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THE HOLY SPIRIT

The gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost "called all men into unity," according to the Byzantine liturgical hymn of the day; into this new unity, which St. Paul called the "body of Christ," each individual Christian enters through Baptism and "chrismation" when the priest anoints him saying "the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit."

 

The Holy Spirit, or Holy Ghost is God, the third Person of the Holy Trinity, who, from eternity, "proceeds" from the Father (John 15:26). The Holy Spirit is co-equal with the Father and the Son. The word "Spirit" commonly translates the Greek New Testament word pneuma.

The Spirit dwells inside every true Christian, each one's body being his temple (First Epistle to the Corinthians 3:16). He is depicted as a 'Counsellor' or 'Helper' (paraclete in Greek, guiding them in the way of the truth. The 'Fruit of the Spirit' (i.e. the result of his work) is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22). The Spirit is also believed to give gifts (i.e. abilities) to Christians.

Orthodox Christians believe that it was the Holy Spirit whom Jesus mentioned as the promised "Comforter" (i.e. "strengthener", "fortifier") in John 14:26. After his resurrection, Christ told his disciples that they would be "baptized with the Holy Ghost", and would receive power or endowment (Acts 1:4-8); a promise that was fulfilled in the events recounted in the second chapter of Acts. On the first Pentecost, Jesus' disciples were gathered in Jerusalem when a mighty wind was heard and tongues of fire appeared over their heads. A multilingual crowd heard the disciples speaking, and each of them heard them speaking in his or her native language.

 

The Holy Spirit is thus conceived as the main agent of man's restoration to his original natural state through Communion in Christ's body. This role of the Spirit is reflected, very richly, in a variety of liturgical and sacramental acts. Every act of worship usually starts with a prayer addressed to the Spirit, and all major sacraments begin with an invocation to the Spirit. The eucharistic liturgies of the East attribute the ultimate mystery of Christ's Presence to a descent of the Spirit upon the worshipping congregation and upon the eucharistic bread and wine. The significance of this invocation (in Greek epiklesis) was violently debated between Greek and Latin Christians in the Middle Ages because the Roman canon of the mass lacked any reference to the Spirit and was thus considered as deficient by the Orthodox Greeks.

 

Since the Council of Constantinople (381), which condemned the Pneumatomachians ("fighters against the Spirit"), no one in the Orthodox East has ever denied that the Spirit is not only a "gift" but also the giver—i.e., that he is the third Person of the holy Trinity. The Greek Fathers saw in Gen. 1:2 a reference to the Spirit's cooperation in the divine act of creation; the Spirit was also viewed as active in the "new creation" that occurred in the womb of the Virgin Mary when she became the mother of Christ (Luke 1:35); and finally, Pentecost was understood to be an anticipation of the "last days" (Acts 2:17) when, at the end of history, a universal communion with God will be achieved. Thus, all the decisive acts of God are accomplished "by the Father in the Son, through the Holy Spirit."

 

Delving deep and subtly into Orthodox tradition and theology, The Giver of Life articulates the identity of the Holy Spirit as the third Person of the Trinity as well as the role of the Holy Spirit in the salvation of the world. Written with a poetic sensibility, Fr. Oliver begins with Pentecost, an event uniquely celebrated in Orthodoxy as a time when greenery of all kinds is brought into churches. "The splash of green foliage calls to mind not just life, but a special kind of life. It is the life that transcends biological existence and flows from the very Godhead Itself; it is life that's a state of being—immortal, everlasting, changeless. Ferns and flowers fade and die, but souls filled with this ‘life from above' flourish forever."

 

Reflecting on the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the Church, to the world, and to the human person, Giver of Life looks to the impressive biblical and liturgical tradition of Orthodox Christianity.


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