Now, 

by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware


My grandmother long ago once wondered, “Why is the Holy Spirit never mentioned in sermons? Hearing of Him is like hearing news of an old friend one hasn’t heard of in a long time.” We will hear of news of this old friend today. Saint Symeon the New Theologian wrote this invocation to the Holy Spirit:

Come, true light.

Come, life eternal.

Come, hidden mystery.

Come, treasure without name.

Come, reality beyond all words.

Come, person beyond all understanding.

Come, rejoicing without end.

Come, light that knows no evening.

Come, unfailing expectation of the saved.

Come, raising of the fallen.

Come, resurrection of the dead.

Come, all-powerful, for unceasingly you create, refashion and change all things by your will alone.

Come, invisible whom none may touch and handle.

Come, for you continue always unmoved, yet at every instant you are wholly in movement; you draw near to us who lie in hell, yet you remain higher than the heavens.

Come, for your name fills our hearts with longing and is ever on our lips; yet who you are and what your nature is, we cannot say or know.

Come, Alone to the alone.

Come, for you are yourself the desire that is within me.

Come, my breath and my life.

Come, the consolation of my humble soul.

Come, my joy, my glory, my endless delight.

Notice three things (keeping to my archbishop’s advice that every sermon have three points!) that St Symeon says regarding the Holy Spirit:

1.) Symeon speaks of the Spirit as light, joy, glory, endless delight, rejoicing without end, and so on. Saint Seraphim of Sarov said that the Holy Spirit fills with joy whatever he touches.

2.) The Spirit is also full of hope, for he looks forward to the age to come.

3.) There is also the nearness yet otherness of the Spirit. He is “everywhere present” [from the prayer, O Heavenly King] yet mysterious and elusive.

Symeon calls him “my breath and my life,” “hidden mystery,” “beyond all words,” “beyond all understanding.” We know him, but we do not see his face, for he always shows us the face of Christ. Like the air around us, which enables us to see and be seen, he is transparent and enables us to see and hear Christ. He is not to be classified, baffling our computers and filing cabinets. As the Lord said, “The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes” [Jn 3:8]. As C. S. Lewis wrote in the first of his Narnia Chronicles books, Aslan “is not a tame lion.” The Holy Spirit is not a tame spirit, either. The Spirit makes Christ close to us, establishing that relationship.

The Sistine Chapel image of creation depicts Adam just after his creation, with the finger of God and that of Adam just touching — an accurate depiction of the Holy Spirit who puts us in touch with God and with one another. The writer J. V. Taylor called the Holy Spirit “the go-between God.”

The current Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius IV, wrote, “Without the Holy Spirit God is far away. Christ stays in the past. The Gospel is simply an organisation. Authority is a matter of propaganda. The Liturgy is no more than an evocation. Christian loving is a slave mentality. But in the Holy Spirit, the cosmos is resurrected and grows with the birth pangs of the kingdom. The Risen Christ is there. The Gospel is the power of life. The Church shows forth the life of the Trinity. Authority is a liberating service. Mission is a Pentecost. The Liturgy is both renewal and anticipation. Human action is deified.”

The Spirit makes what is far to be near, the past present. Christ without the Holy Spirit is merely an historical figure in the distant past; with the Spirit, he is present. Without the Spirit, the Gospel is only words; with the Spirit, they have life-giving power. Without the Spirit, the Church is only an organization; with the Spirit, it is Communion. Without the Spirit, authority is slavish rule-following; with the Spirit, it is sharing in divine life, divinization. Without the Spirit, mission is propaganda; with the Spirit, it is Pentecostal tongues of fire. Without the Spirit, liturgy is merely recollection; with the Spirit, it is present reality. Through the Spirit, clock and calendar time is turned to sacred time: once upon a time becomes today. Note in our services in Holy Week approaching Pascha, how often “today” is used. “Today, I rise in your resurrection.” The devil says “yesterday,” and wants us to feel regret or nostalgia; and “future,” so that we might feel anxiety. But the Spirit says “today.” The Patriarch’s speech can be summed up in one word: Zoōpoion — the Life-giver who makes things alive for us.

There are two fundamental things about the Holy Spirit:

1.) He is understood in Scripture and Tradition as a Person, not just an impersonal force. Christ is obviously a person. It is not as obvious with the Holy Spirit, but he is a person in the experience of the Church. Note Ephesians 4.30: "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God." Impersonal forces do not feel grief, do not feel love. You may love your computer, but your computer does not love you. Our sins, selfishness, and lack of love cause the Holy Spirit grief. He weeps over it.

2.) The Holy Spirit is equal to the other two Persons of the Trinity. From the Creed: “Worshipped and glorified together with the Father and the Son.” Together, not below. Also, “Glory to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” all on the same level.

Gregory of Nyssa said, “Never think of Christ without the Holy Spirit.” We could reverse that too: never think of the Holy Spirit without Christ. Irenaeus described the Son and the Spirit as the two hands of the Father, who always uses both hands together. To better understand the Holy Spirit’s work, look at the cooperation of the Holy Spirit and the Son. In the Creed: “Incarnate by the Holy Spirit and Virgin Mary.” In the Incarnation, the Holy Spirit descends upon the Virgin Mary. The Holy Spirit sends Christ into the world.

The Troparion for Theophany: “When you, O Lord, were baptized in the Jordan, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest. For the voice of the Father bore witness unto you, calling you the beloved Son, and the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed His word as sure and true.” The Spirit descends from the Father and rests on the Son, the same relationship as in the Incarnation.

The Holy Spirit sends the Son into public ministry. In the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, the Holy Spirit descends upon Christ as a cloud of light, as understood by the Fathers. In the Resurrection, Christ is raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul in Romans [1:4] calls Christ “the Son of God in power according to the Spirit.” In the Incarnation and Baptism, the Holy Spirit sends Christ into the world. In Pentecost, Christ sends the Holy Spirit to his disciples, and thence into the world. In the First Gospel reading on Holy Thursday evening [Jn 13:31-38; 14:1-31; 15:1-27; 16:1-33; 17:1-26; 18:1] we hear “The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. He will bear witness to me. He will guide you into all truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you" [Jn 14:26; 15:26; 16:13-14]. The Holy Spirit testifies not to himself but to Christ, in a natural diakonia. Christology and Pneumatology are inseparable. The Holy Spirit, the "go-between" God, establishes the relationship between us and Christ. He shows us not his own face, but the face of Christ.