June 3, 2015 Length: 18:44
The Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles at Pentecost as a roaring wind and in tongues of fire from Heaven. The river of fire for them meant no danger at all but rather a personal powerful presence of God in their hearts and lives, the promised Holy Spirit.
From the prophecy of Daniel:
A river of fire was flowing and coming out from before Him; thousands upon thousands were attending Him, and myriads upon myriads were standing before Him; the court sat and the books were opened. (Daniel 7:10)
Children, a river of fire sounds rather scary doesn’t it? Perhaps you have seen on TV a volcano erupting and a river of fiery lava rushing down the mountain. The rock is so hot it is in liquid form and flows like water. If it’s safe to be there you will have to stand well back so as not to get burnt. Do you think that the river of fire coming out from the throne of God in the Bible reading we have just heard is like that? How can it be? God is love and does not seek to harm anyone. What is this river of fire, therefore, which flows from the throne of God? It cannot be an ordinary fire can it? Let’s try and find out elsewhere in the Scriptures and the Tradition of the Church what this fire might be and how we should deal with it.
Earlier this morning Eliana was baptised and Naby was chrismated into the church; so let’s start with what happened after the baptism of Jesus. This is from St Luke’s gospel.
Now while the people were in a state of expectation and all were wondering in their hearts about John, as to whether he was the Christ, John answered and said to them all, ‘As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’ (Luke 3:15-17)
Notice that, the Forerunner says: “He [that is, Christ] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Jesus Himself spoke of this in these terms during his earthly ministry:
I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! (Luke 12:49)
This is the baptism of fire, the baptism in the Holy Spirit of which the Forerunner, St John the Baptist spoke. When, however, we think about our baptism, perhaps water comes to mind and with chrismation, oil. To this we should now add fire knowing that we receive the Holy Spirit as fire from above! Listen to what St Luke says about this in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles heard earlier in the Liturgy:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. (Acts 2:1-4)
The Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles at Pentecost as a roaring wind and in tongues of fire from Heaven. The river of fire for them meant no danger at all but rather a personal powerful presence of God in their hearts and lives, the promised Holy Spirit. The Father sent the Holy Spirit on the Church in fulfilment of St John the Baptist’s prophecy that at the intercession of Christ there would be a true and complete baptism in the Holy Spirit, in other words with wind and fire. I should perhaps mention at this point that the Hebrew word for Spirit, “ruach” also means wind or breath, but it is the image of fire that I want us to concentrate on today. Let us hear now what St Peter of Damascus writes about the holy fire, God’s fire, the Holy Spirit:
We all receive God’s blessings equally. But some of us, receiving God’s fire, that is, His word, become soft like beeswax, while the others like clay become hard as stone. And if we do not want Him, He does not force any of us, but like the sun He sends His rays and illuminates the whole world, and he who wants to see Him, sees Him, whereas the one who does not want to see Him, is not forced by Him. And no one is responsible for this privation of light except the one who does not want to have it. God created the sun and the eye. Man is free to receive the sun’s light or not. The same is true here. God sends the light of knowledge like rays to all, but He also gave us faith like an eye. The one who wants to receive knowledge through faith, keeps it by his works, and so God gives him more willingness, knowledge, and power. (Philokalia, vol. 3, p. 8).
I think that’s very helpful don’t you? The Holy Spirit is the fire and light of God in a personal way given to each of us at our baptism, chrismation and every time we pray that he might come into our lives. Fire burns of course but it also brings life and warmth and power. The difference lies in how we handle this fire of God. If we are stubborn, closed and hateful then the fire of God will burn us as any fire might; but if we are humble, repentant, open and loving towards Him and our neighbours then the same fire of God’s love, which burns for everyone, will become for us sweetness, bliss and eternal life. Whether the fire burns or heals, therefore, depends solely on us, the choices we make and the progress we accomplish in our spiritual lives, all by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. As we receive fresh outpourings of the Holy Spirit, according to our capacity to receive Him, then our hearts become enlarged by the same Holy Spirit to receive even more of God’s love, power and grace. We could call this the positive circle of the fire of God’s love. If, however, we close our hearts to God and one another we find ourselves choosing the negative circle of the fire of God’s love. In other words we burn ourselves, but He does not burn us, ever. The river of fire proceeding from the throne of God, the same river that was in Eden at our creation, is always one and the same: nothing other than the fire of the love of God, personally present to us and, hopefully, within us by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.
St. Symeon the New Theologian writes about this in the following way:
Do not deceive yourself, God is fire and when He came into the world, and became man, He sent fire on the earth, as He Himself says; this fire turns about searching to find material — that is a disposition and an intention that is good — to fall into and to kindle; and for those in whom this fire will ignite, it becomes a great flame, which reaches Heaven…. this flame at first purifies us from the pollution of passions and then it becomes in us food and drink and light and joy, and renders us light ourselves because we participate in His light (Discourse 78).
Likewise, Dr. Alexander Kalomiros in his little pamphlet: “The River of Fire” says concerning this fire of God’s love:
In the New Creation of the Resurrection, God will be everywhere and in everything. His light and love will embrace all. There will be no place hidden from God, as was the case during our corrupt life in the kingdom of the prince of this world. The devil’s kingdom will be despoiled by the Common Resurrection and God will take possession again of His creation. Love will enrobe everything with its sacred Fire which will flow like a river from the throne of God and will irrigate paradise. But this same river of Love — for those who have hate in their hearts — will suffocate and burn. “For our God is a consuming fire”, (Heb. 12:29). The very fire which purifies gold, also consumes wood. Precious metals shine in it like the sun, rubbish burns with black smoke. All are in the same fire of Love. Some shine and others become black and dark. In the same furnace steel shines like the sun, whereas clay turns dark and is hardened like stone. The difference is in man, not in God. The difference is conditioned by the free choice of man, which God respects absolutely. God’s judgment is the revelation of the reality which is in man.
In conclusion, therefore, what should we do on this great and holy feast of Pentecost? Well I’m going to suggest one simple and powerful action of which the Divine Liturgy itself will remind us of every week. We should always pray the Liturgy with the priest, so in the anaphora, just before the consecration of the gifts with the Holy Spirit, we should offer this prayer with a fervent and loving heart: “… send down thy Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here spread forth.” Every time we are present at the Liturgy and any other time when the Lord puts this into our hearts, we should pray for the softening and enlargement of our hearts so that the Holy Spirit, already present from our baptism might grow more and more within us to make us more faithful, more hopeful and especially more loving.