A Touch by the Holy Spirit
I. For three days, a young man was tormented by schizophrenic thoughts. His head was choked up by voices and demands so loud and numbing that he could hardly walk straight. So he brought himself to Mount Athos, the hub of Orthodox monasticism, to see if his friend, Elder Paisios, could help him. The elder was working alone in the garden and greeted him warmly. Paisios asked the boy, “How are your spirits holding up?” “Elder,” he replied, “I can’t continue anymore. I can’t take it any longer.” So the Elder smiled and told him to take a seat. Then he approached the tormented boy, reached out to him, and tapped his head lightly. Instantly, everything changed.
In his own words, the boy explains, “The flood of evil thoughts was brought to a halt. But it didn’t just bring an end to my suffering. My mind…entered a deeper, more distant realm of quiet tranquility, great joy, and profound peace. Another Spirit had been united to my mind and, out of kindness, freely imparted to me that which was His by nature. I am afraid and ashamed to say it, but perhaps it was really that Person that Christ called the Comforter, for He truly comforted me.”
The Holy Spirit can grace us in a thousand different ways. The saints, like Elder Paisios, are so drenched in the Spirit that it sometimes overflows from them. Like Christ, who cast out demons with a word, Elder Paisios would often smile or, in this case, tap a person and heal him of his disease. But most of the time, the change the Holy Spirit makes in our lives is far more gradual.
II. A few weeks back a friend at a coffee shop handed me a book called “Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit.” Though I admit I have not read it, its title has made me think. We do tend to neglect the Holy Spirit. He’s certainly hard to understand. He’s impossible to wrap our minds around.
In his book, On the Spirit, St. Basil expounds, “What does the Spirit do? His works are ineffable in majesty, and innumerable in quantity. How can we even ponder what extends beyond the ages? What did He do before creation began? How great are the graces He showered on creation? What power will He wield in the age to come? He existed; He pre-existed; He co-existed with the Father and the Son before the ages. Even if you can imagine anything beyond the ages, you will discover that the Spirit is even further before.”
In Genesis, we read that the Spirit hovered over the waters of the abyss when creation was first being formed (Gen. 1:2). The Book of Joel warns that in the last times God will pour out His Spirit on all His people so that our daughters and sons, young and old men alike will prophecy and dream. But we really begin to get a picture of the Holy Spirit in the words of our Lord Jesus Christ.
John 16:5-14: “But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, “Where are you going?” But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned…When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”
III. Immediately, Christ tells us something new is happening.
By ascending into heaven, Christ brings our humanity to God. This is the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. In Jesus Christ, our hearts are no longer shut off to the Holy Spirit. We have the Advocate.
The word ‘Advocate,’ in Greek, is ‘Παράκλητος.’ He is the one sent to our side to defend and guide us. He is the Comforter, like a guardian angel, but infinitely more. St. Paul teaches, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26). You can think of the Spirit like hot coals in a fire pit. Before, there was a mere dump of kindling and brush. But with the Holy Spirit, that kindling can take fire and blaze up with life. That rock’n’roll group, the “Walking Dead,” chose a very fitting name for their band, for that’s exactly what we are without the Holy Spirit in our lives. But in Jesus Christ we are no longer “walking dead” but living, breathing souls free to glorify Him.
IV. But there is more to the Holy Spirit. He is the Spirit of Truth.
“When he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment…When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”
When the Spirit ignites life in our hearts he opens our eyes to Truth.
Being smart is not enough. Psychologists tell us that the greatest brains can be clouded up with psychological and emotional trauma. That’s why the biggest intellects can be the biggest fools. They have all the data but can’t connect the dots. That’s why philosophy, or ethics, or social theories will never work until the Holy Spirit has woken up the soul.
V. But let’s make this more personal.
The Spirit of Truth also convicts us about ourselves.
He is our conscience. He convicts us of our sin, so that when we see ourselves for who we truly are, we can give up ourselves to God.
In the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C. S. Lewis tells a story about a very nasty boy who turned into a dragon. Eventually, the boy met God and God asked him if he wanted to be healed. The boy consented and the process was painful. One layer after another of dragon skin was ripped off, all the way down to his tender flesh, but the boy was changed. He wasn’t merely a nasty boy. He’d become a good and kind boy.
The Sacrament of Confession is the heart of Orthodox Christianity. In many places of the world, it’s scandalizing to even take communion without first going to confession. In the words of our metropolitan when we refrain from frequent confession we’re setting up a trap for ourselves. The longer we go without confessing the less we feel we need to confess because our conscience has died. It has puttered out little by little. The more we go to confession the more we want to confess, because with each encounter of the Holy Spirit our eyes are opened a little more to our thirst for God.
No therapist, no philosopher, no teacher or brother or sister or father or mother can compare with this sacrament. Why? The Sacrament of Confession is a sacrament precisely because that is where we touch the Holy Spirit.
VI. There is a wonderful prayer about the Holy Spirit.
“The life-creating Spirit, Who descended like a dove upon Christ in the Jordan, rested also upon me in the font of baptism. But the influence of His goodness hath weakened because of the darkness of my falls into sin. Wherefore, as a traveler lost in the forest at night doth wait for the light, so do I await Thy rays, O Good One, lest I perish utterly.”
Jesus Christ ascended into heaven in order that the Holy Spirit might descend upon us, to wake us up, to guide us to truth, and to transform us.
This is our road, further up and further in.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.