When a hen hovers over eggs the white and yellow liquid in them transform to accomplish their hidden potential and chickens come out of the shells. When the Holy Spirit hovers over the creation, it receives order and beauty. Likewise the heat of the Holy Spirit helps the faithful to fulfill their God given potential. It is quite natural, therefore, for the mother Church to wish that all her children become Christ like by the hovering of the Holy Spirit.
Orthodox Churches prepare the faithful to identify with the early Christian Church to pray and wait for being filled with the Holy Spirit. Pentecost means fiftieth and the celebration of the Christian Pentecost is on the fiftieth day from the feast of the resurrection of our Lord. Holy Apostles along with St. Mary and other early Christians, following the commandment of Christ, waited for the Holy Spirit and were filled with the Holy Spirit. (Jewish Pentecost is on the fiftieth day from their feast of Passover). During Christ’s time the Jewish feast of Pentecost was a celebration of the reception of the commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai. It was on such a feast day of Jewish Pentecost that the Holy Spirit descended on the early Christians in tongues of fire.(Acts:2) For Christians Pentecost indicates the internalization in their hearts the concerns and commands of God through the reception of the Holy Spirit. Every Christian member receives the Holy Spirit today in baptism, which can be considered as a personal Pentecost. Ten days’ preparation is recommended by the Church before the feast of Pentecost and especially this feast is a time of renewal of their baptism by being filled with the Holy Spirit.
Is Christianity an impossible ideal? The answer is yes and no. Yes for only those who do not take the indwelling Holy Spirit seriously. The apparently impossible teaching of our Lord can be practiced if we co-operate with the guiding Spirit. That is why Christian life is often defined as a new life in Christ guided by the Holy Spirit. Before His ascension Christ promised the disciples that he would send Paracletos (John 14:16) which means one called alongside to help. St. Irenaeus of Lyons, who lived in the second century AD, teaches that the Holy Spirit is an integral part of man and only the one who received this Spirit and live according to Him is a true human. And this article focuses on the Holy Spirit, who assists human to become not a superman but an authentic human. Yes, humanization is divinization or becoming like God by the help of the Holy Spirit.
Holy Spirit and the Church
Jesus Christ promised to the Church the assistance and guidance of the Spirit, when His human physical presence left it. The early Christian community received the Holy Spirit at the Pentecost and the Church was officially inaugurated.
Holy Tradition of the Church, which contains the Bible, liturgies, doctrines, councils, canons, Church fathers and saints is an expression of the life of the Church through the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit uses these to inspire and vivify the members of the Church.
The Church is supposed to be the kingdom of God. The renewal and sanctification bring about by the Holy Spirit is inevitable to make the Church ‘the kingdom of God on earth’. The Son of God incarnated in order to establish the kingdom of God on earth. The ministry of the Church is nothing less than to continue the mission of Christ, which is fulfilled by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. According to Gregory of Nyssa (4th century AD) the petition ‘thy Holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us’ was a substitute petition to replace ‘thy kingdom come’ in the Lord’s prayer in certain areas in his time . Unfortunately the pride of man and his reluctance to subject to the sanctification enacted by the Holy Spirit blocks the establishment of a community on earth as God wishes.
Major functions of the Spirit
Edification and guidance of the Church, sanctification of its members, and thus the enlightenment of the world are certain fundamental functions of the Spirit.
Various symbols employed in the New Testament to denote the indescribable Holy Spirit explain certain aspects of His functioning.
(a) Water (John; 7:37-39, John; 4). As water is indispensable for life, the Holy Spirit is essential for an abundant life. The purification work of the Holy Spirit is also implied in this symbol. It is noticeable that water is used in the service of Pentecost as a lively symbol of the Spirit.
(b) Fire: (Acts 2:3). As the pillar of fire and cloud led the Israelites through the desert, the Holy Spirit is understood to function as the light to the Church. Fire is also a symbol of purification because many precious metals are purified through fire and fire symbolizes the energy needed for our forward journey.
(c) Dove (Mt 3:6). During the time of Christ dove was a sacrificial object which restores the communion with God
(d) Advance (Eph 1:14): the Greek equivalent of Arrabon means an advance payment or first installment. Life in the Holy Spirit is a foretaste or advance experience of the life in heaven.
(e) Seal (Eph 4:30): Seal is a guarantee of ownership. The seal of the Holy Spirit which the Christians receive in baptism always reminds that they belong to God (1 Cor 6:19, 20)
(f) Oil (1Jn. 2:20, 27, Acts 10:38): Oil was important for healing in ancient days. The Holy Spirit restores the health of soul and mind.
Besides these the Holy Spirit works in numerous ways to bring people to perfection. The Holy Spirit makes us aware of sin and judgment, strengthens us to stand for the truth, assists in prayer, gives an inspiration for mission, leads us in deification, imprints the image of Christ in us, brings about fellowship, leads us to truth, produces fruit of the Spirit and imparts special gifts etc. Among these five important functions of the Spirit are highlighted here. Holy Spirit:
1. Imparts wisdom
“Whoever travels without a guide needs a two hundred years for a two days journey”. This saying of Jalaluddin Rumi , the famous Sufi saint can be understood well in relation to the Holy Spirit who serves as a great Guru and guide. St. John the apostle goes to the extent of saying that there is no need of external teachers when we follow this Spirit who dwells in us (I John2:20, I John 2:27). It is essential to overcome the temptation to identify wisdom with accumulation of information in this age of IT. Wisdom means the light to discern evil and good, to understand relationships – between God and creation, between human beings, between humans and non human creation and to understand priorities in life.
Jesus Christ used the expression ‘Spirit of truth’ many times (eg. Jn. 16:13, 14:17…..etc) deliberately to contrast with the ‘Spirit of deception’ or lies (Jn.8:44). Even if the humankind has acquired an immense quantity of knowledge in various fields, sometimes they are deceived to consider evil as good and good as evil and the least important as the most important, and vice versa. The guidance of the Spirit of truth which imparts a power of discernment and leads to all truth is essential especially when we face the complex issues of modern life. The Holy Spirit is opening the treasure house of Gospels which contain Christ the wisdom and makes it attractive to all for the fullness of life in all ages.
2. Empowers the faithful.
It seems that it is not lack of knowledge but the lack of power to practice what we know as good is the biggest issue of the world. In spite of the fact that the apostles learned many things directly from Jesus Christ, they failed a few times to follow them. But the abundant experience of the Holy Spirit empowered them to overcome the weakening forces like fear, guilt, inferiority complex, sufferings etc and to commit themselves to the ministry of God’s Kingdom on earth. Human conduct is the sum of repeated habits. Power from God’s Spirit is necessary for deleting negative habits and developing good habits.
When the Holy Spirit is permitted to work effectively, a spiritual fervor (Rom.12:11) in worship and enthusiasm in mission are evident. The Holy Spirit indwells and inspires internally to continue the ministry of Christ boldly. When the disciples were empowered by the Spirit, they turned the world upside down. The last words of Christ just before his ascension vindicate this: “You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts1:8)
The ministers in the Church are appointed and strengthened by the Holy Spirit (Acts.20:28, 6:3). The main celebrant in ordination ceremony is the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit received through the laying on of hands (1 Tim 4:14, 2 Tim 1:6, Acts. 8:15, 17) guides and strengthens the ministers (Acts.8:28, 10, and 20).
3. Leads to Unity.
Despite the advancement in education and science, communal violence, conflicts and divisions in society and Churches and disintegration of family are on the rise. Fellowship Communities which share and care each other are an inevitable antidote to this. Two major threats to unity and fellowship are egoism or false pride and hatred. Holy Spirit helps to eliminate these blocks from the inner being and make humans flutes, through which the divine wind passes to generate melodious music to restore harmony and unity in the entire creation. Inner cleansing guided by the Spirit is important for true fellowship.
Church has been called to be an image of the fellowship of the Holy Trinity and a model for human communities. When the Church was formed on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit filled speech of St. Peter was heard by the Diaspora Jews from different parts of the world in their own languages .Perfect unity blossoms in the nursery of smooth communication and understanding beyond all barriers. Division and disintegration of the tower of Babel was replaced by the unity and fellowship of the tower of Church on Pentecost day. When they were filled with the Holy Spirit, ‘they were of one heart and one mind’ (Acts 4:31, 32). The principle of unity in the Church is neither the Catholicos nor the Patriarch, nor the Pope or anybody else but is the Holy Spirit. As blood is circulating all through the body, the Holy Spirit strives to empower all members of the Church and keep them in fellowship.
The Church is not only a sign but also an instrument of unity. So the Spirit reminds the Church to serve the world as a peacemaker and an ecumenist in the midst of the escalation of violence and divisions. God is not a God of conflict and disorder but of peace and harmony (ICor 14:33)
4. Makes deep communion with God possible
During the baptism in Jordan Holy Spirit descended on Jesus as a dove. In those days dove was an object of sacrifice meant for reconciliation between humans and God .So we understand from this symbolism that Holy Spirit helps to have deep communion with God .The Spirit helps those who fail to progress in the proper ways of prayer (Rom8: 26, 8:15). The Spirit calls us to use each and every sentence in our prayers and worship as fingers to touch God. From there He leads the soul to touch God without the aid of words. Continuous and meaningful communion with God causes deification or theosis. We are in need of the help of the Holy Spirit to bridge the gap between mind and mouth in personal prayers, family prayer and also in public worship.
5. Gives fruitfulness.
Divinization means to be partakers of Divine nature or to receive the Characteristics of God. To become like Christ is the same process. Christification of persons and community is a major work of the Spirit (2Cor. 3:17, 18). As a first step, the Spirit uproots the deep-rooted vices and destroys them along with the evil passions. And the seeds of virtues in man are nurtured and the person concerned produces the fruit of love, joy, peace, kindness, meekness etc. (Gal 5:22). Whenever St. Paul exhorts to walk by the Spirit he means to co-operate with the Spirit to manifest this life of divinization.
The greatest expression of being filled with the Holy Spirit is abundant love and not the gifts of the Spirit. The gifts of Spirit like power of healing, prophecy, speaking in tongues etc are bestowed upon only certain members of the church to be used for the edification of the whole Church for a certain period of time, whereas the fruits of the Spirit are meant for all the members. St. Paul discourages speaking in tongues (1 Cor.14) and teaches that it will be terminated, whereas love never ends (1Cor.13:8).
Reception of the Holy Spirit
Holy Baptism, the personal Pentecost of every Christian, is above all a sacrament of Holy Spirit. In baptism the Holy Spirit is given as a gift to reside in the faithful forever.
It is unjust to separate the baptismal acts and confine the idea of the reception of the Holy Spirit to a particular act alone. In fact baptism as a whole confers Holy Spirit upon the baptismal candidate. However we can highlight certain important baptismal acts in Syrian tradition by which the candidate receives Holy Spirit. They are:
(a) Breathing: The celebrant breathes 3 times upon the candidate (child) and also on the surface of the water in the baptistery. The Child receives the Holy Spirit as the disciples received Him when Jesus Christ breathed upon them. (Jn.20:22)
(b) Laying on of hands: The celebrant lays his right hand on the head of the candidate during the time of baptism proper in the baptistery. This act reminds us of Christ’s baptism in river Jordan where He received the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands by St. John the Baptist. It is noticeable that in many other ancient rites like East Syrian and Maronite there is an invocation to the Holy Spirit by the chief celebrant laying his right hand on the head of the candidate in the baptistery.
(C) Baptism proper: ‘Baptism proper’ refers to that part of the sacrament which takes place in the baptistery especially the cleansing by the blessed water. Invocation to the Holy Spirit is repeated in many prayers during this time. It is noteworthy that after the epiclesis or the prayer for sending the Holy Spirit, Holy Myron is poured into the water. Thus a proper ground is prepared for a rebirth in water and Spirit (Jn. 3:5-8).
(d) Anointing: The pre-baptismal anointing with the oil of gladness (Ps.45:7) confers the gift of sonship whereas the post baptismal anointing with the mooron imparts the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament, anointing was the symbol of the reception of the Spirit (1Sam.16:13, 61:1). And 1Jn.2:20-27 refers to the Holy Spirit received through the anointing. The Hebrew term Messiah (Greek- Christ) means the anointed one and the anointing is with the Holy Spirit (Act.10:38). Hence all men and women are expected to become ‘Christs’ through the indwelling Holy Spirit. Even if we have received the Holy Spirit in baptism, we need to grow in the Spirit and to be filled with Him. St. Paul exhorts us to be filled not in alcoholic spirit but in the Holy Spirit (Eph.5:18). All spiritual exercises like fasting, repentance, Holy Qurbana, prayer etc. are meant to rekindle the fire of the Holy Spirit. The celebration of Pentecost and the preceding 10 days of awaiting (for being filled with the already received Holy Spirit) are to be observed in all families and parishes meaningfully with vigils, prayers retreats and teachings. God will grant us an abundant life in the Holy Spirit when there is a sincere attempt to walk according to the guidance of the Spirit. (Gal.16) and ardent desire for more Spirit (Lk.11:13)
In our consumerist culture unfortunately majority are driven by greed than by need. It is natural that they are not much interested in a life guided by the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately many even do not know that the Holy Spirit is indispensable as water and air. On the other hand many of the so called extreme spiritual people think of the Holy Spirit only in terms of an electric experience. In fact the Holy Spirit divinizes the world mainly through restoring our true human nature in Christ or making us Christ like. So the Spirit filled life is manifested through our joy in worship, disciplined life, fellowship and our earnestness in translating love into concrete actions in our society through sacrifices.