Nov 27 2016

Part29: The Second Stage: Christ the Sender of the Spirit P.4, 4- The New Spiritual Senses, 5- Charismatic Life.

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Dr. Nos’hi Abdel-Shaheed

Part Twenty Nine


The second stage: Christ the Sender of the Spirit.

(Part 4)

4 – The New Spiritual Senses:

     As we have mentioned, the ascetic negative aspect of the seal is to close our senses to the things of this world, for the sake of Christ.  As for the mystical positive aspect which depends no more on our efforts but on the grace of God, it is the opening of our senses to realities we did not perceive or taste before.  This means that our natural senses turn into new spiritual senses.  As the Bible says: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17), and also: “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5).

We are united with the dying and rising Christ by the immersion into and the emergence from the water of baptism, and then with the seal of Chrismation we enter into a new bodily and spiritual life, to an entirely supernatural use of our natural senses.

Let us remember once more that when we talk about these sacraments and their spiritual effectiveness, that the water and Chrism are the visible sacramental signs, but the internal realities they express, the invisible Baptism as well as the invisible Unction, are the hidden but true facts which are beyond and above all visible signs.

Origen, in the third century, was the first to talk about “spiritual senses”.1 Thomas Aquinas and the Latin mystics described the transformation that happens to the physical senses in mystical life.  And Nicetas Stethatos explained how the anointing, or seal, confers a particular inner (mystical) function for each of the five senses.2 The sense of vision gets the gift of seeing whether “intellectual” or “sensory”.  The sense of hearing starts listening to “divine whispers,” whether purely inner words or words heard with the natural ear.  The lips and tongue get the words of prophecy.  The sense of touch gets divine “touches” that not only the soul can experience but also the body.  And even the senses of taste and smell become ready to learn new perceptions.

St. John Cassian says: “Many times, during the divine visits, we are filled with fragrant scents, and with sweetness that we do not know or can reach with our human efforts; that the soul, while overwhelmed with joy and delight, is lifted into a rapture, and forgets that it is living in the flesh.”3  The precious scents which enter into the composition of the Orthodox Chrism symbolize these supernatural fragrances.

The Bible speaks about the good smell of offerings, and also about the scent of the fragrant oil that Jesus was anointed with, and that “the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil” (see John 12:3).   And St. Paul the Apostle says: “we are to God the fragrance of Christ” (2 Cor. 2:15). And in The Song of Solomon: “because of the fragrance of your good ointments, Your name is ointment poured forth” (Song. 1:3), “… a bundle of myrrh is my beloved to me” (Song. 1:13), and “…  the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon” (Song. 4:11).

Unfortunately, these words are mere symbols for most Christians, as they find it difficult to understand the transfer of the natural senses to the level of spiritual senses.  But the biographies of the saints give us many illustrations of these spiritual facts.  But even Christians who do not live as hermits or mystics can experience these facts episodically.  The Pentecostal grace, i.e. the Holy Spirit, that we are given at the anointing of Chrism, takes us far beyond the state of purification from sin and restoration to our first state given to us through baptism.  Anointing with Spirit leads us to life in the gifts of the Spirit, i.e. the charismatic life.

5 – Charismatic Life

(Life with the Gifts of the Spirit)

The gifts of the Spirit, which marked the beginnings of the Church, are not confined to the past.  These gifts have been given to the Church.  This means they are given to the church for all times.  Then, what are these “spiritual” gifts?  We find in some texts of the Bible a description of the gifts of the Spirit: “… I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18, and Joel 2: 28-29).

And in the First Epistle to the Corinthians: “but the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills” (1 Cor. 12:7-11).  In the epistle to the Galatians we read: “but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law” (Gal 5:22-23).

This large number of gifts and fruits are associated with each other and oftentimes overlap; therefore, we should not have to stick to a fixed number of talents or gifts.  It is known that the idea of seven gifts of the Holy Spirit originated in the Eastern Church.  Clement of Alexandria compared the seven gifts to the seven-branched candlestick (Ex. 25). But on the whole, the Eastern Church was less precise on these matters than the Latin Church.  The Eastern Church does not make a clear cut between the gifts and the fruits of the Holy Spirit.  She does not put a dividing line between the gift that sanctifies its bearer and the charisma that edifies its witnesses without necessarily sanctifies its bearer.  She rather inclines to believe that the charisma generally, though accessorily, leads to the sanctification of the man who holds it and that the gift generally, though accessorily, leads to the edification of other people.  The Fathers who wrote in Greek, usually used words that translate to “gifts,” “forces,” “power,” and “talents” interchange-ably with the same meaning.  Eastern Christian thought seems reluctant to introduce rational analysis in the realm of pure grace.

The saints are the heirs and successors of the owners of the “apostolic charisma” in the early centuries.  Although holiness and episcopal responsibility have often been associated, it is to the saint as a saint rather to the hierarch as a hierarch that vision and prophecy seem to have been granted.  These saints and prophets fulfil in the church the spiritual and necessary service.  On the other hand, the Orthodox mind is unwilling to consider the local and institutional services, i.e. the services of bishops, priests and deacons, as invested with a merely administrative and ritual functions.  The Holy Spirit is given to the deacons, priests and bishops through the laying on of the hands.  Therefore, all Ordinations imply some participation in the Pentecostal grace, and are somehow connected, as we shall see later, with the Paschal grace and the Eucharist.

The full “Apostolic succession,” is transmission of the fire of the day of Pentecost and the life of grace that was in the Holy Apostles.  And when the spiritual gifts go hand in hand with the episcopal position, then we may have such men as St. Athanasius, St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil, St. Gregory the Theologian, St. Ambrose, and other bishops and archbishops of the saints exist in the church.  But when there is a discrepancy between the office in Church and the life of grace, then the gifts may be reduced to merely external charisms and, unfortunately, we may get ecclesiastical equivalents of Caiaphas, who prophesied as “being high priest that year” (Jn. 11:51), that Jesus is about to die for the nation.

Figures such as St. Seraphim of Sarov, Abba Abram of Fayoum, Father John of Kronstadt, Father Bishoy Kamel and others who lived in the modern era attest to the ever-continuing work of the Holy Spirit in the modern history of the Orthodox Church all over the world.

(To be contd.)

Saint Mark’s Orthodox Fellowship urges you to study the Bible and encourage others to do the same. Please feel free to make copies of these notes to distribute them. The Fellowship welcomes any questions, or comments.
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  1. Hom. III super Levit.
  2. In the 1st of his Centuries (chapters).
  3. Collat. IV.

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