Nov 27 2016

Part28: The Second Stage: Christ the Sender of the Spirit P.3, 3- The Seal.

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ORTHODOX SPIRITUALITY

Dr. Nos’hi Abdel-Shaheed

Part Twenty Eight

CHAPTER 5

The second stage: Christ the Sender of the Spirit.

(Part 3)

3 – The Seal

As we have just seen (see “Anointing,” in part 27) St. Paul the Apostle speaks of the unction as a “seal” when he says that God “also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts” (2 Cor. 1:22).  The Apostle also speaks in Ephesians of “the seal” by the Holy Spirit, after believing in Christ: “in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1:13) “which is the guarantee of our inheritance” (Eph. 1:14).  And also he says “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30).

In Baptism, we are united with Christ in His death and Resurrection and after Baptism God seals us with the Holy Spirit with a mystical and unseen seal.  This seal of the Spirit on our hearts is a guarantee for the inheritance of eternal life as the Apostle says (see Eph 1:14, above). We receive the Holy Spirit now, while we are in this world, to taste the eternal heavenly life to which we will go at the second coming of Christ and in which we will live enjoying the fullness of our inheritance of the glory of God.  But we start tasting this life now through the work of the Holy Spirit that we are sealed with after Baptism.  The Spirit, that we are sealed with, urges us in our hearts to live according to the will of God and His commandment.  Therefore, the Apostle Paul tells us to be careful not to sadden the Spirit of God within us.  He says, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30).  That is to say if we ignore the voice of the Spirit within us, He becomes sad.  The Spirit’s concern is to consecrate and purify us in order to qualify us to meet Christ at the end, and this is what the Apostle calls “day of redemption” meaning the day of full liberation even from death itself by the completion of our filiation (adoption) to God as he says in his epistle to the Romans, “waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:23).

The Seal in the Sacrament of Anointing (Chrismation):

The doctrine about the seal, that the apostle Paul asserted, is found clearly in the prayers of the sacrament of the Chrism:

Before the priest anoints the baptized with the holy Chrism, he takes the Chrism and prays on it, saying: “O You, the Only Omnipotent One … Send Your Holy Spirit on the anointing with this Holy Chrism that He may be a life-giving Seal through Your Only-Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord … etc.”  The life-giving Seal is the life-giving Holy Spirit who grants eternal life, as revealed in the prayer text: “Send Your Holy Spirit … that He may be a life-giving seal” meaning a giver of eternal life.

While the priest anoints the shoulder, elbow and hand on both sides (6 unctions) of the christened he says: “A Holy unction of Christ, our God, and a never broken up seal. Amen.”  Thus the Holy Spirit is to the christened a sacred anointing and “a never broken up seal,” meaning that the Holy Spirit’s seal does not get lost or fades or erodes like other material seals but it keeps a person’s soul established in Christ.  St. Cyril of Jerusalem says in his teachings to the catechumens: “Do not forget the Holy Spirit in the time of your enlightening (i.e. your baptism), He is ready then to seal yourselves with His seal” (Sermon 17:35).  Thus the Orthodox Church calls the sacrament of bestowing the Holy Spirit, not only an “anointing,” but also a “seal” as evidenced by the prayers of the sacrament of the Chrismation mentioned above.

The word “seal” is from the Greek origin “Sphragis.”  This word was widely used in early Christian times. And Sphragis “seal” in technical language is the mark placed on the forehead of the animals prepared for sacrificing, or on the foreheads of the slaves, or the soldiers.  It is very likely that the Apostle Paul was thinking of the meaning of “seal” when he wrote, “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus” (Gal. 6:17).  He had called himself “a bondservant (slave) of Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:1).

The seal is stamped on us by the Holy Spirit, and at the same time, the seal itself refers rather to the person of Christ.  The first Christians were familiar with the concept of Christ as the visible image of the Father.  Therefore, the seal with the Holy Spirit means that the Spirit imprints in us the image of the Father, i.e. the Lord Jesus himself.  From that moment when the Holy Spirit seals us, we are no longer belonging to ourselves, but rather to Christ.  We have become, according to the historical meaning of the word Sphragis, the servants of Jesus Christ and his own soldiers, and also have become sacrifices with Him.

The first Christians used the expression “Keep the Seal” in the sense of remaining faithful.

The act of being “sealed” with the Holy Spirit after Baptism has a twofold aspect: an ascetical one and a mystical one.

The ascetical aspect, which involves our personal effort, consists in exclusive dedication to Christ.  It also includes the complete closing of our senses to everything that is alien to the life of holiness.  The seal consecrates our senses to the Lord Jesus Christ, and shuts them to everything contrary to His person and His commandments and all that is alien to Him.

This ascetic aspect is the equivalent of the “circumcision of the heart” with the work of the Holy Spirit, and this is what the Apostle Paul calls the real circumcision: “circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter.”  This real circumcision is the one that receives the praise of God and not of people (see Rom 2:29).  This means that this ascetic face is “a death unto ourselves,” and this death is represented by immersion in Baptism; because by immersion we are “buried with Christ through baptism into death” (Rom 6:4).

The mystical aspect: is the rekindling of spirit and self-renewal by prayer and with all means of faith such as the communion of love and partaking of the Eucharist, all of which we will talk about later. In this mystical and theosophic aspect of the seal, both the awareness and understanding of the mature believer participate, (which is different from the passive seal imparted in the Chrismation of infants) because it results from the cooperation of the human will and of the personal love for Christ.  This is indicated in the Song of Solomon when the soul says “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death” (Song 8:6).

As the Groom says in the Song of Solomon: “A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse, a spring shut up, a fountain sealed” (Song 4:12).  St. Cyril of Jerusalem draws our attention to the power of the Holy Spirit, that anoints and seals us saying: [This what you were anointed and sealed with, is the spiritual maintenance of the body, and the salvation of the soul, which will teach you everything while dwelling in you, as you have heard from the Apostle John, who spoke a lot about this anointing (see 1 John 2:5)].1

(To be contd.)

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Footnotes:

  1. St. Cyril of Jerusalem Catechetical Lectures (Lecture 21:3-7).

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