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And I Believe in the Holy Spirit

November 16, 2013

Holy SpiritBreathing in and breathing out—inspiration and expiration—are basic physiological processes that often go unnoticed, but without which no life is possible. The Holy Spirit constitutes the very breath of the Christian spiritual life, without which no pure virtue can be attained, no holy mystery can open the heavens, and no deep transformation can touch the human soul. This article in the Creed is about belief in life, in spiritual life, and in God providing us with the spiritual oxygen our souls require by shedding the love of God “abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given to us” (Romans 5:5). Saint Seraphim of Sarov once summed up the goal of the Christian life as the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. He said, “Prayer, fasting, vigil and all other Christian activities, however good they may be in themselves, do not constitute the aim of our Christian life, although they serve as the indispensable means of reaching this end. The true aim of our Christian life consists in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God.” The Saints knew full well that this belief in the Holy Spirit must also be experienced through the purification and illumination of the human heart. This most basic process in the spiritual life requires our cooperation and collaboration. And through this synergy, the Holy Spirit within man continues the salvific work of the Word of God made flesh for us. When the divine Spirit is present, the Creed becomes a transparent window, now unshuttered, revealing all the wondrous truths and mysteries of God.

Saint Gregory Palamas, whose heart had become a pure dwelling place for the Holy Spirit, through his spiritual struggles and the gift of unceasing prayer, spoke of these mysteries and the Holy Spirit’s abiding activity from the creation of the world unto its ongoing re-creation in Christ. In his Sermon 24 on Pentecost, Saint Gregory writes, “The Holy Spirit had been active before: it was He Who spoke through the prophets and proclaimed things to come. Later He worked through the disciples to drive out demons and heal diseases. But now He was manifested to all in His own person through the tongues of fire, and by sitting enthroned as Lord upon each of Christ’s disciples, He made them instruments of His power. Why did He appear in the form of tongues? It was to demonstrate that He shared the same nature as the Word of God, for there is no relationship closer than that between word and tongue. It was also because of teaching, since teaching Christ’s gospel needs a tongue full of grace. But why fiery tongues? Not just because the Spirit is consubstantial with the Father and the Son—and our God is fire (cf. Hebrews 12:29), a fire consuming wickedness—but also because of the twofold energy of the apostles’ preaching, which can bring both benefit and punishment. As it is the property of fire to illuminate and burn, so Christ’s teaching enlightens those who obey, but finally hands over the disobedient to eternal fire and punishment.” To believe in the Holy Spirit means to believe in what the Holy Spirit accomplishes in disclosing the will of God, in revealing the Person of Christ, and in healing the human soul. It means believing in the Spirit’s ability to illumine and in our capacity to be illumined. Yes, it is a belief about God, but it is also a belief about ourselves.

In His farewell discourse to His disciples, the Lord Christ promises that He will send the Comforter to be with His disciples and His church until the end of the age. This Comforter, this Spirit of Truth, comes to us as a consuming fire purifying us from the deadly passions and as a radiant light illumining our impenetrable darkness, so that we can experience noetically what we are unable to perceive naturally in our fallen state. Through this purification and illumination, we experience a relatedness and a relationship that is intimate, holy, and comforting. Through the Holy Spirit, we sense that we are children of our heavenly Father and begin to converse with Him in a new and wondrous way. Saint Paul reminds the Galatians, “But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ” (4:4-7).

If we were to make “I believe in the Holy Spirit” a core belief guiding our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, we would never feel alone and disconnected. We would never consider God to be distant and relegated to some far off heaven, for we would experience Him in our heart where we would sense the love of God and the mercy of Christ. And in all our trials, tribulations, and difficulties in this strange land where we are pilgrims, we would not lose our bearings, for we would sense the Holy Spirit who guides us gently pointing the way to the Father. Saint Nikolai Velimorovich in his work The Universe as Symbols and Signs writes, “The symbolism of things is ever before our eyes and minds, always as new and clear as the newest edition of a book. Our guide through the forest of symbols and signals is God the Holy Spirit. Different colored lights on the crossways serve as signals to a traveler: which way is right and which way wrong, where is danger and where is free passage. Even so God through innumerable signs and symbols, as through a mirroring of nature, reveals the way we ought to travel in safety and security.” Believing in the Holy Spirit means believing that we will not get lost. We are not without an interpreter. We are not without a guide. We are not without a fellow traveler and companion on our way. If there be darkness, He will illumine it. If there be filth, He will purify it. If there be pain, He will soothe it. If there be death, He will show us the way of life. These are glad tiding indeed! And they inspire the heart to cry out with joy: Glory be to the holy, undivided, consubstantial Trinity who so willed that the Holy Spirit would sanctify our souls, unite us with our neighbor, and make us one with God forever!

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