THE SPIRIT IN THE CHURCH

THE SPIRIT IN THE CHURCH

Fr Dimitri Cozby

On the Feast of Pentecost we commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and the creation thereby of the Church. We experience a personal Pentecost following our Baptism in the holy Mystery of Chrismation, by which we are sealed with the gift of His presence. Thus the Spirit works in us from two directions, through His general presence in the Church and His individual presence in each Orthodox Christian.

The Church herself is the temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 3: 16; II Corinthians 6: 16). In other words, she is the place upon earth where He particularly dwells. Saint Paul here likens the Church to the Old Testament temple in Jerusalem. In this special place God willed that His power and glory should reside and that men should come there to offer atonement for sins and enter into communion with Him. Our Lord Himself refers to this temple and to its temporary character in His conversation with the Samaritan woman. There He affirms that the Jerusalem temple was the true place of divine communion for the Old Testament period, but He adds, “The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth” (John 4: 22-23). At Pentecost the Holy Spirit replaces the old, physical temple with a new and spiritual Temple, the Church, the new “place” to which mankind comes to receive forgiveness and renewal.

Saint Paul speaks both of the Church, as noted above, and of the individual as the temple of the Spirit (I Corinthians 6: 19). Thus he demonstrates that the Spirit’s presence in the Church parallels His presence in the individual soul. The Spirit certainly was at work in the world before Pentecost; we confess in the Creed that He “spoke by the prophets” of the Old Testament. He also shares with the Father and the Word in the divine providence by which They sustain the universe. But the Church is the particular arena for the Holy Spirit’s activity, so much so that Saint Irenaeus asserts that “where the Church is, there is the Spirit; and where the Spirit is, there is the Church.” The Holy Spirit gathers the Church, maintains and strengthens her and sanctifies her members.

We in the Church have the same relation to the Spirit that the disciples had to Christ during His ministry. Then the disciples heard His teaching and witnessed His miracles. Undeniably the “fullness of divinity dwelt in Him bodily” (Colossians 2: 9) before His Resurrection just as much as after. But His glory was often veiled from them by their incomprehension, their fear and their doubt. His mission still awaited final consummation in His Passion and Resurrection.

We now live in a new age inaugurated by the Savior’s rising and His sending to us of the Spirit. The Spirit, in turn, is fully present in the world, as the Word was fully present from the moment of His incarnation. But the Spirit’s ministry is in progress, as was Christ’s before His Passion. He will complete it only with the final establishment of the Kingdom. Saint Symeon the New Theologian makes this point using the image of the Church as Christ’s bride: “Before the marriage the bride-to-be receives nothing but the pledge given by her future husband; she waits until after the marriage to receive the dowry that has been agreed upon and the gifts promised with it. So the Church – the bride-to-be composed of all the faithful – and the soul of each of us first receive from Christ, the bridegroom-to-be, only the pledge of the Spirit. The eternal blessings and the kingdom of heaven are given subsequent to this earthly life, though both the Church and the individual soul have the assurance of them through the pledge they have received ….”

Our Lord interprets the Spirit’s activity by the image of teaching: “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14: 26), “… He will guide you into all truth … He will tell you what is yet to come” (John 16: 13). Christ makes clear that this “teaching” is much more than instruction, the imparting of information. Rather, He promises that the Spirit “will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you …. All that belongs to the Father is mine” (John 16: 15). The Spirit opens for the Church and for the individual soul an intimate and ineffable communion with our heavenly Father. The “glory” He brings to Christ is the fragrant offering of the Church and of her faithful members, cleansed and glorified by His redeeming grace. Saint Paul speaks of “God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.” Then he adds, “But God has revealed it to us by His Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, … We have the mind of Christ” (I Corinthians 2: 7, 10-12, 16). The Spirit does not impart information to us. He enfolds us in sanctifying and illumining grace. He transfigures us and restores in us the divine image in which we are created, which is Christ.

The Spirit does not passively reside in the Church or in the soul. He moves through them, possessing us, sweeping us up and bearing us into the secret heart of God. He also manifests His power and truth to the world through us. This manifestation, however, is not in trivial outbursts or pointless curiosities like the hysterical laughter or “tongues” of “pentecostal Christians.” The Apostle tells us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5: 22-23). We see the Spirit at work in changed lives, in people who reflect the image of Christ. Saint Gregory of Sinai echoes the Apostle’s words when he identifies Christian life and, indeed, salvation itself with “grace-imbued faith energized by the Spirit through our keeping of the commandments.” He continues, “The fruits of true and effective faith are self-control and love; its consummation God-given humility, the source and support of love.” The Spirit’s great miracle, the proof of His power, is that He can cleanse a sinful soul, renew and invigorate it in virtue, set it aglow with divine love and make it fit for the Kingdom. This power He manifests in His Church.

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