Dr. Nos’hi Abdel-Shaheed
Part Twenty Six
The second stage: Christ the Sender of the Spirit.
1- The Grace of Pentecost
In early Christian art, we often find the dove standing next to a vase filled with water and holding in her beak an olive branch. Such art depicts the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, and refers to the Spirit as associated with the water of Baptism. The grace of Pentecost follows on and completes the grace of Baptism. Therefore the Eastern Church, abiding by the early old tradition, confers the gift of the Holy Spirit directly after baptism, through the anointing of Chrism, without any postponement (as the Western Church does now).
The Link between the Water and the Spirit:
There is a correlation between the water and the Spirit which the Bible refers to in its two Testaments: Old and New. At the beginning of creation, Genesis mentions: “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). And after the flood the dove came to Noah and “a freshly plucked olive leaf was in her mouth” (Genesis 8:11), the olive leaf here symbolizing the anointing of Chrism.
After the Lord Jesus was baptized in the River of Jordan, “the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him” immediately after he came up from the water (see Matt. 3:16). Thus, the Lord Himself when He talked with Nicodemus about the birth from above made a specific link between the water and the Spirit when he said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).
The Pouring of the Spirit on Pentecost:
The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as “divided tongues, as of fire” on the disciples, and all those gathered in the upper room, was the most prominent and the strongest expression of the dwelling of the Holy Spirit on the believers in Christ. Here we meet again with the luminous or fiery appearance of God, “glory”, or “doxa”, so important in Eastern Christian mysticism. In the past, God also appeared as fire in the bush to Moses and as light that covered the tabernacle when the glory of the Lord filled the place (Exodus 40:34-38).
The Orthodox Church has made the “Chrism” (or Anointment, which is equivalent to the Sacrament of Confirmation in Latin Church) the external expression of our participation in the sacrament of the Holy Spirit. But just as the Baptismal grace extends beyond the sacrament of Baptism in the strict sense (see chapter 4), also the grace or the gift of the Holy Spirit cannot be exclusively identified with the Anointment. Scripture points to cases in which the Spirit was given without the intervention of any human being: like the case of Cornelius and those who were with him (Acts 10:44). And there were cases in which the Holy Spirit was poured before the immersion in water, either directly (as in the case of Cornelius) or through a laying-on of hands as in the case of Saul (St. Paul, Acts 9:17). It happened also that the Spirit came a second time on a group which had already received Him (see Acts 4: 31).
It is obvious, on the basis of our belief in the oneness of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, to say that the grace of the Spirit acting in the sacrament of Baptism is at the same time the grace of the Father and of the Son. But there is a special conveying of the Spirit to man; and a Baptism with water not completed with the Baptism of the Holy Spirit means an incomplete and impotent Christian life. “But you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit,” said the Lord (see Acts 1:5, & 11:16).
The question of the Apostle Paul asked to some of the disciples who were in Ephesus, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit?” (Acts 19:2) is directed to each and every one of us. It is not enough to answer that we have obtained the sacrament of the Chrism after baptism, when I was anointed with the Holy Chrism. The question that we need to face here is whether and how this seed of the Spirit has been afterward developed within the soul.
Sometimes, it is difficult to discern the role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life. In fact, the work of the Holy Spirit cannot be separated from the work of the Son. In the Orthodox Church there is no place for belief in a “third kingdom,” i.e. the kingdom of the Spirit succeeding to the kingdom of Christ. Those who speak of an Orthodox “centrism of the Spirit” (Pneuomato- centrism) versus the so-called centrism of Christ (Christo-centrism) of the Roman Church may express their own personal theology, but they speak a language alien to the Fathers of the Church and the saints of the Orthodox church. When we ascribe a certain action to the Holy Spirit, to the Son, or to the Father, we are using “appropriations” suitable for each of the Hypostases (Persons) of the Trinity, in the sense that this particular work highlights the role of one of the Hypostases of the Trinity more than the others; but not in the sense that the other Hypostases do not share in this work. The Father and the Son are included in every action of the Holy Spirit. The three Persons share in the activity of each of them. And if we leave aside the subject of adding “and the Son” to the Creed about the procession of the Holy Spirit, which was to a great extent a misunderstanding and confusion between the procession of the Spirit from the Father and sending the Holy Spirit to the world on Pentecost from the Father by the Son. 1 (Here it is worth mentioning that Pope John Paul II, the Pope of Rome, announced few years before his passing away that Catholics all over the world could say the Creed either in its original version, or with “and the Son,” which is an appreciation from his side for the right formula of faith according to the Gospel and according to what the Orthodox fathers handed over since the ecumenical councils of Nicaea and Constantinople). Therefore, if we leave aside the dispute over the procession of the Holy Spirit, we must pay attention to two important points about the relationship between Christ and the Holy Spirit in the Orthodox spirituality:
The first point: the Lord Jesus Christ is the one who sends the Holy Spirit to people. As He says “But when the Comforter, which I shall send you from the Father ..” (Jn. 15:26). “If I depart, I will send Him (the Helper) to you” (Jn. 16:7). As the Gospel according to St. John tells us that the Lord after his resurrection breathed the Spirit into the Disciples: “…breathed on them, and said to them, ‘receive the Holy Spirit’..” (Jn. 20:22).
This means that without our faith in Christ and our submission to Him, we cannot obtain the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is what we already have explained in the first stage of the Orthodox spirituality (Ch. 4) that repentance and baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus are necessary preparations to accept the gift of the Holy Spirit as the famous saying of the apostle Peter in the day of Pentecost, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
The second point is that Lord Jesus Himself is the goal of His sending the Holy Spirit after His ascension. The work of the Spirit, when He comes, is to glorify Christ as the Lord Himself says, “the Spirit of truth … He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak … He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you” (Jn. 16:13,14).
St. Cyril, the Pillar of Faith says: [the Spirit’s work is the same as the work of the Son, and has the same goal … and the Spirit glorifies Christ as He assumes His activity in the whole creation in a wondrous and divine manner, and by instilling in the saints a complete and full knowledge] (explaining Jn. 16:13,14). After the day of Pentecost, as it was before the day of Pentecost, the Lord Jesus, because He is the Son of God, He remains the “purpose and object” of spiritual life. He Himself is heading towards the Father as He leads us with Him and in Him, to the Father.
Here, because the Spirit is present in our souls, He is united with our souls or our lives or He is the subject of this life. So what the “subject” seeks out is “the object” or purpose. The Spirit forms Christ in us, and makes Him present for us. If we commit the mistake of looking at the Spirit otherwise than being the Spirit that reveals and glorifies Christ, we cannot reach him; He retires, and in some way vanishes. The Holy Spirit does not replace Christ, and does not work as His substitute, but He prepares us for Christ and achieves in us “the coming (Parousia),” the eternal coming of Christ the Lord and His permanent presence in us.
(To be contd.)
- Adding “and the Son” (Filioque) to the Creed, so that the procession of the Spirit is from the Father and the Son, took place in the Catholic Church in the 11th century. ↩