Acquisition of the Holy Spirit
Fr. Thomas Hopko · January 7, 2010
St. Seraphim of Sarov taught that the aim of the Christian life is to live by the Spirit of God. Today Fr. Tom explores the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.
I’ve been asked to say a few words here on the radio about the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. That expression, acquisition of the Holy Spirit, in Russian styazhaniye Svyatogo Dukha, has been made famous in our time by St. Seraphim of Sarov. St. Seraphim lived in the 19th century in Russia. He died in 1833 on January 2. He was canonized in 1903, just before the revolution. He actually prophesied the coming of terrible disaster. I can’t remember how many years ago, when communism fell in Russia, his relics were rediscovered. They were actually hidden in the atheistic museum of the Cathedral of Khazan in St. Petersburg, in Leningrad. There were relics hidden down there, and they found them. St. Seraphim’s body was carried through the whole of Russia and was returned back to where he lived. He was in Sarov, but he was also connected to the monastery for women in Diveyevo. His relics are resting there now. It was a magnificent thing and was even interpreted as a prophecy of St. Seraphim himself that the day would come when there would be a Pascha in the summertime, and everybody would be singing the praises of God.
And that summertime took place, I think the year was 1992-93, but St. Seraphim’s body was found, and this marvelous man, Professor George Fedotov even wrote in his book, The Treasury of Russian Spirituality, that he thought that he was not only the most radiant and mystical and endearing of the Russian saints, but he may have been in some sense the greatest. I don’t know how you compare saints one to another—everybody is unique—but he was a marvelous man. He made—I don’t like to use the word “popular”—but he did make famous that expression that the aim of Christian life, the goal of Christian life, and we might even say the life of Christian life—life itself, not just the goal of life or the meaning of life or the purpose of life but life itself—is to live by the Spirit of God, the life-creating Spirit, as we say in the Liturgy: “the holy, good, and life-creating Spirit.”
That human beings were created to be vivified by the Holy Spirit, and through our sins and failures and rebellions we have lost somehow, or quenched, or God forbid, even blasphemed the Holy Spirit of God; to have the Holy Spirit, to live by the Holy Spirit, to be inspired in every way, every thought, word, and deed by the Spirit—that’s what makes life life, and that Spirit is the Spirit of God himself. St. Seraphim taught that spiritual life is not external things simply. It’s not just keeping the commandments or fasting or praying or asceticism, and he was a great ascetic.
He lived for years in the woods. He spoke to nobody for 15 years. He lived locked up in his room, and then he opened it and this light of God came bursting out upon the world. He called everybody “my joy” and “my treasure.” He was a radical ascetic. Sometimes we forget how ascetical St. Seraphim was because we always remember how joyful and peaceful and kind and loving to people he was, but that was only when he was—well, he was that way all his life—but he became famous for that only after he was more than 60 years old, had gone through this incredible ascetical life.
But he taught, like all the holy Fathers taught, and even that expression, “acquisition of the Holy Spirit,” is not unique to him. You find exactly the same words, for example, in the homilies of Macarius of Egypt, which actually St. Seraphim, in the conversation that is often recorded with Nicholas Motovilov, even makes a direct reference to St. Macarius of Egypt. Certainly he read him and St. Isaac of Syria and the other holy Fathers. St Ambrose of Milan: when he quotes that people have hardly ever repented of silence, that’s a quotation of St. Ambrose: You often repent of speaking but very little of being quiet. But in any case, he was absolutely saturated with the writings of the holy Fathers up until his time and he knew it all.
So there’s a sense in which what he taught is not unique to him, and certainly not innovative, but the way he did it, the power he did it, the effect that he had in his time, which was a very dark and gloomy and terrible time, with the loss of so much of real, vibrant Christian life. St. Ignatius Brianchaninov speaks about the very same thing in his book, The Arena, written in 1867. Perhaps he was even inspired by St. Seraphim. But in any case, the teaching is this: the spiritual life doesn’t consist in keeping commandments and going to church and saying prayers and reading the Bible and fasting from certain foods. Those things are essential. They are absolutely important. Without them you just perish. But they are not the end in themselves. They are a means to an end. You do those things to open yourself to the grace of God.
You do those things, so to speak, to attain to and to acquire the Holy Spirit. Perhaps even the word attaining might be better than acquiring. Acquiring looks as though it’s all in our power to get it. But to attain to the Spirit of God, to open oneself to it, to receive the gift, that is what all the ascetical practices of the Church are about. When you don’t have asceticism, when you don’t have fasting, vigil, praying, church services, Bible reading, forcing oneself to struggle with one’s passions and so on, well, then, you have no life at all; certainly no life as Christians understand it. Put it starkly: you’re in the hands of the devil; you’re in the hands of evil powers.
This teaching of St. Seraphim about the acquisition of the Holy Spirit is not new with him, but it certainly was renewed with him. There was a great renewal of this understanding of the Christian life: radical asceticism to open oneself to the gift of God so that one could live by the Spirit of God. Now we will speak later on about the actual conversation that St. Seraphim had with Nicholas Motovilov where this teaching is made very explicitly. But first let’s think a little bit about the Holy Spirit.
First of all we must know, we must remember that we’re talking about the Spirit of God himself. God’s very own Spirit. God’s very own, his living aspect, his vibrancy, the fact that he’s not a dead God but a living God, a true God, a good God, a glorious God. All of that is energized in the divinity itself by the Person of the Holy Spirit. That is, so to speak, the hypostatic function. That’s the personal function of the Holy Spirit.
Now when we read the Bible, we see that the one true and living God is never without his Word, his Logos, the Devar Yahweh. And he’s never without his Ruach, in Hebrew, his Pnevma in Greek, his Dukh in Slavonic. So God, when we know God as God shows himself to us, is always acting by his Word, through his Spirit. And we said many times on the radio already that God’s word is not just the spoken word. The word “devar” in Hebrew means an act. It means a thing. It means God’s self-revelation, his manifestation of himself.
And that very self-manifestation of God almighty himself within the Person, within the reality of the Godhead, this we know through Jesus Christ our Lord. That is eternal. It’s everlasting. It belongs to the very divinity itself. We believe that God is not God without his Word, and his Word is his own Son. The Logos of God and the Son of God are the very same reality, the very same Person. They would say in Greek, the very same hypostasis. So there is the One God and Father, and then there is the Lord Jesus Christ who is God’s Son and Word, but then there is also the Holy Spirit. There’s the Spirit of God and that word, “spirit, ruach, it means breath or wind or power; the life, it means, even. This is what we also know is truly existing. There is the Spirit of God who is distinct from the Father and the Son.
When all of this was worked out and elaborated theologically, we ended up with what we call the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the tri-hypostatic Godhead, the tri-Personal Godhead: Father and Son and Holy Spirit. Now this Holy Spirit we believe is the very Spirit of God himself, and in this Gospel of St. John, the Lord Jesus speaks about sending the Holy Spirit to us, the Spirit who proceeds from the Father. Here we Orthodox insist in our Creed that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God. He proceeds from the Father and rests in the Son, abides in the Son of God from all eternity. Then through the Son of God this Holy Spirit is given to us human beings. This is our Christian faith, that Jesus Christ is the Word of God incarnate, and through Jesus Christ we are given the very Spirit of God.
The Personal gift, in singular, of the Spirit of God is given to us through Jesus Christ, but that Spirit proceeds from the Father. He does not proceed metaphysically from the Father and the Son. That’s why we Orthodox reject the filioque in the Nicene Creed. We believe that is not the teaching of the Scripture. It’s a distortion of the Godhead. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, as St. Photius the Great said. But the Father is never alone. He is always with his Son and his Spirit. There is never any God without his Spirit; there is never any God without his Son and Word.
But when we contemplate the activities of God, how God shows himself to us, we know that God is never without his Holy Spirit. He is never without his Word and Son, but that the Spirit is the Spirit of God just like the Son is the Son of God. St. Irenaeus called the Word of God and the Spirit of God the two hands of God. Allegorically when it says that God acts through his hands, that is his Word and his Spirit. But the three are always together. They’re never separated, distinct but never separated. St. John of Damascus, in his treatise on the Orthodox faith, said there is a kind of parallelism between the Son and the Spirit coming forth from God, but the Son is begotten of the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and rests in the Son, and so the Holy Spirit is also the Spirit of the Son. St. Paul uses that expression, the Spirit of Christ or the Spirit of the Son. So we have this Trinitarian contemplation of God. Divinity is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Focusing now, and for the rest of our reflection, just on the Spirit—you can’t do that without reflecting on God and on Christ, too—what we see is that this Spirit of God, we’ll go back to the beginning of our creation, we Orthodox Christians, ancient Christians believe that God created everything through his Word by his Spirit; that [in] the creating activity of God, God acts by his Word. His Word is his act. He speaks. He says, “Let there be.” And then even in Genesis, the very first verses, it says the Spirit of God or the Breath of God, the Wind of God, was brooding over the abyss. And it’s only by the Holy Spirit that everything is made alive. We sing that way in church: through the Holy Spirit everything is vivified. In the book of Job, in the Bible, it says that if God would withdraw his Spirit everything would just disappear, everything would collapse. It would be annihilated.
One modern German theologian, Pannenberg, said that the Holy Spirit is kind of like the pervasive field within which all creation operates naturally or it would not operate at all. That might be a very important thing to think about when we think about modern science: Darwinism, Einstein, and all that. That God’s gracious field, his Holy Spirit, permeating all of creation, is within nature itself, or that nature itself wouldn’t even exist. So you can’t think of nature apart from super-nature if you’re a Christian, and you certainly can’t divide them. We can think of God without thinking of the world, but we can’t think of the world without God. That’s impossible.
In any case this Holy Spirit is given from the beginning. He’s the creator Spirit. The West even has a hymn, “Venit Creator Spiritus—Come, Creator Spirit.” What we see in the creation also is—this is a Christian conviction—that human beings, to be human, must have the Holy Spirit. We must live by the Holy Spirit. You might even dare say that in the Christian view, a human person is body, soul, created spirit, and Holy Spirit. The human soul is a spiritual soul, a logical, intelligible, moral, rational soul, as all the Ecumenical Councils say. And they say that because the claim of some heretics was that Jesus did not have a human soul. But Jesus does have a human soul and even a human spirit.
There’s a spirit in man, St. Paul says, that is not God. Then there is the Divine Spirit. And God breathes his Divine Spirit into us. We are not simply created by that Spirit, but we are made divine by that Spirit. We are made in God’s image and likeness by that Spirit. If we don’t have the Holy Spirit in us, we’re not human. That’s a very very important scriptural teaching. We’re subhuman, inhuman, unhuman, antihuman. We’re not really human. So to be human beings you have to have the Spirit of God in you.
If we read, for example—I think one of the most spectacular places where this is spoken about in Holy Scripture, is in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, the seventh and eighth chapter. St. Paul says very clearly that if we are not living by the law of the Holy Spirit of Life—that’s what he called it, the law of the Holy Spirit of Life, nomous tou agiou pnev̱matos tēs vios—then we’re living by the law of sin and death. Then the law of sin and the law of death is in us, and then we are being pushed around and possessed by evil spirits, by created spirits, angels who are evil, dark, and powerful, who try to destroy our lives.
The Christian understanding is, following Holy Scripture, a human being is, in this sense, using modern terms, not autonomous. We’re not an afto nomous; we’re not a law to ourselves. A human being does not have its reality in and of itself. We are never just by ourselves. We are either inspired by the Spirit of God, or we’re inspired by demons. We are either liberated by the Spirit of God from the power of demons, or we are possessed by demons. There’s no middle path.
We could even say that, phenomenologically, any human being: most of us are kind of a combination of the two, flip-flopping back and forth. Sometimes we’re really living by the Spirit of God, and sometimes we’re quenching the Spirit of God and grieving the Spirit of God and outraging the Spirit of God by giving ourselves over to evil powers and powers of darkness. That’s what St. Seraphim means when he says we have to attain the Spirit of God in all of our activity. We have to achieve living by the Spirit of God.
And even that achievement and attainment and acquisition is made possible by the Spirit of God. That’s the mystery because if the Spirit of God is not acting in us to even allow us to receive the Spirit of God… I know that’s wild, but that’s the truth. In other words, we have to have the Spirit of God to receive the Spirit of God. You can’t pray, “O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth come and abide in us,” unless the Spirit is already in us praying. That would be certainly the teaching of the Scriptures and the Fathers. And if that’s not happening then we’re in the hands of demons, and there’s no middle ground, so to speak. So we must live by the Spirit of God, and we’re created to live by the Spirit of God.
And the sin of man, the rebellion against God, to use New Testament language, it is a quenching of the Spirit, a grieving of the Spirit, an outrage of the Spirit. And if you even blaspheme the Holy Spirit, Jesus says that’s the unforgivable sin, to blaspheme the Holy Spirit, because that means to be totally and completely taken over by demons. When that’s the case, you can’t even receive the Spirit of mercy and forgiveness and love of God because you’re so totally overpowered and possessed by the spirit. Well, God forbid that that would ever happen, but I’m afraid that it is a scriptural teaching, that ultimately there might be some creatures that really choose darkness forever. They choose themselves, and they choose their own ways, and their own minds against the Spirit of God forever. There are demons who can forever blaspheme God.
Now the New Testament is very clear, it says in Thessalonians: Do not quench the Spirit. In Ephesians: Do not grieve the Spirit. In [the] Hebrews letter it speaks about grieving and outraging the Spirit. Jesus speaks about blaspheming the Spirit. Well, that’s why St. Seraphim says that we have to do everything we can that’s in our power, realizing that even that is not our power; it’s the power of the Spirit in us, in order to open ourselves and to be vivified and inspired and empowered by the very Spirit of God. And that’s what we are created for.
Now, we Christians also believe that the Lord God almighty knew that we would blow it from the beginning. The Lord God knew that humanity would turn to the serpent, would turn to the devil, that we would choose darkness. Even in the law of Moses, God is still saying to the people through Moses, read the law of God in the Bible, it says, “I present before you two ways, the way of life and the way of death, the blessing and the curse.” Well, choose life.
The Christian document, The Didache, in early Christianity, I think second century, maybe third, quotes that very line: Choose life. Don’t choose death. Choose light, not darkness. Choose God, not demons. But we have that before us. What we have to do is to be constantly striving and begging God to empower us to choose life, the life-creating Spirit. So we’re created that way from the beginning, and we’ve blown it. We are not born in Paradise. We’re born in the fallen world.
That’s why when some people are outraged at us Orthodox Christians and classical Christians who, when we have baptisms, when we baptize a person and even an infant, we bring our infants into the realm of God, into the Church of God, into the life of the Holy Trinity, the first thing that we do is we have exorcisms. We pray that all the evil spirits will depart from this creature. And some people go to Orthodox baptisms, especially of babies, and they’re really offended and scandalized that the first thing we do is meet the baby at the door of the church, held in the arms of his godparents, and say four long prayers casting out the demons and making the godparents reject Satan and all his angels and all his works and all his pomp and to breathe on him and spit on him and everything else.
Well, we do all that because we believe that being born into this world we are somehow in the hands of the prince of this world. That’s what Jesus called the demons and the devil. And we must reject that; we must turn and give ourselves to Christ. Then we’re asked, “Do you unite yourself to Christ? Do you believe in Christ? Do you accept him as your Lord and your God?” And on the baptism day we say yes. Then, after we’re baptized into Christ our Savior, then we are anointed with the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, is given to us.
Now when we look at Jesus himself we have to remember that Jesus is the Christ because the Holy Spirit dwells upon him. Even in his humanity, the holy Fathers like Athanasius and St. Irenaus, and all of them actually, they all say that Jesus had to be baptized in the Jordan river by John because, as a human being, he had to receive the Holy Spirit just like we do. He has the Holy Spirit as God, but in the oikonomia, he becomes human and then when he’s baptized the Spirit of God descends upon him and remains upon him.
And it was even spoken about Jesus, even before his baptism, that he’s conceived of the Holy Spirit, we say that in the Nicene Creed. That the Holy Spirit came upon his mother Mary so that he could be conceived and born. We say, following St. Luke’s gospel, that as a boy, Jesus increased in stature before God and man and the Spirit of the Lord was upon him. Isaiah the prophet says the Spirit of the Lord is upon me to go proclaim the Gospel: the Spirit of Wisdom and Council and Understanding.
So Jesus, as the Anointed One, in his humanity is doing everything by the Holy Spirit. And in St. John’s gospel, he even calls the Holy Spirit a witness to the fact that he is the Messiah. He says, “My words are inspired by the Spirit. My works are done by the Spirit. Everything that I am, everything I do, is by the Spirit of God.” We would say that’s not only because he’s God incarnate, but that is because he is the real, perfect human being. If you’re a real, perfect human being, everything you say and do and think and will and want and act and whatever is done by the Holy Spirit. If it is not, then it’s inspired by demons. Then you’re in the hands of devils.
Now, Jesus had no sin. He didn’t sin at all, and so everything he says and does and all his miracles, all his prophesies, all his teachings, all his parables, everything he said and did is inspired by the Holy Spirit. And in the letter to the Hebrews it even says explicitly that Jesus was led to the Cross by the Holy Spirit; that the Holy Spirit inspires him as the Messiah to voluntarily give himself over unto death for the life of the world. He accepts the will of God, his Father. “Not my will, but your will be done,” he says to God the Father, because the Holy Spirit is in him, and the Holy Spirit wants human beings to do the will of God.
And it is very interesting that some people even interpret that when Jesus died on the Cross and it says, “He gave up the spirit,” some people interpret that to mean that he breathed out the Holy Spirit on us. The Holy Spirit that was in him when he finally dies, he gives it over to us, and then we can live by the Holy Spirit because he died and gave himself over unto death, to demolish death and to fulfill all righteousness and to save the world. And the salvation of the world is, again, giving the personal gift of the personal Holy Spirit to human persons. That’s what it is.
So when we are baptized and we die and rise with Christ in baptism, we come up out of the water, a white robe is put upon us to show that we are risen from the dead, and then the bishop or the priest takes the holy chrism, the anointed oil, which signifies anointing and becoming a christ, being an anointed one, and we’re anointed all over our bodies: on our forehead, on our eyes, on our ears, on our lips, on our mouth, on our chest, on our breast, on our back, on our hands, on our feet. All over our body, the Holy Spirit is poured out upon us.
It is interesting that, to know an incredibly important note, that at baptism we’re not given the gifts, in plural, of the Holy Spirit. We’re given the gift, in singular, of the Holy Spirit. And it’s not even the same word in Greek. The word for gifts of the Holy Spirit is charismata. It’s an interesting word, charismata, because charism means gift, charisma means unction, and Christos means the Anointed One, and chara means joy, and efcharistia means thanksgiving. All these have the same root, the same word in them in Greek. But we are given, not the charismata, not the charisms, but the gift, I think it’s called dōrean in Greek; I can’t remember exactly the Greek word now. It means a gift, from where you get the word doros, like Theodoros, the gift of God, or Dorotheos, God’s gift.
Well, it’s a gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of the Spirit himself. The Spirit himself is given as a gift personally to those who are baptized into Christ so that then we are finally achieving what we were created to be from the very beginning. Finally Adam is a real human being, but it’s the new Adam in Christ, not the old earth Adam, the mud Adam from Genesis. The mud Adam did not fulfill himself as a creature made in God’s image and likeness. And he put on that distortion on all his children. We are all children of that Adam, sons of man. But in Christ we become sons of God, and then we become real human beings.
And here even, sometimes people ask, doesn’t the Holy Spirit act outside the Church? Well, of course the Holy Spirit acts wherever he wills. It says in Scripture, the Holy Spirit blows where he wills and is not given by measure. And we Christians would believe that anyone anywhere who does anything good, real, true, and right, whatever it is, even in science or whatever, that’s an inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The person’s capable of doing that because they’re acting according to the Spirit, not according to the demons. But the distinction is always made that in the Christ and in Church, we receive, not the powers of the Holy Spirit or the activities of the Holy Spirit or the gifts of the Spirit only, we are given the gift of the Spirit himself. We are to live by the Holy Spirit himself
This is certainly the Christian conviction, that we are to have and to live by the Spirit of God, what St. Paul calls the law, the nomos, of the Holy Spirit of life. And not the law of sin and death. And, by the way, that law is called in the Bible also the Law of God. It’s also called the Law of Christ. And in St. James letter it’s called the Law of Liberty or the Law of Freedom. And this is a very important point. St. Paul says in the Corinthian letter that where the Holy Spirit is there is eleftheria, there is freedom. So the Spirit of God makes us free. In St. John’s gospel the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Truth.
In St. John’s gospel Jesus says, “I will send you the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father. I will not leave you orphans. And the Holy Spirit will bring to remembrance everything that I have taught you. And the Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth.” And he calls the Holy Spirit, I think three or four times in that letter, the pnevma tēs alētheias, the Spirit of Truth. But Jesus also says, “You will know the truth. I am the truth,” he says, “and I’ll give you the Spirit of Truth, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” So this is a very important point. The Holy Spirit liberates us; he makes us free. He doesn’t captivate us. He doesn’t possess us.
I can’t resist saying, once I saw in the bookstore at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, a book which was entitled Possessed by God. And I thought to myself, “What a horrible title!” In fact, that’s not even true. You can’t be possessed by God. You can’t be. God doesn’t possess people. Demons possess people. Because when we are possessed, we are enslaved. And we’re not acting according to our real powers and our own real humanity.
But God does just the opposite. When the Spirit of God comes in us we are liberated, we are set free, we become who we are. Our human powers and energies and minds and thoughts and words all become anointed and inspired and empowered by God. And then we are really free. We’re not slaves to anything. And you can’t be enslaved to God. Oh, in a metaphorical manner you can say, “I’m a slave of God; I’m a servant of God.” But if you read St. Paul’s letter to the Romans—I would recommend that highly, especially on this point—you will see that he says we were slaves of sin and unrighteousness, but once we give ourselves over to be slaves of righteousness, slaves of God, guess what happens: We become free. We become children of God, sons of God. No longer slaves, but children, sons, and heirs, and totally free with the very freedom of God himself.
And God is totally free. In fact, professor Fr. George Florovsky, he said once: God is free. There’s only one thing that limits God. He cannot not be God. In other words, he can’t do evil. So if someone were to say, “Is everything possible for God?” Yes. “Is he really free to do anything he wants?” Yes. They they’ll say stupidly, “Well, he’s not really free because he can’t do evil.” Well, you’ve got to know, that’s what we call in theology an ontological absurdity. It’s just an impossibility, because to say that you can do evil freely is ridiculous because once you do evil you are enslaved. Your freedom is given up when you do evil. So that’s very very important. I mean, a person can have choice and choose to be evil, but once they choose to be evil they’re already enslaved by demons.
Just like, if you can say, “Well, I can choose to do good; I can choose life.” But we know once I choose life, I would confess immediately: it’s not me, but it’s Christ in me. It’s the Spirit of God in me, it’s God in me. It’s the Father in the Son through the Holy Spirit in me allowing me to make the proper choice. That’s the great mystery. And that’s the truth. So what we want to say is: you can’t be possessed by God. God sets us free. And it’s the truth that sets us free. And you can’t really live unless you’re free.
If you’re not free you’re not really living. You’re just controlled. You’re like a robot. You’re like a machine. You’re somebody’s slave. You’re not really free. You’re just existing. You’re just surviving. We can exist and survive as dead. If you read the holy Scripture, you’ll see how that word, “death,” is even used for people who are sinning all the time. It says they’re dead. They think they’re spiritually alive, but they’re dead. They think that they don’t need anything, but they don’t know how miserable and wretched and dead they really are. In fact, even in one letter, St. Paul speaks about the women widows who go gadding about, and they misbehave, and he says they’re already dead. They’re living a kind of a dead life now, not a living holy life. So the holy life is only empowered by the Holy Spirit, and it’s the Spirit of God that’s given to us.
Now here, what we want to see also, is that there is a distinction. We already spoke about it, but let’s look at it a little further. There’s a distinction between the gift of the Spirit himself to us and gifts, in plural, of the Holy Spirit. Now, the New Testament speaks about the gifts, the charismata You find it in the first Corinthian letter, you find it in Ephesians; and these gifts that are given, they are for the edification of the Church. They are for the building of faith and so on. So for example, in the Corinthian letter, you have St. Paul saying things like this:
You are the body of Christ, individually members of it. God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?
And then he answers obviously, No! Not everybody does all those things. Those are gifts to certain persons. And then, we know, and you find the same thing in the letter to the Ephesians, where you have the Apostle Paul saying something almost exactly the same. Where he says in the letter to the Ephesians, he said God gives his gifts, his charismata, he says that
Some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers to equip the saints, for the work of ministry for the building up of the body of Christ, till we all attain to the unity of the faith, the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature personhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. But not all are pastors, or teachers, or healers, or apostles, or prophets, or evangelists.
Everyone has his or her own unique gifts. And here, we would believe, and we would even confess, that every single person has his or her own unique gifts. It may be even that a certain person’s gift is to suffer. Maybe a person’s gift is to bear the cross of being retarded. Maybe, you could even dare to speak in a wild manner, that even our particular temptations are somehow providentially given to us by God for the sake of salvation when we hate them and fight against them. We’ll speak about this later. But there is a providence, and all those things are in the hands of God. But each one of us is unique, and we have different battles to fight, and we have different talents and gifts to try to affirm and to try to develop. And that’s in every single person. No one is without it. God is not saying that one of these is better or one of these is worse.
I don’t know; it’s not better to be a prophet and worse to be a helper or a healer or an administrator, or to speak in tongues or something. That’s not it. It’s unique and it’s all for the edification of all of us together. And that’s why St. Paul will also speak, in the second Corinthian letter, about the communion of the Holy Spirit. We use that expression in the Divine Liturgy, “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.” Because all the persons with their own lives together form a communion. A koinōnia, or in Greek, enōsē, a union. In fact, St. Ignatius of Antioch defined the Church as the enōsē agapēs kai pistēs, union of faith and love. So it’s all for the sake of the body, individual members.
So there are these gifts. Here we have to make a very very important point: God can give the gifts, and God can take them away. They belong to him. They’re given by him. They’re gifts. They’re not ours. And we have to receive the gifts. And we have to not complain that we do not have the gifts that we want. We have the gifts that he gave us, whatever those gifts are, maybe to struggle with terrible sexual temptations or something. That’s something we have to do. That’s the way it is. So there are these gifts.
It’s also very clearly a New Testamental teaching that you can have the gifts of God and be yourself a sinner. God might give the gifts to people who are sinners. St. Pachomius in the desert, he spoke about this. When he was interpreting the texts in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says, “not everyone who says, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom, but those who do the will of my Father.” And he says on that day many will come, many, polloi in Greek.
And they will say, “We did miracles in your name, we cast out demons in your name, we prophesied in your name.” And the Lord will say, “Depart from me you evildoer, I do not know you.”
Well, how can you be an evildoer and prophecy and do miracles and cast out demons? Well, according to Scripture, you can. If God wants to work through you, he’ll work through you. God can work though anything. He can work through Balaam’s ass. I mean, God can do whatever he wants. So we have to be real careful. Just because we have certain charismatic gifts doesn’t mean necessarily that we are righteous people. God may be working through us for the sake of others and for the sake of his glory and for the sake of their good. We’ll see. St. Seraphim will speak about this; all the Fathers will speak about this. But we can go to hell with our charismata.
In fact, St. Pachomius even said perhaps God pours out a lot of gifts on people so that when they realize that they have not used them for love—they have not used them for God’s glory, they have not used them for their neighbor’s good, they used them for their own pride and arrogance and to judge other people—then they find themselves in hell because they’re not really lovers. What the Father in Heaven desires is that we would be lovers. That we would love God, love our neighbor. And those gifts, just like the charismata and the ascetical practices, they’re all to love. They’re all to have the Holy Spirit. To live by the Spirit of God, to acquire the Spirit of God. But they’re not ends in themselves. They are a means toward an end. They are not ends in themselves. That’s what the holy Fathers teach. Seraphim teaches it, Ignatius teaches it, they all teach it. Macarius teaches it, Simeon the New Theologian teaches it, St. Silouan on Mount Athos teaches it, they all teach it.
It’s not these things in themselves that can just be, and even the Apostle Paul, in Corinthians after he speaks about the charismata, the gifts, he says, “I’ll show you a more excellent way. The only way that really matters.” And then he speaks about love. He said:
Though I can speak in the tongues of men and angels, but if I don’t have love it’s nothing. I can have prophetic gifts and understand all mysteries and have all knowledge and I can have faith even to remove mountains. But if I don’t have love (he says), I am nothing. If I give away all that I have, deliver my body even to be burned, even for the sake of Christ, but have not love, I am nothing and it profits me nothing.
And St. Athanasius the Great will say without love I am really, ouden. I am the nothing that I was before creation, because God created me out of nothing to be something, to be someone. But when I reject the God in whose image I am made and quench the Holy Spirit and blaspheme the Spirit of God, I revert to my nothingness. And here some of the holy Fathers would even claim that the same way human beings can grow forever more godlike—it’s called deification, divinization—we can also have the opposite, God forbid, but we could become more and more nothing, more and more corrupt, more and more ripped apart, more and more enslaved, more and more demonic. There’s a flip side to deification. It’s called demonization, nothing-iziation, nihilization.
Well, we don’t want that. What we want is love, truth, joy. And here, then, we know that the New Testament talks about the fruit of the Holy Spirit, not just the gifts but the fruit. And the fruit is for everybody. And the fruit is what the gifts are for. We have the gifts in order to have the fruit. We have the gifts even so that people around us can grow in the fruit. Maybe one person has a gift that he or she exercises for the other person to gain the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Now, the Apostle Paul again says exactly what the fruit of the Holy Spirit is. It’s in the Letter to Galatians, the fifth chapter, famous 22nd verse. “The fruit of the Spirit”—and by the way, notice that it’s singular again. It’s not “fruits” in plural; it’s “fruit” in singular.
The fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity (faithfulness), gentleness or meekness, and enkrateia, self-control. Having power over ourselves, not being pushed around against our will.
And then the apostle says there’s no law against the fruit of the Spirit.
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with his passions and desires. So if we live by the Spirit let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking one another, no envy of one another.
So we have to have the Spirit. But the fruit is for everyone, whoever we are. Whatever our gifts or lack of gifts—but nobody has a complete lack of gifts. God knows what to give us. And he’s asking us to use it for his glory and the good of our neighbor. And when that happens we live by the Holy Spirit. We attain the Spirit. We achieve the Spirit. We acquire the Spirit. The Spirit is in us. And then what is the result? The result is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And then really we are—to that measure that those things are in us—we are godlike. We are even deified. God himself is acting in us.
Or as Jesus would say in the Gospel of St. John: “I and my Father will come to you. We will make our dwelling place in you. I will give the Holy Spirit to you.” And then Jesus says an amazing thing. He says, “And the work that I do, the works that I do, you also will do,” singular. You, an individual person, “will do greater works than I have done because I go to the Father.” And usually the interpretation of that means that when Jesus is glorified and is seated at the right hand of the Father, he pours his Holy Spirit out upon his people, and that there are people who, by grace and by faith in Christ, will do the works that he did and, in some sense, even greater works.
Someone once said, “Why are they called greater?” Because they are done by mere mortals, by mere creatures. When a mere creature does what the Son of God does, and even becomes a son of God by grace, there’s some sense in which that might even be considered greater. Well, be careful with that because no one is greater than Jesus, that’s for sure. To think we’re greater than Jesus is just a blasphemy of the Holy Spirit himself. It’s just outrageous. It’s just demonic. The point is, Jesus does say it. And maybe there’s even a sense in which, if you put it in terms of, take for example, St. Paul. He went all over preaching, he did all these things which Jesus himself did not do. So Jesus shares all he has.
Here we would say—one final thing for now—that there are some Christians who really think it’s terrible to glorify saints. They say you have to glorify only Jesus Christ alone. You glorify only God alone. God alone is sovereign. You shouldn’t have these saints. But wait a minute. God, as it says in Holy Scripture, is glorified in his saints. God is wonderful in his saints. God is not a God who doesn’t share what he has. He shares everything he has and pours even his very own Spirit out upon the people that they would become saints, that they would be holy as he is holy. He spoke about that already in the Mosaic law. He says, “I am holy, holy I am and you have to be holy, too.” And you can’t be holy without the Holy Spirit. So we are all created to be saints and to have the Spirit of God in us.
And if anyone is righteous, the Holy Scripture says, a person by himself or herself is not righteous. “There is no one who is righteous, no not one.” But if the Holy Spirit is in you, you become righteous. St. Paul says in the Romans letter: The kingdom of God is the peace and the joy and the righteousness in the Holy Spirit. So when the Holy Spirit is in us, or we can say more modestly, humbly, to the measure that the Holy Spirit is in us, we are really holy. We are really godlike. We are really peaceful. We are really joyful. We are really righteous, even. We are really good. But that is all by the holy, life-creating, good Spirit of God. So to have that Holy Spirit is to live the godlike life. To be like Jesus. To do what he does. To imitate God. To imitate Christ. These are scriptural expressions. To live by God’s power, not by demons. That’s what the acquisition of the Holy Spirit means.
So I will speak again on the radio very particularly about what St. Seraphim taught in his conversation with Motovilov. It is very interesting. You could read it anywhere. It is published in various places. Ms. Valentina Zander has a book on St. Seraphim. It’s the one I would recommend. Forgive me for saying this, I think it’s actually better than the Lazarus Moore book, I really do. So if you’re going to choose one, choose the Zander book. But you could also just find the conversation with Motovilov. It’s published in various places. It’s in those books. But it’s also in The Treasury of Russian Spirituality by George Fedotov. But I would suggest that you find the actual conversation between St. Seraphim of Sarov and Nicholas Motovilov that took place in the woods on a snowy afternoon on a Thursday where St. Seraphim gives his teaching. And, God willing, I will share with you the details of that teaching the next time.
But for today let us know, to acquire, to achieve, to attain to, to have, to be indwelt by, to receive the Spirit of God, that’s what it means to be human. And if we don’t have the Spirit of God, we are not godlike. It’s either the Spirit of God or the many evil spirits. So we pray: Give us the one Spirit of God, Lord, with the multitude of gifts and powers and energies and whatever you want to give to us so that we could have, indeed, love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and fidelity and gentleness and self-control; that we really could become, as the saints say, gods by grace. By faith and by grace we can be everything that God is. And that’s what he wants for us. That’s why he created us. That’s why he saved us: so that we could be holy with the very Holy Spirit of God himself. That’s what, according to the Christian faith, it means to be a human being.