Fire-Starter

Christ has been called a “fire-starter.” He came “to baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Mt. 3:11; Lk 3:16). He once said: I came to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled” (Lk. 12:29). On the day of Pentecost, the fullest moment of divine revelation, the Holy Spirit was poured out on Jesus’ followers. Divine grace came to rest on them like “tongues of fire” (Acts 2:3). Christianity began as a spiritual movement through baptism by divine fire.  

What is the Orthodox way of life? How can we live it with full awareness? . . . the essence of the Orthodox Tradition is the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church.   Authentic Orthodoxy, not as an abstraction but as reality, is not merely a religion of rituals, rules and regulations, but the personal self-disclosure of the living God, His self-giving to us in love.

(Theodore Stylianopoulos, The Way of Christ, p. 174)

Acts 2:1-11

When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?

Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs – we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.”

Pentecost: The Fullness of the Feast of Feasts

34358291504_beaf717427_nIn the Creed which we recite at every Liturgy, we confess our belief that Jesus Christ became incarnate… for us [humans] and for our salvation.”  The Creed professes a belief that all that Christ did was for the salvation of all humans, not just for Christians or for the Orthodox.  We repeat this same line on feast days in the Orthodox Church  when at the final dismissal the priest blesses the congregation saying, “may He who for us (humans) and our salvation, Christ our true God…”   Orthodoxy is very clear that Christ Jesus did everything for the life of the world, for the salvation of all humans – for all who are created in God’s image and likeness, whether everyone believes that  or not.

This sense that everything is moving us toward this salvation is also clear in the Church’s celebration of PaschaAscensionPentecost.  All three events are for our salvation and necessary for our salvation.  In the resurrection, Christ unites even the dead to God, filling all things with Himself, even the place of the dead.  Christ raises the dead with Himself, and then ascends bodily into heaven, bringing our created nature into the Kingdom, into God’s presence.  Then Christ sends the Holy Spirit upon all flesh at Pentecost, restoring the Holy Spirit to humanity.  We are thus not saved just by the death of Christ on the cross, but by the continuous work of Christ who lifts us from Hades to Heaven.  Both the incarnate Word and the Holy Spirit restore humanity’s union with divinity.   We sing about all of this throughout the Pascha-Pentecost cycle of services.  On the Monday of the Holy Spirit, one hymn proclaims:

COME, O FAITHFUL, LET US CELEBRATE THE FEAST OF THE FIFTIETH DAY,
THE DAY WHICH CONCLUDES THE FEAST OF FEASTS;
THE DAY ON WHICH THE PRE-ORDAINED PROMISE IS FULFILLED!
THE DAY WHEN THE COMFORTER DESCENDS UPON THE EARTH IN TONGUES OF FIRE;
THE DAY OF THE DISCIPLES’ ENLIGHTENMENT!
THEY ARE REVEALED AS INITIATES OF HEAVENLY MYSTERIES,
FOR TRULY THE LIGHT OF THE COMFORTER HAS ILLUMINED THE WORLD!

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Salvation, the restoration of human communion with God, fully occurs in all of the events of Pascha-Ascension-Pentecost and as we participate in these events through life in the Church, especially through baptism and the Eucharist.  In Christ, we are saved from sin and death and by the Holy Spirit we are enlivened and enlightened.  We are thus saved – restored to being fully human – by both the work of the Son/Word of God and the Holy Spirit.

With Pentecost we see a full restoration of what was lost by our sins.  In Genesis 6:3, the grieving Creator says of us humans, the focal point of His creation:

“My spirit shall not abide in man for ever, for he is flesh, but his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.”

God withdrew the Divine and Holy Spirit from us, and with this separation from God’s Spirit, death became part of our condition on earth.

With the coming of Christ, this ‘curse’ is lifted from us as John the Baptist bears witness:

The next day John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but for this I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness, “I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”  (John 1:29-35)

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In the incarnate Word of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit also remains on a human, which was the sign for John the Baptist that Jesus is the Savior of the world.  At Pentecost, that Spirit which came to dwell in Jesus and remain on Him, comes to dwell on all humanity.  The curse from Genesis 6:3 is lifted, and humanity is restored to full communion with God.  The salvation of us humans is brought to completion in this complete cycle of incarnation, resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit to humanity.

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The Holy Spirit as a Dear Mother

The Day of the Holy Spirit

“O Merciful Lord, teach us all by Thy Holy Spirit

to live according to Thy will that we may

everyone of us in Thy Light know Thee, the true God,

for without Thy Light we cannot comprehend

the fullness of Thy love.

Enlighten us by Thy grace,

and Thy grace will kindle our hearts to love of Thee.

O gracious Lord, mercifully seek out Thy creation, and shew Thyself to Thy people in the Holy Spirit, as Thou shewest Thyself to Thy servants.

Rejoice every afflicted soul, O Lord, by the coming of Thy Holy Spirit. Let all who pray to Thee know the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is very much like a dear mother. A mother loves her child and has pity on it; and the Holy Spirit likewise has pity on us, forgives and heals us, enlightens and rejoices us. And the Holy Spirit is to be known through humble prayer.

The man who loves his enemies soon comes to know the Lord in the Holy Spirit, but of the man who does not love his enemies I have no wish to write. Yet he is to be pitied, for he is a torment to himself and others, and will not know the Lord.

(St. Silouan the Athonite, p. 291, 293-294)

Pentecost (2019)

8186711792_27ba77f8d5_q-1Thus says the Lord God: . . .  A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. You shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.  (Ezekiel 36:26-28)

Pentecost is said to be the birthday of the Christian Church.  From the time of the crucifixion of Christ until Pentecost, the Apostles had not gone into the world with the Good News.  Despite the Resurrection of Christ, the Apostles were mostly in hiding, avoiding any public attention.  But then the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11) occurred and many diverse peoples in Jerusalem took notice – people, non-believers heard the same noise of the Holy Spirit which the Apostles heard (Acts 2:6).  The Apostles could no longer stay in seclusion as the Holy Spirit revealed them to Jerusalem and the world.

And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.  (Acts 2:2-6)

The sound of the Holy Spirit was not just heard by the Apostles in the upper room, it was heard by a great crowd of people in Jerusalem who became part of the Pentecost event.  The pouring forth of the Holy Spirit was a cosmic event, not limited to the Apostles.  The Apostles are filled with the Holy Spirit, the mass of people who witness the event are bewildered.   All those who heard the force of the Spirit became witnesses that something happened in Jerusalem which changed the Apostles into preachers of the Gospel.  The world itself, not just the Apostles and believers, was changed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  And all of these peoples heard the Apostles speak in their own languages as the world itself was being changed by the Holy Spirit.

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Our parish was also born at Pentecost.  This is true because we are also part of that outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the world that began 2000 years ago on the first Pentecost and continues to be at work in the world to this day.  Additionally, our Parish was born on Pentecost.  We were conceived as a mission, but that mission grew and was born as a parish. On Pentecost Sunday, 33 years ago I came here to help give birth to the parish.  The parish was born as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit inspiring people to want to continue the work the Apostles in spreading the Gospel.   You all are here as a result of the birth of the Church 2000 years ago, and the birth of the parish 33 years ago.  On the grand scale of the Church, our parish is still in its infancy.  We have to continue to nurture and grow the parish.  Our purpose has not changed.  We have much work to do and much yet to accomplish for the Lord.  And we will need to do what the Apostles first accomplished in continuing their work in the world.  We are here to speak to any and all who will listen to us, who will hear the Gospel as the Holy Spirit inspires them.

We hear in today’s Apostolos reading:     Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?   …  we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.”

We Christians inspired by the Holy Spirit are to speak today in the languages that people can hear and understand.  We need to speak as 21st Century Americans, we need to speak to teens, to Generation x, to post-moderns, to imimigrants, hillbillies, PhD’s, feminists, engineers, retirees, mothers, computer scientists, blue collar workers, and to Democrats and Republicans.

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Our task is daunting.  We will only accomplish it if we stay faithful to Christ, and do not allow ourselves to get caught up in all the values and concerns of the world.  Our country is like the people of Babel after God came down and visited Babel to get a closer look at what the people were doing.  We speak a multitude of languages, even when we all use English!  The Holy Spirit allows us to speak to all of the people present around us.  There is no language, no culture, no political view which cannot hear our message in terms which they can understand.  When we reach out to the victims of the tornadoes, we speak the language of love.  We can find ways to convey the Gospel to all people around us.

In today’s Gospel lesson (John 7:37-52, 8:12) the people say of Jesus:  No man ever spoke like this Man!”  . . .  Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf we are faithful to Christ and offer the Gospel message rather than a political view of the left or right, people will hear Christ and say, “No one has spoken like this man, Christ!”  They will be convicted by the One who is the Light of the world.  Today as we celebrate Pentecost, the birthday of our parish and of the entire Church, we rejoice in all that has been accomplished here, and we commit ourselves to continuing the work of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

We have the words of St Paul to contemplate and inspire us:

For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law—though not being myself under the law—that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law—not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ—that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.   (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

I  do not believe any of us can accomplish this alone. I don’t know how to be all things to all people. But when we act together as the body of Christ, then we have a better chance of fulfilling St Paul’s own words.  Together we can speak to all people in the universal language of God’s love.  We will each find that we speak to some portion of the people in our surrounding community.  But to do this, we have to continue to work together and be committed to one another and to Christ.

Jesus said:   You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. This I command you, to love one another.  (John 15:16-17)

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We have been commanded by Christ to continue to bear fruit, to continue to grow in the faith, to bring new people into the Church.  And when we are faithful to our spiritual calling we fulfill the words of St. Peter:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.   (1 Peter 2:9)

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It is the Holy Spirit who makes us Holy, the Holy ones of God, the saints.  Holiness comes in community, just as the Holy Spirit came on all believers.  God’s Holy Spirit creates communion between people.  Only in community can we experience love for one another, peace with one another, service to others, forgiving one another.

The Holy Things are for the Holy ones.  God’s spiritual gifts are for us.

Christ is in our midst!

Pentecost and Babel

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.  (Acts 2:1-4)

The description of the day of Pentecost reminds me of Ezekiel 43:1-5.    It is not that Acts quotes Ezekiel, but more there is an echo, a parallel between the passages. Adolfo Roitman notes:

“… fulfilling Ezekiel’s prophecy concerning the return of the Divine Presence to the Temple, originally enunciated during the Babylonian Exile: ‘And there, coming from the east with a roar like the roar of mighty waters, was the Presence of the God of Israel, and the earth was lit up by His presence . . .  The Presence of the Lord entered the Temple by the gate that faced eastward.  A spirit carried me into the inner court, and lo the Presence of the Lord filled the Temple’ (Ezek 43:1-5).”  (ENVISIONING THE TEMPLE, p 87)

What Ezekiel hears  is something “like the roar of mighty waters” (see also Psalm 93).  The rushing of water was perhaps one of the noisiest and mighty sounds known in the ancient world before machinery became common place.  Ezekiel wants us to understand that the sound he heard was a mighty roaring which would have drowned out all other sound.  For the Apostle Luke, writing in Acts, he describes the sound to be a mighty, rushing wind, the howling tempest.  He too uses the word “like” – he is searching for a proper comparison, but we get the idea of this mighty sound which accompanies the Presence of God entering His temple, and also entering His disciples.  In the Acts account, it is now the disciples who represent the temple of God, as really does the entire world, for Pentecost is the outpouring of God’s Spirit on the world.  Ezekiel also describes the earth being “lit up by His presence“- so too in Acts there is the distribution of the tongues of fire.  Ezekiel and Luke are both looking for the proper metaphors to help us understand what God’s returning to His temple, coming upon His disciples, filling the world with His Spirit is like.  They both are making comparisons but not necessarily telling us literally what happened.  Words will not suffice for what was experienced (like trying to explain snow to people living at the equator  who don’t even know refrigeration or have never experienced anything freezing – what is snow like?).

And if we think comparing Ezekiel 43 and the Temple with Acts 2 and the Apostles is far fetched, we only need to remember that the Orthodox Church for centuries has read Ezekiel 43:27-44:4  and its description of the Temple as a reference to Mary, the Theotokos, and we read it at three of the Feasts of the Theotokos –her Nativity, Entrance into the Temple, and Dormition.  The Theotokos becomes the Temple of the Lord.   Add to that St. Paul’s own words: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? . . . For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) and  “For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people’” (2 Corinthians 6:16).   The New Testament is clear that the Jerusalem Temple is to be replaced: “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb”  (Revelation 21:22).

The Pentecost experience is not only described in terms comparing it to what it is like (Acts – Ezekiel, Temple – Apostles), but also it is contrasted with the narrative of the account of Babel in Genesis 11, an event that also involved a cacophony of sound.

“The account of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 is frequently used in the Liturgy for Pentecost as a foil.  Babel is the ‘anti-Pentecost’ whose effects can only be undone by Holy Spirit-empowered Pentecost.  The first is a curse, the second a healing.  … The survivors of the flood … said ‘Let us build for ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens…’ (11:4).  The Lord saw their pride and unwillingness to do as He had told them and said,

Look, they are one people. And they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do . . . let us go down and confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech (11:6-7).

And so the Lord scattered them.

This confusion of language has often been seen as a curse: God punishing the people for their act of defiance, for setting themselves up like gods and trying to reach the heavens.  This may have been the people’s grand wish, but it is tiny in comparison with an all-powerful God, who had to ‘come down’ from heaven to get a closer look at the tower being built by the people (11:5).  The people may have thought they were becoming immortal, but God knew they were not even close.

The Pentecost liturgy takes a slightly different tack.  With its ‘When the Most High came down he confused the tongues, divided the nations; but when he parted the tongues of fire, he called all to unity…’, it instead hints at the confusion of language being an act of caring discipline by God.  It was a scattering  so that He could unite them in His own time and plan.  The people of Babel were trying to create their own unity, but had left God out of that unity.”  (Kathryn Wehr, “Notes and Comments: The Pentecost Liturgy as a Call for Unity and Mission”, SVTQ Vol 59 #2  2015, pp 236-237)

Biblical scholar N T Wright comments further:

“… the story of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11).  Human arrogance reaches a height, quite literally, with the building of a tower to make a name and create security.   God comes down to look at the puny little tower (the passage is full of ironic humor), and confuses human languages so that the human race won’t be able to carry out its arrogant ambitions.

What is God doing about evil?  On the one hand he is confronting it, judging it and doing something to stop it from having its desired effect.  On the other hand he is doing something new, beginning a new project through which the underlying problem of the curse and the disunity of the human family will be replaced by blessing.  How Abraham’s family will reverse the curse of Babel is not clear . . .  When the promise of Genesis 12 comes through into the New Testament we discover its effect, of course, not least on the day of Pentecost. (EVIL AND THE JUSTICE OF GOD, pp 48-49)

Renouncing the Passions

The patristic tradition, as well as contemporary psychology, has identified the restraints to perfect love. From an Orthodox perspective, if love is union with God, and the pursuit of love is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit then those things that separate us from God – sin, the passions, death, and the devil all represent restraints to perfect love.

Our own self centered, egocentric orientation, our fallen nature represent the biggest restraints to love. “When we speak of all the passions together, we call them ‘the world.’ So when Christians speak of renouncing the world, they mean renouncing the passions.”

(Philip Mamalakis, “The Spiritual Life and How to be Married in it,” Raising Lazarus, p. 223)

The Shape of Power

And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority  …  (Luke 9:1)

Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?   (1 Corinthians 5:6)

The shape of power is always the same: it is infinite, it is complex, it is forever branching. While it is alive like a tree, it is growing; while it contains itself, it is a multitude. Its directions are unpredictable; it obeys its own laws.

No one can observe the acorn and extrapolate each vein in each leaf of the oak crown. The closer you look, the more various it becomes. However complex you think it is, it is more complex than that.  (Naomi Alderman, The Power, Kindle Location 4686-4689)

When reading a book, I often appreciate the author’s choice of words in describing something.  Power is a human concept, but has meaning only in the fact that we are relational beings living in a world that is always changing.  Power is not a branch in a tree but the branching of the tree – growing, extending, reaching out.  We cannot always predict what power will do in a group, in a nation, among a people.  It is a force that causes interactions, the results of which are not completely predictable. Like electrons crashing into each other, we cannot know their location, speed and direction at the same time.  Power moves just like that, transferring its energies in unpredictable ways, and yet its shape is recognizable.

Christian Spirituality

“Christian spirituality is centered in God; in fact, its very goal is communion with God, which is attainable through the accomplishment of His will. To be what God wants us to be and to do what God want us to do is the sole meaning of our human existence. The fulfillment of the prayer “Thy will be done” is the heart and soul of all spiritual effort and activity.”

(Fr. Thomas Hopko, The Orthodox Faith, Vol. 4 Spirituality, p. 16)

Pentecost: What It is to Be Human

About 3000 years ago, a man named David, King of Israel, was laying in a field at night, gazing at the stars.  He was awed by how vast the night sky was – more stars than he could count.  Yet, what came to his mind is that God’s love for humans exceeded God’s love for the vast expanse of the heavens.   However awesome the nighttime heavens are, God is more concerned about  humans than the infinite space of the cosmos.  David found the heavens awesome, God apparently finds humans more awesome than the cosmic universe.  Humans, tiny and frail and sinful were still God’s focus and God’s first love.  David sang:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which You have established; what is a human that You are mindful of him, and mortals that You care for them?

Yet You made him little less than God, and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; You have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the sea. O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!   (Psalms 8:3-9)

What is a human?

3000 years ago, King David was humans as beings created to know and worship God, and to be crowned by God with glory and honor.  Humans were created to be faithful stewards of God’s creation, to work with God to co-create the world into God’s kingdom.

Humans were created to have continual communion with God.  We were meant to be God’s continual point of contact with all of creation. God was to live in our hearts (Deuteronomy 30:14).  We were created to have this inner spiritual lives – in our hearts (Luke 17:21, Romans 7:22) so that the entire creation would be blessed by God through us.  Humans are awesome to God, for humans were created with a heart large enough to be a home for God to dwell on earth.

It is this inner spiritual life –  the heart which is meant to be heaven – which makes us human, which makes us unique among all God’s creatures, which makes us unique in all the universe.  Our hearts were meant to be a temple for the Holy Spirit.

And because our hearts are capable of being such a vast expanse we often feel an emptiness in our hearts which we try to fill with things other than God.  But it doesn’t work and so our cravings create problems for us as we look in all the wrong places to find something to fill our hearts.   Some fill their hearts with everything or perhaps anything except God – with food, alcohol,  pornography, mindless entertainment, politics, internet debates, voyeuristic news about celebrities.  All those things we can’t seem to get enough of come to displace God in our hearts.  And then we wonder why we are spiritually ill!

If we want the Holy Spirit to abide in our hearts, we have to make room in our hearts for the Holy Spirit.  We have to push out all these other things that compete in our hearts for space.  Sometimes the waste is so deep we need a  shovel to dig out even a little room for God’s Spirit

Our hearts are capable of being a temple for the Holy Spirit, which God readily gives to us.  As we celebrate Pentecost we realize God is offering completely of Himself to us – to abide in our hearts so that we can each make God present in our lives for the good of the entire cosmos.

And in the Acts of the Apostles, which we read for the Feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11), we see God’s Spirit comes upon the apostles in the forms of fiery tongues. A flame which kindles divine illumination in us – a Light capable of driving out all darkness from our hearts.

Jesus use a vert different image in the Gospel lesson for Pentecost (John 7:37-52, 8:12) – not fire but water.  He speaks about a spring of living water that wells up in the heart.  This is flowing water, moving with vigor and vitality bringing life and power to all it touches.  Christ’s imagery brings to mind a passage from the Holy Prophet Ezekiel:

Then he brought me back to the door of the temple; and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me round on the outside to the outer gate, that faces toward the east; and the water was coming out on the south side. Going on eastward with a line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits, and then led me through the water; and it was ankle-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water; and it was knee-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water; and it was up to the loins. Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through. And he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?” Then he led me back along the bank of the river. As I went back, I saw upon the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other.  . . .   And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”    (Ezekiel 47:1-12)

For Ezekiel, the spiritual water to which Christ refers begins flowing at the altar and flows out of the temple and away from the temple.  And the further Ezekiel gets away from the temple, the deeper the waters become.  And for us there is an image of the Holy Spirit moving through time and space, away from the original outpouring at Pentecost.   Low and behold the outpouring gets greater, deeper the further we move away from the temple and that original pouring forth of the Holy Spirit.

Almost  in every generation leaders have complained that things are worse now than in previous generations.  You can see that in almost every century Christians write that the earlier  Christians in previous centuries were more devout and faithful.  Yet the Church continues to grow, and Ezekiel’s vision is that instead of the water trickling down to nothing, it is getting ever deeper.  And these deep waters of the outpouring of God’s Spirit are giving life up and down the banks of the river.   Things aren’t getting worse – they are changing without a doubt, but the spiritual spring flowing from Christ is increasing not decreasing.

And it is we Christians who have to make our hearts capable of bearing this outpouring of the Holy Spirit so that we can bring the divine life to all of creation.  We have a God-given role to fill in creation – we have a God-given obligation to fulfill our role.  The entire creation, not only all of the people of the world, but the entire created world and cosmos are waiting on us to make it possible for them to participate in God.

Praying in the Spirit

“The Holy Spirit exists and dwells in those who receive Him, and He does so to such an excellent extent and with such transforming power, that “such a person no longer lives according to the flesh, but is led by the Spirit of God. He is called a son of God, because he is conformed to the image of the Son of God; we call him a spiritual man.

This is an extraordinary statement. It means that the Holy Spirit, received initially through baptism and chrismation, actually transforms our very being, our “essence” or “form,” to the point that we are “conformed to the image” of Christ. We become “spiritual beings,” oriented and directed no longer according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit, who is God Himself.

At the close of this same chapter, St. Basil alludes to a passage from the apostle Paul: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26). Basil concludes, “If you remain outside the Spirit, you cannot worship at all, and if you are in Him you cannot separate Him from God. Light cannot be separated from what it makes visible, and it is impossible for you to recognize Christ, the Image of the invisible God, unless the Spirit enlightens you.”

This means first of all that authentic worship is possible only through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. Yet beyond that, it implies that true prayer is not a human endeavor at all. It is the work of God within us. In prayer, God speaks to God; the Spirit addresses the Father within the temple of the heart. Through that divine work, the Spirit illumines for us and within us the “Face,” the image and glory of the Son. Bated in the radiant light of that divine Image, we recognize Christ for who He is: we behold Him as Lord and Savior, the Crucified and Risen One. And that Image in turn reveals to us the Face of the Father.”   (John Breck, Longing for God, p. 171)