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The Lord and Giver of Life

November 23, 2013

During the last several months, I have devoted blog posts on Sundays to the exploration of a specifically spiritual topic, namely, the Nicene Creed, that ancient crystallization of the Christian faith. During the week, I have spent time writing posts about the various illnesses and afflictions that burden the human heart and keep us from communion with God and one another. This post on the Holy Spirit as the Lord and Giver of Life allows me to bring these two themes together for the purposes of reflecting upon how our core beliefs can have a blessed influence on our daily life, when inspired not just by the vagaries of early experience, but by the very details of the Christian faith.

PentecostIn proclaiming the Holy Spirit as the Lord and Giver of life, the Church is passing on what was revealed to Her by God through the prophets, apostles, and all the saints. From this revelation, we believe that the Holy Spirit is consubstantial with God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and with God the Son through Whom all things were made. And we therefore confess the Holy Spirit as the Lord and Giver of life.

The Holy Spirit as the Giver of life has more than a cosmological relevance, for the divine Spirit is the Giver of our life. On this subject, Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos writes, “If a man struggles not to commit sin and battles against passionate thoughts, he is humiliated and shattered in the fight, ‘but the sufferings of combat purify him little by little and bring him back to the natural state.’(Dorotheos, SC p.412) Yet besides man’s effort, if the Holy Spirit does not descend, the dead nous cannot be purified and brought to life, because ‘only the Holy Spirit can purify the nous.’(Diadochos of Photike, Philokalia 1, p.260, 28).’” The Church understands the plight and suffering of fallen man trying to be good, but often acting badly, trying to find health, but feeling deeply sick, trying to be calm, but often being agitated. There are many practical ways to try to bring about positive changes with respect to thoughts, feelings and behaviors, with therapy in the context of a lived Christian faith being among those valuable agents of change. However, these practical human methods, like therapy, can never serve as replacements for the work of the Holy Spirit, for, as useful as they may be, they are not intrinsically life-giving. It was an intrinsically life-giving, life-transforming change that characterized the miracles of Christ. And in response to Nicodemus’s recognition of the Lord’s miracles, our Savior responded saying, “Except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” meaning that without purification from the passions in the waters of baptism and without illumination by the Holy Spirit the human soul cannot come under the rule of God, which is divine life itself. Saint Seraphim of Sarov summarized this truth, as I noted in the last post on the Holy Spirit, when he taught that the ultimate goal of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, there is no life.

The various afflictions that disturb us and bring suffering to our lives therapists understand in terms of anger-management issues , compulsive buying, anxiety, depression, and addictive behavior. The fathers view these problems in terms of underlying passions that drive the faculties of the soul in improper directions and thereby darken the nous where the Holy Spirit is supposed to dwell in order to quicken our spirit to continue the selfless work of Christ in the world through love for God and compassion for our neighbor. To affect a deep, abiding change, it is not enough just to use one’s mind and what makes sense, for the selfish and prideful mind cannot see properly in the first place, especially when it comes to oneself. The spiritual problem at the heart of the human condition is the rational faculty functioning as though there were no God and no Giver of Life. Only when the noetic faculty is restored to primacy within the soul and set in motion by the Holy Spirit can health be restored. The life that the Holy Spirit gives us involves the purification and illumination of the nous so that all the faculties of the soul are able to function in synergy with one another and with the presence of the grace of the Holy Spirit. This synergeia, whereby the Holy Spirit is present and active in the soul of the cooperating human will roots out the passions of lust, greed, anger, and selfishness.

As I wrote in the last post on Type A behavior, the first important step in curing the soul of these passions is awareness of one’s condition. Saint Maximus the Confessor writes, “The person who has come to know the weakness of human nature has gained experience of divine power.” In other words, awareness of one’s condition is the work of the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit stirs up an awareness in our heart of our own weakness, our sickness. As the Giver of Life, the Holy Spirit does not leave us in a state of despondency over our state, but quickens us to turn to Him and cry out, “Lord have mercy upon me, a sinner.” This is precisely why one of the greatest obstacles to recovery is the feeling of self-satisfaction. This impedes the work of the Holy Spirit within us and leads us away from the cure.

If we believe, truly believe, that the Holy Spirit is the Lord and Giver of life, our own desire to live will become a desire for the Holy Spirit to live in us, for we realize that the Giver is also the Gift. At times of quiet and in times of turmoil, we will turn to the Giver of life for strength in our journey. And when we are faced with a difficulty, when we begin to pray, when we are in need of direction, when we are in need of life, we will then pray to the Giver of life with the sacred words: “Heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, O treasury of every good and Bestower of life: come and dwell in us, and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O Good One.”

  1. Bruce permalink

    Father Bless!!!

    One of the great blessings of my addiction has been facing up to the reality that my god of ‘self knowledge’ would not overcome my illness.

    One of the most difficult ideas for me to let go of was the idea that I could learn what I needed to stay sober and do this on my own….without the need of a Higher Power. And that if I failed at this, I was worthless and should be destroyed (or self destruct) because of my own lack of any redeeming virtue. Everything was centered in me…the problem, the perceived solution, the isolation of my pride and the inevitability of its flip side of despair and self hate. I was lost and I thought it must be my job to find my own way….no one was going to do this for me…and I wasn’t about to let you attempt to do for me what I thought I was supposed to be doing for myself.

    I was constantly bombarded with the idea that I could and should solve problems using the gods of knowledge, science, and my own understanding (I had a very large collection of self help books!). I was taught this from a very early age. I thought I was only worthy of a relationship with God if I was able to show myself as capable of being good on my own.

    The AA Big Book makes this statement on page 39:

    …The actual or potential alcoholic, with hardly an exception, will be absolutely unable to stop drinking on the basis of self knowledge. This is a point we wish to emphasize and re-emphasize, to smash home upon our alcoholic readers as it has been revealed to us out of bitter experience.

    I’d love to hear you write about our world views…about what beliefs we hold onto to attempt to find meaning and direction in our lives. I’d love to hear you comment on the importance of what we hold as our ‘absolute Truth’….that which we place our faith on and which is the foundation of our lives. Many of us have been taught to believe that our lives are manageable and controllable and that the god of our understanding and knowledge when coupled with the truth of what science how we can overcome our problems and lead us to a fantasy of prosperity, peace, and love…fruits of the spirit without the Spirit while here on earth… the god of Humanism and Realism.

    My own journey to Orthodoxy really began with the reading of ‘Christ the Eternal Tao’ which then lead me to Eugene (Father Seraphim) Rose’s book on Nihilism. I was wrapped up deeply in the belief that all truth is relative and that there is no absolute Truth.

    It’s also significant that we have a dramatic increase in the rate of giving up in the form of suicides in the U.S. When the pain of the beliefs we hold onto becomes so painful that they see no meaning in this gift of Life:

    In the words of Hiermonk Damascene in the “Editor’s Preface’ to Father Seraphim’s book on Nihilism:

    We have been brought to the edge of the abyss of nothingness and, whether we recognize it nature or not, we will, through affinity for the ever-present nothingnesss within us, be engulfed in it beyond all hope of redemption – unless we cling in full and certain faith (which doubting, does not doubt) to Christ, without Whom we are truly nothing.

    We must fight this god of nothingness (and the delusions of science and true understanding without God) and cleave and abandon ourselves to Him. Thank you for all that you are doing to reveal this True God and your attempt to infuse Christ into what the world holds as knowledge.

  2. Bruce,

    May the Lord God bless you always!

    Thank you for your insightful comments on self-knowledge and self-help books that certainly have their limitations, precisely because they do not have any focus other than self. Of course, it is good to try to know oneself and help oneself, but that can only take place in synergy with a source for knowledge and a source for help beyond oneself. And I don’t think it can be over-emphasized that the bulk of the wisdom and of the assistance comes, not from us, but from the Most High. You are also quite right that the idols of knowledge, science, and understanding are erected in the soul from an early age. People are worshiping them without realizing what they are doing. And then, their gods fail them.

    Yes, you have provided a wonderful idea for some posts. The problematic beliefs about the omnipotence of self-knowledge and the universality of self-help are certainly worth exploring. And yes, I think that in realizing that these false gods have failed them, many may be driven to suicide, another topic that should at some point be addressed. And all of this is related to nihilism.

    Thank you again for your thoughts. They are really helpful. At some point, God willing, they may appear as posts here.

    In Christ,

    Fr. Alexis

  3. Bruce permalink

    Father Bless!!!

    As I read your response, I thought you might find this extract from Bishop/Saint Nikolai Velimirovich homily about the 10 lepers (Luke 17:12 -19) relevant to your comment that the role of the Most High cannot be over-emphasized:
    The parable ends with the Savior’s words to the grateful Samaritan: And he said unto him: “Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.” See the greatness of the Lord’s humility, and also His gentleness. It is a joy to Him to call men fellow-workers in His great and good works…He desires to share His riches with the poor, His glory with the needy and the sorrowing. They (the ten leapers) could, with faith, have cried out to thousands of the world’s most famous doctors. If any of these thousands of earthly, mortal doctors had healed them, do you think that he would have ascribed the healing to the sick man’s faith and not to his own skill? This is the behavior of man to man. But Christ the Lord deals with men very differently. Christ has provided the wagon-load of wheat, and the leprous Samaritan has thrown one grain of wheat onto the load. Christ’s load of wheat is His divine power and authority, and the leper’s one grain is his faith in Christ. Christ, the true Lover of mankind, will not belittle that one grain, but will, on the contrary, give it more honor than His own whole load of grain. “Thy faith hath made thee whole”. What greatness there is in these words! What great teaching to us all! And what great reprimand to human selfishness and pride!

    Let all who conceal another’s grain of merit and lay emphasis on their own wagon-load draw near in shame and learn from Christ the Righteous One. They are no less robbers and thieves who adds the poor man’s tiny field to his own vast acres….Let all engaged in commerce and industry, who play down the merit for success that belongs to their workers and helpers, and ascribe this to their own zeal, wisdom, and luck, draw near in shame and learn from Christ the Humble One. Finally, let the whole human race, who in their proud blindness ascribe all good, all skill, all successes to themselves alone, and conceal or forget God’s enormous share in it all, draw near in shame and learn from Christ the Lover of mankind. Let them draw near and learn how the true God does not conceal a single grain of man’s merit in the great wagon-load of His merit, but, on the contrary, conceals and keeps quiet about His own, emphasizing that of men.

    Can there be a greater blow and a more terrible reprimand to men for their thieving, pride, and lack of love towards man and God? He who has one spark of unextinguished conscience will repent…and gratitude will teach him truthfulness, righteousness, and humility. If we Christians knew the variety and number of spiritual diseases from which Christ the Lord heals us every day, we would quickly turn to Him, fall at His feet and thank Him from this moment to the hour of our death.

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