• Epistle reading
  • In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be! From St. Paul’s 2nd Epistle to the Corinthians, we heard these words this morning: “He Who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, Who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22) God the Father has given us His Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts as our guarantee, as a revelation and a constant reminder, of our relationship with Him in Christ. There are obvious sacramental overtones here—we hear the Word, we believe the Word, we receive the Holy Spirit through anointing with Holy Chrism. And then the Spirit is our teacher, our intercessor, our guide on the path to Christ For some reason in Christian circles today, especially in the more liturgical churches and in non-Charismatic Protestant groups, we don’t hear much about the Holy Spirit. The Orthodox Church has even been guilty of this, not in Her worship or prayers, but in our teaching and preaching about the Christian life. We don’t often talk about the activity of the Holy Spirit. This is one of the main reasons for the rise of the Charismatic movement—to try and re-integrate the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church. But what does the Orthodox Church have to say about the Spirit in the lives of Christians? We hear the answer, which we’ll unpack a bit this morning, from St. Paul. The Holy Spirit is sent to man to live in our hearts as a witness of the active presence of God in our lives. To guide us to life in Christ. God is with us, dwelling in us, drawing us ever closer to Himself. And the activity of the Holy Spirit is the witness and the proof of this. Every morning and evening, and before every service in the Church, the Orthodox Christian prays: “O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and filling all things, Treasury of blessings and giver of life, come and abide in us, cleanse us of all impurity, and save our souls O Good One,” This prayer is addressed to the Holy Spirit. Asking Him to abide in us, to make His presence in our hearts and lives known, through the forgiveness of our sins and the salvation of our souls. St. Seraphim of Sarov said that the purpose of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. We even see this Liturgically—when we pray that God send down the Holy Spirit to make the bread and wine to be the Body and Blood of Christ. We pray: “Send down Thy Holy Spirit up us, and upon these gifts now offered…making the change by Thy Holy Spirit.” Not only changing the bread and wine, but changing us, by the power and presence of the Spirit, changing us into the Body of Christ. We’re graced with the presence of the Spirit at out Baptism and Chrismation—the rest of our lives are to be spent clothing our selves in the likeness of Christ. Allowing the grace of the Spirit to work in our lives, to show us Christ. Unfortunately, many of us fail to heed St. Paul’s words to the Ephesians: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30) We grieve the Spirit when we sin, when we fail to listen to His guidance. When we turn away from the path of Christ, and turn to our own wills. This is the worst of sins for the Christian, to turn to ourselves because we ignore the very Spirit of God dwelling in us. In the Biblical language—Christ reveals the Father to mankind, and Holy Spirit’s dwelling in our hearts is for the sole purpose of leading us to Christ. Our salvation, our healing and restoration, is in unity with the person of Jesus Christ. Christianity is a personal religion, in that sense. But this unity comes about most fully, most completely, in the Church, in the Body of Christ. The Church is the presence of the life of the Holy Spirit in the world. Witnessing to the love of God for mankind. Our path is to be shaped by the Church into the image of Christ. To soften our hearts so the Spirit can work internally to bring us to union with God. We often speak, as I just did, in terms of salvation. But it’s really not about “salvation” (which very easily becomes a selfish motivation)—human life is about fulfilling God’s will. Being united to God in Christ. Which in turn, is our salvation. And a central role in this economy of our salvation is held by the Holy Spirit. We’ll now hear a wonderful quote explaining this work of the Holy Spirit from Archimandrite Zacharia Zacharou, a spiritual father at Elder Sophrony’s monastery in England. Fr. Zacharias writes—“Christ, suffering in the flesh, inherited and took possession of all peoples, becoming the ‘last Adam’ [1 Cor. 15:45]. The cross, the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus are the supra-cosmic victory of His unqualified love. [His boundless love is shown on the Cross and in the Resurrection.] The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, came down upon earth to glorify this love, to guide the faithful ‘into all truth’ [John 16:13]. He came to bear eternal witness to the endless ‘enlargement’ [cf. 2 Cor. 6:13] brought about by this love, and to [bear witness to] Christ as the Saviour of the whole world. The enlarging wrought by the Holy Spirit sets a seal upon the truth of the universality of Christ’s love. [The truth of Christ is revealed to man by the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts.] Thus, by repentance man receives in his heart the light of the knowledge of Christ’s Person, and consequently the Breadth of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit forms Christ in the heart of man. That is, the Spirit of God uncovers the image of Man, as God conceived him before all worlds.” (Christ, Our Way and Our Life, STS, 2003, p. 25) The Holy Spirit is sent to point man to Christ. To be the constant revelation of God’s love for fallen man. When man is graced with the presence of God’s Spirit, he knows the truth of God’s love. Father Zacharias’ beautiful words: “The Holy Spirit forms Christ in the heart of man.” Let us be cautious then, not to grieve the Spirit. But to be attentive to the gentle proddings of our heart. So that we can carefully and watchfully follow the path to Christ, in order that God’s Spirit can form the image of Christ in our heart. As Father said: “the Spirit of God uncovers the [ultimate] image of Man [revealed to us in Christ], as God conceived [us] before all worlds.” Glory to Christ God for His immeasurable love for man, and for sending His Comforter to abide in our hearts and guide us on the path to salvation. Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!