Dr. Nos’hi Abdel-Shaheed
The second stage: Christ the Sender of the Spirit.
- The Christ of the Spirit:
As we have already explained; the work of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life is to reveal the person of Christ and to make Him present for us. The Spirit unveils new aspects of the person of our Lord. Christ, as disclosed by the Holy Spirit after Pentecost, is different from what we knew about Christ before through physical natural knowledge. The Apostle Paul says “Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer” (2 Cor. 5:16). This means that our knowledge of Christ now, after He was glorified by Resurrection, ascension, and presence in the divine throne in heaven, differs from our previous knowledge of Him according to the flesh. Christ now is in superior glory, and overflowing with sublimity and divine power clearly seen after the Resurrection. And now his mystical body, i.e. the church, grows and increases. Now He is the Christ of the Spirit after He was, before the Resurrection, the suffering Servant prophesied by Isaiah (Ch.53), although the bruises of His cross remain eternally actual, offered, and saving. Christ now is in His glory sitting on His throne as the crowned King, ruling over all from His throne, being praised and worshipped by His angels. But even in this glory, He still suffers mystically in the members of His body on earth, i.e., from the sufferings of those who believe in Him. As He said to Saul when He appeared to him on the road to Damascus “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” He is saying to Saul, you persecute me, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:4,5) because Saul was persecuting the church. But the head of the body of the Church, i.e. the glorified Christ, is also the resplendent source of all light and strength for the believers on earth.
As “a monk of the Eastern Church” says in his book “Orthodox Spirituality” that for the Orthodox mind, “the back-to-Jesus” movement, which stripped the Gospel of everything they assume are “late additions,” does not constitute any progress forward. The real progress is that we become more deeply conscious of the presence of our Lord Jesus and His action in all phases of human life, and of our own life as well. “The Gospel of Galilee,” which is what Christ taught in the Galilee, cannot be isolated from the comments posted on it by witnesses who were both eye-witnesses and servants of His words (see Luke 1:2). Modern criticism has made it very clear that the Sermon on the Mount, taken by itself, does not provide an adequate explanation of the strong rise of Christianity and its rapid deployment. The vitalizing center of the Christian thought and piety was neither a group of moral teachings, simply relating the individual to his Creator and Father (Harnack, Tolstoy), nor just a waiting and expectation for an approaching coming end of the world (Schweitzer).
Christianity, as the above mentioned author of “Orthodox Spirituality” states, was a stream of charismatic life filled with talents flowing out with torrential might from Palestine upon the Greco-Roman world of that era. It was a new spring-tide of the Spirit. Out of faith in, or rather, out of experience of the risen and exalted Christ and the manifestation of His glory grew the whole outpouring of prayer and belief, of worship and the abundance of grace and self-sacrifice, which we call the Holy Universal Church. The name “Christ” on our lips is no longer the exact equivalent of the name “Jesus” or of the Jewish title “Messiah”. When we say “Christ”, we think of the Pentecostal Christ or the spiritual Lord of a new life. It is this “spiritual Christ,” and not merely “the Christ of history”, who is the source of Christianity.
The author adds that the confession of faith in the first Christian generation was: “Jesus is the Lord” (Kyrios Christos) (see 1 Cor. 12:3, also Phil. 2:11). In the same first-generation the Apostle Paul wrote in Spirit: “The Lord is the Spirit” “Kyrios to Pneuma” (2 Cor. 3:17). This equation magnificently expresses the fact that the Holy Spirit living in the Church is one with the historical Jesus, and that He is really the Spirit of Jesus (as well as the Spirit of the Father). We have yet, perhaps, to recognize more clearly that the Spirit, or if we prefer it, the Spiritual Christ (and by using this term, we do not mean to belittle in any way the distinct personality of the Holy Spirit), is still a genuinely creative force among men today. Not only the Apostle Paul, but also the Apostle John in Revelation, teachers of the school of Alexandria, martyrs such as Ignatius of Antioch, Felicity, and Perpetua and many others have witnessed, as a cloud of witnesses, to the Spiritual Christ, to the actual charismatic presence of the Lord, as the great fact behind the whole Christian movement of the first faith.
The author of the book “Orthodox Spirituality” wonders: Do we believe as intensely in the reality of “Christ of the Spirit,” as all of these we already mentioned above? The danger for the early Christians was of secluding themselves in the worshipping remembrance of the Jesus of history, and of perceiving but dimly the actuality of “Christ of the Pentecost”. For us, the danger is rather of localizing and limiting “Christ of the Pentecost” within the Apostolic or sub-Apostolic era, and so failing to realize that He is present now exactly as He was present at that age. Men like Ignatius or Hermas would have admitted that a word of Jesus not recorded in the Gospels but received “through the Spirit”, had as much claim to full authenticity and truth (though in another way), as a saying uttered in Capernaum or Jerusalem. We, in our time, should endeavor to take the possibility of direct communications from the risen Lord most seriously, to become more vividly aware of the absolute reality of His presence, to open our eyes and ears more readily to the work and the words of the spiritual Christ. The Christ of the Spirit is no figure of speech, no mere symbol of a surviving influence; He is forever alive and present.
It is when we approach the Christ of the Spirit that we realize best the “sonship” of Jesus to the Father. As Jesus was being baptized in Jordan, “the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, ‘You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased’” (Luke 3:22). When we see the dove over Christ, and hear the voice from heaven; we begin to understand that the true life of Christ is hidden with the Father, that this life of the Lord with the Father is something far greater than His life with us, and that the acme of Christian life is not reached until the soul, freeing herself from her subjective pre-occupation, is admitted by the grace of God into the intimate relationship between the Father and the Son. In the Son we learn to know the Father, who is, perhaps, remote and vague in our eyes until then.
We learn to share, so far as our weakness can, the love of our Lord Jesus for His Father, and His consecration to Him. We become, in a new sense, the sons of the Father. All this is achieved under the influence of the Holy Spirit, for He is the link between the Father and the Son as Christ said in his prayer to the Father, “and I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26). And as the Spirit tells us in the words of the Apostle Paul: “you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father’. The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:15,16), and also: “because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, Abba, Father!” (Gal. 4:6).
(To be contd.; this ends chapter 5 and only chapter 6 remains)
Have a blessed St. Mary’s Feast
From the Theotokia of Friday
|Blessed are you O Mary, and blessed is your fruit, O Virgin Mother of God, the pride of virginity.|
|He who existed before all ages, came and was incarnate of you, and the Ancient of the Days, came out of your womb.|
|He took our body, and gave us His Holy Spirit, and made us one with Him, through His goodness.|
He took what is ours, and gave us what is His, we praise and glorify Him, and exalt Him.