Jesus - The Paraclete
Fr. Thomas Hopko · February 22, 2010
While normally associated with the Holy Spirit, the name Paraclete also refers to Jesus as our Advocate, Comforter, and Counselor.
Continuing now our reflections on the names and titles of Jesus in Holy Scripture, we want to reflect now on the title of Jesus the Paraclete, or the Paraklētos, the Paraclete. When we say “paraclete,” Christians almost always immediately think of the Holy Spirit. If you would probably ask any Christian, “Who is the Paraclete?” The answer would be: “The Paraclete is the Holy Spirit.” And so even in kind of popular language, popular discourse, people speak about just “the Paraclete”; they say it automatically, and they think about the Holy Spirit.
And, of course, in my lifetime I can’t help but [say], there used to be a bookstore in New York City called the Paraclete Bookstore. It was a Christian bookstore. There’s a publishing house up in New England called the Paraclete Pres, which publishes pretty good books, actually. So [you say,] “Paraclete,” and people think of the Holy Spirit. And, of course, the reason for that is because of the Gospel according to St. John, where, in the final discourse of Jesus with his disciples at the Supper, which ends in what is usually called the high priestly prayer—which I always mention is the long first reading that is read on the vigil of Great and Holy Saturday, the blessed Sabbath before the Resurrection of Christ, that long reading from chapter 13 through the end of chapter 17—in that chapter, when Jesus speaks about sending the Holy Spirit, and three times he calls the Holy Spirit “the Paraclete, the Paraklētos.”
In the King James version of the Bible, that term in St. John’s Gospel and in I John, where it will be applied to Jesus, is normally translated, I should say in John, as “Comforter,” the Comforter, who comforts as a verb and brings comfort. “Paraklēsis” is the noun, the one who does it is the “paraklētos,” and the act of doing it in the verb form is “paraklēō.” And it’s translated virtually all the time in the King James as “comforter,” whereas the RSV translates it in John as “counselor.” But in the first letter of John, where it is applied to Jesus, which is what we want to talk about now, it is, in the RSV, not translated—it’s the very same word, but it’s not translated “counselor” or “comforter”; it’s translated as “advocate.”
So we want to try to understand: what does this word, “paraklētos” or “paraclete,” what does it really mean? What is it trying to say? Let’s just take a minute here to look in the King James version to see how it’s translated in the first letter of John. As I just mentioned, in the Gospels, it’s translated as “comforter.” In the letter of John, it is translated in the King James as “advocate.” So it’s interesting: in the King James version, when it’s applied to the Holy Spirit, it’s “comforter”; when it’s applied to Jesus, it’s “advocate.” In the Revised Standard Version, when it’s the Holy Spirit, it’s the “counselor,” and when it is Jesus, it’s “advocate.”
It’s the same word, though. In Greek, it’s absolutely, totally the same word. So we have to see what that word means. And here, before we read these texts, I will just tell you that basically the word can mean—and obviously because of these translations, does mean—“comforter”; it does mean “counselor”; it does mean “advocate,” but it can also mean “consoler”; it can also mean “encourager.” As a noun it could mean “encouragement” or “support.” It could be the one who stands on behalf of or defends a person. It could be a kind of a witness to a person’s righteousness or something like that. But let’s just see how it is used in the Holy Scripture.
Before reading John and I John, we’d just like also to mention, by way of introduction here, that that word, “paraklēsis,” which in our Orthodox tradition is often the name of a church service, “paraklēsis,” and in the Balkans “paraklēsis” is the common name for a chapel. If you say, “Let’s go to the paraklēsis,” it means, “Let’s go to the church.” I remember once being in Bulgaria and the man said, “We’re going to go to the paraklēsis,” and I thought we were going to go to have a church service, but he just wanted to show me the chapel, and the chapel was called “paraklēsis,” in Slavic, “paraklis.”
So that word is like a technical term in ancient Christian or Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition, and it’s interesting that in its meaning of “comfort” or “consolation,” it’s used in the first chapter of the second letter to the Corinthians by St. Paul ten times. Ten times you have this word being used, about being comforted in tribulation and comforted by God and if we have to suffer, he also consoles us. And I would like, before going to the term “Paraclete” for the Holy Spirit and the use of the term “Paraclete” for Jesus Christ, I would just like to read to you some part of that first chapter of II Corinthians where you have this word being used all the time. I’ll use the King James version here. It said (II Corinthians 1:3-7):
Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort...
“Theos pasēs paraklēseōs”—the God of all paraklēsis. Then it says:
...who comforts us in our tribulation…
“Ho parakalōn,” the one who is comforting in our tribulation.
...that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble…
So he comforts us so that we would have the power to comfort those who are suffering, “parakalein” there, to comfort those who are suffering or in trouble.
...with the comfort…
With the very same comfort, dia tēs paraklesios, with the very same paraklēsis.
...with which we ourselves are parakaloumetha, which we are ourselves are comforted.
So how does that sound if I don’t interrupt myself? It says:
The God of all comfort comforts us in our tribulation, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any tribulation or affliction by the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God who is the God of all comfort.
Then it continues:
For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation...
And here it’s also “paraklēsis”; they just now use “consolation” instead of “comfort.” They switched the English word, but it’s the same word in Greek.
For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our comfort (or our consolation) also aboundeth by Christ.
Then it continues:
...and whether we be afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation (for your paraklēsis) that we are troubled.
So St. Paul says, “We’re being troubled and enduring all kinds of affliction, so that you could be comforted, and so that, through our enduring of the same suffering, which we also suffer, you also might be comforted.” And then he adds, “Whether we be [afflicted], it is for your consolation and salvation, and if we are [comforted], it is also for your comfort and your salvation (or your consolation).” So he says:
Our hope of you is steadfast, knowing that you are partakers of the suffering, so shall you also be partakers of the paraklēsis (of the comfort).
Ten times you have that word used in [Corinthians]. It’s applied in St. John’s Gospel to the Holy Spirit, but it’s very interesting to note—in fact, it’s crucial that we note—that the first time Jesus speaks about sending the Holy Spirit from the Father in his name, which would be in the 15th verse of the 14th chapter, in the 14th chapter for the first time—he’ll also speak about it in the 25th [verse]—you have Jesus speaking about the Holy Spirit and coming from the Father as the Counselor. This is what he says. Just read the 14th chapter of St. John, beginning with the 15th verse, because this is what you will hear. This is what you will read (John 14:15-21, 23-27).
If you love me, he says, you will keep my commandments, and I will pray the Father…
Now here’s the point:
...and he will give you another paraklētos to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth.
Now you have “another paraklētos,” another paraclete, allon, another one. So what he’s saying, right from the beginning, is “I’m the first one, and I’m going to send you another one.”
In St. John’s Gospel, he is never called “Paraklētos,” but in I John he will be, as we will see, but here, the very first time he mentions about sending the Holy Spirit, he calls the Spirit another comforter, another counselor, another advocate, another encourager, another supporter, another consoler, another defense for you—which means he’s the first one.
So even in St. John’s Gospel, you cannot say, according to St. John’s Gospel, if somebody would say, “Who’s the Paraclete in St. John’s Gospel?” you cannot simply answer, “The Holy Spirit.” You’ve got to say that Jesus is the first Paraclete, and then the Holy Spirit is the one whom he sends in his name, who is another Paraclete. That’s very important.
Now let’s read the text again:
If you love me, you will keep my commandments, and I will pray the Father, and he will give you another paraklētos (another paraclete), to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
Then he continues:
I will not leave you desolate. I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in my Father and you in me and I in you. He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me, and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.
Then I skip a little bit; then he says:
If a person loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we (meaning Jesus and God the Father; the Father and the Son) will come to him and make our home with him (or her, of course). He who does not love me does not keep my words, and the word which you hear is not mine, but it’s the word of the Father who sent me.
Then it continues, again with a reference to “paraclete.”
These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you, but the Paraclete…
RSV says “Counselor”; King James says “Comforter.”
...the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
Then it continues:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.
And he continues on his discourse. But let’s read this again:
These things I have spoken to while I am still with you. But the Counselor…
The Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, whom he has just called in ten verses above “another Paraclete beside myself.”
...whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said.
Jesus is going to use exactly the same word in the 15th chapter, and he’s going to use exactly the same word in the 16th chapter. Let’s read the 15th first. Jesus says at the end of the 15th chapter in John’s Gospel, he says that he came to fulfill all the Law, and yet they hated him without a cause. And then he says that those who hate him hate the Father also. He says, “If you hate me, then you hate both me and my Father.” But then he continues: “But when the Paraclete comes”—this same word again—“When the Paraclete comes, whom I shall send you from the Father…” It’s interesting: he says here, “whom I will send you from the Father.” In the 14th chapter, he said, “whom the Father will send you in my name.” So the Father sends the Paraclete in Christ’s name, and then Christ here says, “I will send it to you from the Father.”
And then he uses again the same expression: “even the Spirit of truth.” “...the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father. He will bear witness to me,” because this Paraclete is a witness, as we will see. “He will bear witness to me, and you also are witnesses”—martys, martyrs—“because you have been with me from the beginning.
We should comment here a little bit on this 26th verse: “When the Paraclete comes, whom I shall send you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father.” That’s very important in Orthodox theology, because we insist that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. Christ sends the Holy Spirit, and the Father sends the Holy Spirit through Christ and in Christ’s name, but the Spirit does not proceed from the Father and the Son, metaphysically. He does not. The Son can send him; he comes through the Son, but he proceeds from the Father.
And this is why Eastern Orthodox Christians [believe this], as opposed to Western Christians, who changed the Creed and said that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. They are simply adding words to the very Holy Scripture here. They’re not quoting the Scripture adequately. That’s why we reject “filioque,” which means “and from the Son” in Latin, in the Nicene Creed.
Another thing that we have to see. Also, it says, “the Spirit of truth.” Now, “the Spirit of truth” was used already, this expression of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth “who guides you into all truth.” And that we use in the prayer, in the Church, to the Holy Spirit. And in that prayer, we call the Holy Spirit “Paraclete.” That’s important for Eastern Orthodox Christians because every service of prayer—personal prayer in our room, prayer in church, prayer of the hours, prayer of vespers, prayer of matins, the Divine Liturgy—they all begin with this invocation. We call it an “epiklesis,” a calling forth of the Holy Spirit.
And that prayer, which every Orthodox knows by heart, goes like this: “O heavenly king, paraklētos, paraclete. O heavenly king, the comforter,” we say often in English. “The Spirit of all truth, who art everywhere and fulfillest all things, treasury of blessings, giver of life, come and abide in us.” So we invoke the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth, and the reason that we do that is because that’s what he’s called in St. John’s Gospel, and that’s what this “other Paraclete,” the Holy Spirit, is called.
I think it would be of interest to some readers that in Church Slavonic, this word, “paraklētos,” was translated “uteshitel.” So if you would say this prayer in Church Slavonic, or read the Gospel of John in Church Slavonic, every time you would have the word “paraklētos,” you would have the word “uteshitel.” So you’d say, “Carju nebesnyj, utjeshitselju”, which is a vocative: “O Paraclete—O heavenly king, O Paraclete.” But it’s interesting that literally, “uteshenie” in Slavonic is “comfort.” And that’s why, I think, that a lot of English translations of “paraclete” say “comforter,” rather than “counselor” or “advocate,” because they were originally translated from Church Slavonic.
In, for example, the Hapgood service book which was very popular and used very widely when I was young, it was one of the first translations into English of Eastern Orthodox liturgical services. Well, the translator, [Isabel Florence] Hapgood, [who] was a British lady who translated this into English, she did it from Church Slavonic, and in Church Slavonic, there’s no other way you can translate the Slavonic word but “comforter.” It can’t be translated as “counselor” or as “advocate”; it can only be “consoler,” and not even “counselor.” It’s a word with many meanings, and because of various translations you have these different meanings.
In any case, what we want to do now, before we get to those meanings and their significance, is to see how you have these translated differently. So the 15th chapter will say:
When the Paraclete comes, whom I will send you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me, and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning.
Then in the 16th chapter, we have this text. Jesus says that he has to go away, the people are going to sorrow, but when he returns they’re going to be happy, and they have to go through this. And then he says:
Because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away.
Jesus has to go away. He has to be crucified. He has to be buried. He has to be raised. He has to be sent to heaven. He has to be seated at the right hand of the Father. That is all for our advantage; it is all for our benefit.
It is for your advantage (your benefit) that I go away, for if I do not go away (the Lord says), the Paraclete will not come to you.
“Counselor” in RSV, “Comforter” in King James: the Counselor, the Comforter.
...the Paraclete will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convince the world.
Or you could even say, “Convict the world.”
He will show the truth of the fact to the world concerning sin, concerning righteousness, and concerning judgment. Concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you will see me no more; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
Then he continues:
I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes…
So you have again the expression “spirit of truth—pnevma tēs alētheias—spirit of truth” like we say in the prayer: “O heavenly king, comforter, Spirit of truth.”
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said he (the Paraclete, the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father) he will take what is mine and he will declare it to you.
So you have these, I believe it’s four times in St. John’s Gospel. Four times you have this expression “paraclete” being used.
Now let’s go to I John, the first letter of John in the Scripture, and see how “paraclete” is used for Jesus, where that same word is used in application to Jesus. It’s in I John 2. You should read it. Get I John and read. The whole letter is just beautiful. It’s the best summary of Christianity that exists, practically, I think. But if you take the second chapter for our purposes today, this is what is written.
My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin, but if anyone does sin, we have a paraclete with the Father.
“We have a paraklētos with the Father.” And here, in both the Revised Standard and in the King James authorized version, the translation is “advocate.” It’s neither “counselor” nor “comforter.” Here the same word is translated “advocate.”
My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin, but if anyone does sin, we have an advocate (paraklētos, paraclete) with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous. He is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. By this we may be sure that we know him if we keep his commandments. He who says, “I know him,” but disobeys him is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
So [John] says we are not to sin. He says that if we walk in sin, we’re not walking in Christ. If we’re not walking in light, we’re walking in darkness. He says if we confess our sins, the Lord God Almighty is faithful and just and he will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Then he says if we say we have no sin and we [have sinned], we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
But then he says, and I’m going to read it again:
I am writing this to you so that you may not sin, but if anyone does sin, we have a paraklētos, we have an advocate with the Father: Jesus Christ, the righteous. He is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.
So here, Jesus is the Paraclete. He’s the first Paraclete. Then he sends us an allon, another, another paraklētos, allos paraklētos, another paraclete, and that’s the Holy Spirit. So in the Scripture, both Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, are called “Paraclete.”
Now let’s think about this word and its various meanings. It’s very interesting that the word “advocate,” in many languages means a lawyer. It means someone who defends us before the judge, who defends us before the law. And it’s interesting that in many languages, another word for “lawyer” or an “advocate” is a “counselor.” They say, “You can take counsel. You can bring in a counselor, to help you, to defend you, to defend your case, to stand up for you when you are tried and tested, to try to plead your cause when you are accused of sin or of evil or of mal-doing or malpractice or whatever.”
So it’s interesting that the term, in English anyway, and in many languages, like Russian, for example, “advocat” means a lawyer. And even in English, you have an advocate and a counselor. The technical, legal meaning of this term is that one who stands on behalf of one who has been accused. And in St. John’s Gospel, it seems to me very clear that it would have been better if we have translated in English, not using “comforter,” but using “counselor” or “advocate,” that the Holy Spirit comes as an advocate, a counselor. And in St. John’s Gospel, in fact, a big part of St. John’s Gospel has to do with the legal language. For example, in St. John’s Gospel, the word “bear witness” or “testify” is used almost a hundred times! And that was a legal term. If you’re brought to a court and are tried, you have to have witnesses.
The author of St. John’s Gospel was arguing against those who said, “Jesus is not the Son of God. He may be the Messiah, but he’s not the Son of God; he’s not the devar Yahweh, the Word of God in flesh. He is not divine. He didn’t come from heaven. He’s just a man like the rest of us.” And so in St. John’s Gospel, the claim is that there are witnesses to Jesus that he is the Son of God and that God the Father himself bears witness; the Holy Scriptures bear witness; John the Baptist bore witness; Jesus’ words, his own words, bore witness. He bore witness to himself. His activities, the actions that he did, the signs, they bear witness.
But, primarily, or at least among the first witnesses to Jesus as God’s Son, the Light of the world, the Resurrection, the Life, the Bread of life, everything that St. John’s Gospel says about him, in that very Gospel is the Holy Spirit. That’s why, four times, he’s called the paraklētos, because he is sent forth from God in the name of Christ, and Christ sends him forth from the Father to be this witness, like a defense attorney, or even a witness of the defense; it could mean both meanings. It’s the one who stands for the victim, the one who stands for the accused against the accusers.
So here, St. John’s Gospel itself is this testimony over and against—and actually, St. John’s Gospel, [if] you read it carefully—it’s against the Jews who believed in him, but did not accept him as God’s Son. There was strife among the Jews. There was argumentation about who Jesus was, and he needed witnesses to bear witness to who he was, and he needed an advocate to plead his cause; to make his case; to show forth his truth; to bring to remembrance what he did; to guide people into truth; to let them understand who he was, what he said, what it meant for everyone, for the whole world. That’s why that word is used, because the Holy Spirit has that function.
When a person has someone to advocate for them, to speak on their behalf, when a person has someone to be their counselor, when they have someone who knows the laws and knows everything and can defend them, he could even be called a defender or a defense attorney, then that is comforting. And that’s why the term “comfort” or “consolation” can also be used. That when we are in affliction, when we are troubled, when we have someone to stand up for us, to plead our cause, to make defense in our case, and have the right to do so because they know the truth, they know the law, they fulfilled the law, they’re trustworthy, they are righteous, no one can accuse them, no one can say they’re bad—well, when we have that, then that’s very comforting. That’s a great consolation. That’s a great encouragement.
Here we could even mention right now that in the first Corinthian letter (I Corinthians 14:3), the Apostle Paul says he begs everyone to seek the gift of prophecy, to be prophetic, because the prophet brings oikodomē, edification; it brings paramythia, which is exhortation and encouragement; but also brings paraklēsis. A prophet is also a paraklētos. A prophet who can say, “Thus says the Lord. This is the word of God,” and can speak that word on our behalf, that person is also a paraclete, a paraklētos.
The claim is here that where you have a paraklētos who’s bringing paraklēsis, then you have [an] advocate who’s bringing a proper defense. You are bringing a counselor who is making a perfect case; you are bringing a comforter who is bringing all comfort in affliction; and you have a consoler who is bringing consolation; and you have a supporter and an encourager and a defender, who is defending, encouraging, and supporting your case. The claim in St. John’s Gospel is that this is what the Holy Spirit does on behalf of Jesus Christ himself.
In the first letter of John, you have a different teaching. Not a different teaching, but another teaching, an additional teaching. And the additional teaching is that the first Advocate is Jesus himself. That’s why in the Gospel [Jesus] says, “I will send you another Paraclete.” So our Paraclete is Jesus.
Now, St. John’s letter says very clearly: we’re not supposed to sin. We’re supposed to walk in light. We’re supposed to walk in the way Christ walked. We’re not to sin; we’re to be righteous. But then the first letter of John says, but if anyone claims they’re not a sinner, they’re a liar, and they make God a liar, because everyone is a sinner. And therefore, he says, everyone is in need of a paraclete. Everyone needs a paraclete. We need an advocate; we need a counselor; we need a comforter; we need an encourager; we need a defense attorney; we need someone to stand on our behalf; we need to have someone stand before the face of God on our behalf.
That’s the point: to stand before the face of God. And here, our advocate before the face of God is Jesus Christ himself. So that’s why we have read, we already read what it says: “I am writing that you may not sin, but if anyone does sin, we have a paraclete with the Father: Jesus Christ, the righteous.” So you can’t touch him: he’s righteous; he’s just. “And he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.” So Jesus as the one who offers himself on the Cross, who dies, who is the propitiation, the expiation—and that word, “expiation,” is sometimes translated “propitiation,” and it’s used in Timothy and it’s used in other places; “hilasmos”: it means the one who redeems us, the one who buys us back, the one whose testimony saves us, the one whose activity saves us—well, that’s Jesus here. That’s Jesus Christ himself.
So he is our Advocate before the Father. We have an Advocate before God, God the Father: God’s own Son is our Advocate with his own Father, who becomes our Father through him. When we have to stand before the face of God, Jesus Christ is our Advocate. When Jesus Christ himself is accused by people, the Holy Spirit is his advocate.
In fact. St. Gregory the Theologian, he said this specifically. He said, “How do we know the one true God? How do we know who and how and why and when and where the one true God is? How do we know the true God?” He says, “Jesus Christ reveals him. Jesus Christ manifests him. Jesus Christ testifies to him. Jesus Christ is the one who makes him known.” And so if we have to stand before that true God, Jesus Christ is the Advocate.
Then when St. Gregory the Theologian asks in his theological orations, “But who stands on behalf of Jesus himself? What happens when Jesus is attacked? What happens when people say, ‘Jesus is a blasphemer; Jesus is a destroyer of the Law; Jesus is an idolater; Jesus is a crazy person who thinks that he’s God and God’s Son’ and so on? Who’s going to stand up for Jesus?” And then St. Gregory’s answer would be the answer of St. John the Theologian.
Gregory the Theologian answers the same way John the Theologian does. He says, “The Holy Spirit bears witness to him. The Holy Spirit testifies. The Holy Spirit is his paraklētos. The Holy Spirit is his advocate.” And that Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, is given to us. Then, as we already heard in St. John’s Gospel, when we have the Holy Spirit, then there’s a sense that, having Christ as our Paraclete, and having the Spirit as our Paraclete, we have to become paracletes for the world.
We have to become paracletes for one another. We have to advocate before each other, before God, and even before Christ, because we need an advocate before Christ himself. And here the claim is that the Holy Spirit even advocates on our behalf before Jesus, not only testifying and defending who Jesus really is, but when we sin, when we fall short, then the Holy Spirit can come in us; he can cleanse us; he can cleanse us from all impurity; he can illumine us; he can guide us; he can pray within us, as St. Paul says. So the Holy Spirit acts as a kind of an advocate, a paraclete on our behalf before Christ and before God the Father.
We could even go a little bit further. We can say that the saints are advocates, comforters, counselors, consolers, encouragers, defenders, testifiers on behalf of us sinners. The saints live to make intercession for us before God. The saints stand before God on our behalf and say, “God, be merciful to these people. We’re speaking on their behalf. For our sake, have mercy on them.” And this is certainly true in ancient Christian Tradition, and certainly true in the Eastern Orthodox Church until this present day: that the main human, merely human advocate, is the Theotokos, is the Virgin Mary.
Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are divine. They are our divine Paracletes. We have two divine Paracletes: the Son of God and the Spirit of God. But we have the saints, and the leader of the saints is the Theotokos, Virgin Mary, Christ’s own mother. And Christ’s mother intercedes on our behalf. She makes intercession. She not only prays, but she makes intercession. It’s very interesting that there’s a little nuance between praying for somebody and interceding for somebody.
I mean, we can pray for somebody to be healed, but when we intercede for someone, it means we stand on their behalf. For example, if someone is in trouble, we can go to the person that they’re in trouble with and intercede on their behalf; we can advocate on their behalf; we can plead their cause; we can plead their case; we can ask on their behalf that the judge or the person who has some power over them would be merciful or would forgive them or would loose them or whatever. So “intercession” means we stand on behalf of the other person, before another.
And so the Theotokos, the wonderful mother of God, the Virgin Mary, the highest and best of all the saints, she stands before God and she pleads on our behalf. And even in Christian tradition, ancient Christian tradition, the claim is that holy Mary, the mother of God, the birth-giver of God, the Theotokos, intercedes on our behalf especially at the moment of our death. At the moment of our death, when our soul, our life, goes into the presence of God, she is there, beseeching God on our behalf, interceding on our behalf, advocating on our behalf, asking the Lord to be merciful to us for her sake. And then the claim is that all the saints do this, all the saints on [our] behalf intercede.
I mentioned the prophets. For example, everyone thinks about the prophets as the ones who declare the word of God and pronounce gloom and doom and burning coals and hellfire upon sinners, but a real prophet intercedes for the sinner. Moses stood in the breach on behalf of the people when God wanted to crush them, and he interceded for them; he advocated for them; he was their paraclete. Moses was the paraclete for the people, because he stood on their behalf before God. And God did let the people off for the sake of Moses’ intercession. That’s in the Holy Scripture.
But a prophet, a Christian prophet or a godly prophet, a prophet of the real God, is always someone who advocates on behalf of the people against whom he prophesies. And I would say that this is even a dogmatic truth: no one is a real prophet who is not ready to advocate for those against whom he prophesies. No one is a real prophet who does not pray for the one that he is bringing the word of God to. A real prophet not only preaches the word of God to people, but he advocates on behalf of those very same people. And I think you could say, according to Scripture, no one can dare to prophesy who is not ready to advocate, and even to the point, advocacy even to the point of death.
You could say that, according to Holy Scripture, we can’t prophesy, we can’t pronounce the word of God over anyone that we’re not willing to advocate before God on their behalf, and that we’re not ready actually, even if necessary, to die for them. Jesus Christ is the great Paraclete because he died for us. The Holy Spirit is the Paraclete because he identifies completely and totally with us. He becomes one Spirit with us.
An advocate, a prophetic counselor, advocate, defender, testifier, witness, has to be one who is totally identified with the victim, so to speak. And here, we sinners before God, we have advocates before the Father. We do have an advocate: Jesus Christ is our advocate. We have an advocate before Jesus and the Father: the Holy Spirit is our advocate. We have an advocate before the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: the holy Theotokos and all the saints are our advocates, especially the Theotokos, first and foremost.
But we could go even further. We could say that in the Church, the bishops and the priests are supposed to be paracletes, paraklētoi. The bishops and the priests are supposed to intercede and advocate before the face of God on behalf of the people. What is a spiritual father, even if he’s not ordained a priest? A geronda, a staretz: what does he do? He advocates on behalf of the people, especially his own spiritual children. Even parents, biological parents, if they’re Christians: they advocate before God on behalf of their own kids.
All those in parental, fatherly, motherly, positions, ordained in [the] Church as bishops and priests, or recognized by their charisms and through their profession of faith and their profession as monks and nuns, even: they become paracletes. The nuns and the monks stand as advocates on behalf of all creation every single day. They take seriously that a Christian is supposed to advocate before God on behalf of the whole world, before the face of God.
And then we advocate before one another. And here, even, you can say: friends are paracletes. Anyone who’s a real friend will advocate on behalf of their friend. They will console that friend; they will comfort that friend; they will encourage the friend. They will counsel the friend; they will stand with the friend; they’ll stand on behalf of the friend. That’s what it means to be a paraclete. So every human being is called by God to be a paraklētos.
And certainly parents and priests and monastic elders and saints and prophets—they are technically, so to speak, professedly supposed to be paracletes, because we are by faith and grace to be what Christ is before God on behalf of the whole world. That’s what we do at the Divine Liturgy. And, filled with the Holy Spirit, we are to stand on behalf of the whole world, and even somehow be an expiation for the sin of the other, give [ourselves] in death, in our witness and testimony, that God would forgive them, that God would be merciful, that he would not the charge against them.
So advocacy, paraklēsis, to do parakalēō, to be one who advocates and to be a paraklētos, a paraclete, that’s the calling of every single human being. Through Christ, in the Holy Spirit, before the face of God, every one of us—and certainly every baptized Christian and every parent, every priest, every monk, every friend—is to be a paraclete for the other. And particularly for the others for whom they are responsible, for whom they are answerable before God.
“Paraklētos, paraclete”: Christ is the Paraclete. The Holy Spirit is the Paraclete. The two divine Paracletes. And then all the saints, by faith and grace of the very Holy Spirit, become before the face of God, together in and with Jesus, paracletes on behalf of the whole of creation, of everyone and everything. And that’s even what we do at the Liturgy: we offer ourselves with Christ. We offer Christ as our Lord, being his servants, on behalf of all and for all. “That which is yours we offer to you on behalf of all and for all,” we say at the Liturgy. “Thine own of thine own.” But it’s on behalf of all and for all.
So our task is to pray, to mediate, to intercede, to advocate, to be a counselor, to be a legal witness, so to speak, in the light of God’s law, on behalf of all and for all. And hopefully everyone else will be my advocate before God. I will be yours and you will be mine. And the Holy Spirit and the Lord Jesus himself will be our common Paracletes before the face of God the Father. This is our faith.
But one thing for sure today, in Holy Scripture, one of the great titles of Jesus is the Advocate, the Paraclete. I am writing this to you and I am saying this to you, so that you may not have sin, but if anyone does sin, we have a Paraclete with the Father, an Advocate: Jesus Christ, the righteous, and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also he is the Paraclete and the expiation for the sins of everyone, all humanity, and the whole world.