Holy Spirit: the Force that Plants the Whole Church

When we enter the Church, we get into the presence of a mystery that far exceeds our ability to fathom or imagine. That mystery reaches down to us so as to carry us up to its level. God reveals himself to us through the Church—the assembly of the faithful, made by Christ to proclaim his Word and to bear witness of his presence in the world. That is how we learn that God is one in three persons. The Holy Scriptures of both the Old and the New Testament speak of the One and Only God and strongly oppose polytheism. Meanwhile, we read that the same apostles who reject polytheism speak of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

The Church as described by the New Testament, is more than a gathering of like-minded people. It is something much greater: a body, an organism, united not only by shared convictions but also by shared supernatural life. When we enter the Church through the Sacrament of Baptism, we acquire the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is the gift that will accompany us throughout our entire lives, and even stretch out into eternity. Holy Apostle Paul says, For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). The Book of Acts recounts the first steps of the Apostolic Church after the Ascension of the Lord. It is sometimes referred to as the Book of Acts of the Holy Spirit, and rightfully so. The Book of Acts starts with the event, which is said to be the birthday of the Church, that is, the Pentecost. It was the fulfillment of the promise, which the Risen Savior had made, But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:8). The Apostles, like the subsequent generations of Christian missionaries, did not convert nations to Christ by means of force or eloquence; they did it with the power of the Holy Spirit. There were false teachers in the history of the Church who were unable both to understand the mystery of the Holy Trinity and to humble down before it. They regarded the Holy Spirit merely as an impersonal energy, like electricity or magnetic field. The Apostles preach that the Holy Spirit is a person, and Divine One to boot. The Apostolic Council in Jerusalem begins its statement with the following words, For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us (Acts 15:28). The Holy Spirit is undoubtedly personal and has a will of his own: there are things that seem good to him, and those that aren’t. He expresses his will through the joint decision of the Church. There are special gifts of the Holy Spirit that are conferred by the laying of hands of the Apostles, Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost… through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given (Acts 8:17-18; See also Acts 14:23). Those ordained by the Apostles are endowed with the authority to ordain the next generation of clergy. Hence, every Orthodox bishop or priest is linked to the Apostles by an unbroken chain of succession.

The Holy Spirit also reveals himself in certain ethical characteristics we’ve already mentioned. These are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance (Gal. 5:22-23). He plants love of God and neighbor, expressed by obeying the commandments, in the believers’ hearts. Both criteria are necessary. You can be excellent at dogmatic theology but lack the Spirit if you don’t love your neighbor and obey God’s commandments. On the other hand, while ethical life is necessary, it is insufficient. It can be a sign of the presence of the Spirit only in conjunction with the right faith. It has to be underlined that God is extremely careful in dealing with human freedom. He pushes the believers to the truth softly instead of dragging them. It gives us a leeway for difference of opinion and even mistakes, so it isn’t surprising that godly or even holy people have different opinions on a number of issues. The Holy Spirit reveals himself in unanimous decisions of the Church. It is the universally accepted position of the Church that serves as the protection against subjective and flawed opinions.

The Holy Spirit dwells in the Church. His gifts are given for the Church to be able to carry out her ministry. If we want to dwell in the Holy Spirit, we have to stay in fellowship with the Church, participate in the life of the Church, partake of her Sacraments, and hearken to her voice. It is through the Church that God brings us into a completely different life, which begins now and extends into the eternity.

Originally published by FOMA Magazine
Translated by The Catalog of Good Deeds

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