WORKING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
by Rev. Fr. John Chromiak
The revelation of the mission and ministry of the Paraclete waited for Christ’s Incarnation to be fully taught, and for His Ascension to be fully explained and understood, when the Spirit was poured out in a glorious baptism of divine energy, a Pentecost of power. We find in our Lord’s teaching, regarding the Person and work of the Spirit, in the single discourse immediate preceding His crucifixion, preserved for us in the Holy Gospel according to St. John Here the Spirit of God is first known by the “Comforter” or “Paraclete”. Jesus now speaks of the descent of the Spirit as a new and special gift:
“I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter”; John 14:16. “the Comforter which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you”. John 14:26; “If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you. And when He is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, And ye shall see me no more; Of judgment, because the Prince of this world is judged.” “Howbeit when He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: For He shall not speak from Himself;” “And He shall show you things to come. He shall glorify me: For He shall receive of Mine, And shall show it unto you.” (John 16:7-14).
With this teaching, we turn to the Book of Acts to find the practical example and illustration of these truths in the early history of the Church. The Holy Ghost was in Jesus Himself, and could not be given to the Church as a distinctively Christian gift until the first period of the Incarnation had been consummated in the Ascension of the Son of Man. “In Him dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” Thus, in the discourse in the fourth Gospel of St. John, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ gives a specific definition of the work of the Holy Ghost.
The Book of Acts is often referred to as the “Acts of the Holy Spirit” or as St. John Chrysostom calls it, “The Gospel of the Holy Spirit”; for from the first to last it is the record of His advent and activity. Here The Spirit is seen coming and working; and all normal activity in believers, individually and collectively, is traced like a stream, past its human channel to its divine source.
After our Lord was “Taken up,” He through the Holy Ghost, had given commandments unto the Apostles whom He had chosen. During the forty days between His Resurrection and Ascension, our Lord communicated with His disciples and spake to them of things pertaining to the Kingdom of God. Being assembled together with them, He commands them, “should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father”, the Baptism of that same Holy Spirit for which Christ Himself had waited thirty years before beginning His public ministry. Jesus renewed assurance, “Ye shall receive the power of the Holy Spirit, coming upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8).
The promise of the Father now became also the promise of the Son. The same Holy Spirit who abode in Christ, through whom He discoursed of the Kingdom and gave the disciples both instruction and commandment, was to descend upon them, dwell in them, and be to them the source and sacred of all power in working and witnessing. The disciples were to have a new experience, and upon that experience, their testimony was to be based, as identifying them with their Master. The one supreme qualification of Christ’s witnesses is that, “They be endued and endowed with the Power by the Holy Spirit.”
The Day of Pentecost arrives and the fulfillment of the mysterious promise of the Father and the Son now makes the book of Acts ablaze with glory. The day of Pentecost found the disciples “with one accord and in one place”— (Acts 2-4); “And suddenly a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind filled all the house, and they were all filled with the Spirit; and the first sign of this infilling was that “they began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” That mighty wind became to them the divine breath which made speech possible. “The cloven tongues which sat upon each of them were symbols of many tongues speaking many languages before unknown, and they were tongues like as of fire, for fire is throughout the Word of God, the special symbol and signal of the presence and power of God. The Holy Spirit “sat upon each of them”, to indicate that henceforth He was to find in believers—the new Church of Christ—His seat, His “See”. The word “sat” has a marked force in the New Testament. It carries the idea of a completed preparation, and a certain permanence of position and condition. The Holy Spirit, also, had found His seat, His abode, to the end of the age, in the Church of Christ, whose true nativity dates from Pentecost.
In the relation of the Spirit to the Church, we may consider the emphasis which St. Luke gives to the fact that the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit was a community gift, that is, a gift in which all members of the group shared. Peter speaks not as a Spirit filled individual, but as the representative of the Spirit filled group. In the book of Acts, the Spirit is the Supreme Gift of God to men who are in fellowship with the Exalted Lord.
It appears that in Acts, the chief interest of the Spirit is in the expanding mission; the witness of the Apostles to Jesus in all lands is due to the power of the Spirit in them (Acts 1: 8); the Seven who represent the first peculiar needs of the expanding mission among the Hellenists are men “full of the Spirit and wisdom”, (Acts6:3). The conversion of the first non-Jew is due to the guidance of the Spirit (8: 26). The leading of the Spirit is especially emphasized in the description of the Gentile Pentecost, (Acts 10:1-11:189. Again, Barnabas and Paul take up their work among the Gentiles, as separated by the Holy Spirit (13:1-4). Again in Acts 16:5-7, Luke gives us an interesting example of the way the very routes of the Christian missionaries were guided by the Spirit; Paul and Timothy are forbidden “to speak the word in Asia,” and when they seek to enter Bithynia, “The Spirit of Jesus suffered them not.” Thus, Paul’s own intentions were twice thwarted. St. Paul’s Divine Guide directs him into westward paths which will lead to the great cities of Greece and eventually to Rome.
We find in the Book of Acts, the communal idea of the Spirit is emphasized, and is to be observed in the descriptions of the fellowship created by the common sharing of the one gift. The accounts of the common life are given in Acts 2:42, 44-47 as follows:
“And they continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.”
Their purpose is to reveal the unity of the fellowship of the Spirit. They represent the corporate idea of the Spirit as translated into daily life.
The Spirit always manifests its will in regard to the Church through individuals. It speaks to Philip the Evangelist (8:29), to Peter (10:19), to the Prophets and teachers at Antioch (13:1-3), to the disciples at Tyre (21:4), to Agabus, the prophet (21:10). The idiom “to be filled with” or “full of the Holy Spirit” most frequently refers to individuals. The Spirit always guides and controls the Church through individual men, and it is here where the emphasis lies in the book of Acts.
Of striking interest is the conversion of Saul, as given in the book of Acts. Here we find that the Lord Jesus Himself appears in a vision both to Saul and to Ananias. Christ is now calling a new Apostle, and the call is direct and personal. For one, and the fundamental qualification of an Apostle was that he had “seen the Lord” after He was risen, and could witness, from personal knowledge, to His Resurrection. Then follows that the Holy Spirit again comes to the front for we are told that all this vision of the Lord Jesus in the way, and the mission on which Ananias was sent, were in order that this newly converted persecutor might “be filled with the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 9:17). Even Christ, though He may appear in Person to call this new apostle and give him his commission, leaves the work of His regeneration and qualification to be carried on and completed by the Spirit. “Immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales.” The vision of Christ and baptism unto Christ sufficed not to make a disciple and apostle without the Spirit’s baptism, anointing, and teaching. From this time on, Saul was to be led of the Spirit, and to bear witness to the Resurrection of Christ to gather converts, and organize them into churches, and to write inspired Epistles. “Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.” (Acts 9:31). This is the description of the Church’s true growth and its conditions.
A direct reference to the Spirit is made in Acts 20: 28, when Saint Paul says to the Ephesian elders: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to the flock over that which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the Church or God, which He hath purchased with His own Blood.”
We gather from Acts that Baptism prepared for the gift of the Holy Spirit, but the laying on of hands of the Apostles was the normal instrument of its bestowal. Tertullian says, “Not that we receive the Holy Spirit in the waters, but cleansed in the waters, we are prepared for the Holy Spirit.” (de Bapt. 6.)
Our Orthodox Christian Church teaches us that Baptism of water, as a type of the death and Resurrection of Christ, cleanses and purifies the soul from all sin original and voluntary. The Baptism of the Spirit sanctifies the soul, adorns it through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and makes it live according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh, as men live who are destitute of the Spirit. The Mystery of Chrism is called the Baptism of the Spirit in the language of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who said to His own Disciples after His Resurrection from the dead:
“John truly Baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” (Acts 1:15). The Apostles of Christ were baptized with water in the River Jordan by St. John, and next, with the Spirit in the upper room on the day of Pentecost in accordance with the promise of Christ. On that day, when they had heard the teaching of the Apostle Peter, about three thousand souls were baptized and received immediately the gift of the Holy Spirit, (Acts 2: 37).
In the Christian mind and usage the name “Paraclete” or “Comforter” is undoubtedly a distinctive name for the Holy Ghost, and rightly so. He is called by Our Lord, “Another Paraclete,” promised after the departure of our Lord, who is thus by implication called the First Paraclete. What our Lord meant in this parting discourse to His disciples is this: Until now, through my bodily presence, through my audible words and visible miracles, through the attraction and loveableness of my human nature, I have been your Comforter in all your difficulties. All this is going to be withdrawn after My Ascension when you will see Me no longer. But all this will be replaced by the coming of the Holy Ghost, that is, by the direct work of Divine Grace in your hearts. The Giver of all Grace, the Father on High, will send you Him who is the Supremely Comforting Gift to every human heart. “Because I said that I go, sorrow hath filled your heart”, sayeth Our Lord, “but another source of inner joy shall be given you: the presence of Him who is the subsistent Joy of God—the Holy Ghost.” Thus, the promise was fulfilled, and we have the work of the Holy Ghost throughout the Book of Acts especially noted.
The Holy Spirit descended once and for always. He lives and abides ceaselessly in the visible and historical Church. Through reaching towards and accepting the Holy Spirit we become eternally God’s. It is in the Church that the Holy Spirit breathes and sends forth His rays. Therein lies the fullness and Catholicity of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit directs and leads the Church, directs her Apostolate and makes it fruitful as it always has from the day of Pentecost and forever.
“Where the Church is, there is the Spirit, and where the Spirit is, there is the Church and all Grace.” (St. Irenaeus).
From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America