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Come Ignite Inflame

“Come, true light. Come, eternal life. Come, hidden mystery. Come nameless treasure.”

“Ineffable drink! . . . Shining garment, burning demons. Purifying sacrifice!”

“Come! My poor soul has needed and needs you . . . Remain Lord and do not leave me alone.”

Prayer by St. Symeon the New Theologian

God spoke, “Let there be light,” and a cosmic explosion threw existence into motion. A universe was born with stars in the heavens, birds on earth, and fish in the sea all singing one resounding doxology. The same degree of power was lit on Pentecost Day; the same power that has never ceased to light in Christian souls, refreshing, enlivening, revitalizing everything parched and dead.

This is the Holy Spirit to which St. Symeon prayed, “Come. Remain. Do not leave me.”

This is the Holy Spirit for which St. Paul urged us: “Fan into flame the gift of God” (2 Timothy 1:6).

This is the Holy Spirit which has made broken men and women into saints, who exerted whatever energy they could stir up in their bones to become kindling for the Spirit’s radiance.

This is the Holy Spirit offered us, so that we too can be remade and enlivened.

“You are all children of light, children of the day,” St. Paul preached to the Thessalonians. “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober . . . Do not quench the Spirit . . . Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:5,6,19, 23).

“Do not quench the Spirit.”

Quench comes from the Middle English word quenchen, and, further back, the Old English acwencan, found in documents as far back as the 12th century. One can imagine Saxons sitting around a hearth on a frosty night, reverencing the fire with magical awe. Who would dare to quench its flames, which remain lit and warm the home for the days ahead.

The Song of Songs describes the soul longing for God’s love, a love that cannot be quenched.

“Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grace. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord.  מַיִם רַבִּים, לֹא יוּכְלוּ לְכַבּוֹת אֶת-הָאַהֲבָה,

(ma·yim rab·bîm, lō yū·ḵə·lū lə·ḵab·bō·wṯ) — Many waters cannot quench love” (8:7).

Isaiah describes the armies of Egypt, and evil in the presence of God: “They shall not rise: they are extinct — ἐσβέσθησαν — they are quenched” (Isaiah 43:17).

“Do not quench the Spirit.”

Now consider St. Paul’s message to us, with the weight of his word ‘quench.’ “Do not quench the Spirit.”

How could we possibly quench the Holy Spirit? What a preposterous idea, that any action of ours could quench such power. The Holy Spirit burst light into the universe. The Holy Spirit hovered over the primordial waters. The Holy Spirit overshadowed the Ark of the Covenant and the Womb of the Mother of God. What has possessed St. Paul to suggest that you and I could quench this Spirit?

This is the gravity of what it means to be Christian.

We are given the Holy Spirit, and we, by our life decisions, may extinguish that Spirit, or fan it into flames.

In the fifth century, an ascetic named St. Diadochos of Photiki stewed over this verse. He was a bishop in northeastern Greece, who had a great influence on generations of contemplatives. St. Paul’s words struck him as particularly important: “Do not quench the Spirit.”

“Only the Holy Spirit can purify the intellect,” St. Diadochos wrote. “For unless a greater power comes and overthrows the despoiler, what he has taken captive will never be set free.”

In other words, we are hopeless without the Holy Spirit. A man or woman can do about as much good on one’s own as a shriveled plant can thrive in a Texan drought. Without the Holy Spirit, a mind is dumb and irrational. Without the Spirit, love, ethics, and philanthropy, all of it is meaningless.

“In every way, therefore . . .” St. Diadochos goes on, “We must make ourselves a dwelling-place for the Holy Spirit. Then we shall have the lamp of spiritual knowledge burning always within us; and when it is shining constantly in the inner shrine of the soul, not only will the intellect perceive all the dark and bitter attacks of the demons, but these attacks will be greatly weakened when exposed for what they are by that glorious and holy light”.

All our efforts to be good, our effort to love our spouses, our intention to raise children, our enthusiasm about building up local community, our desire to live a purposeful life, all of it, is hopeless without the Holy Spirit. But with the Holy Spirit, everything we do can turn to gold. Everything we plan, everything we set out to accomplish, every intention however small becomes beautiful when lit up in the light of the Holy Spirit.

St Diadochos continues: “That is why the Apostle says: 'Do not quench the Spirit' (1 Thess. 5:19). This means, “Do not grieve the goodness of the Holy Spirit by wicked actions or wicked thoughts, lest you be deprived of this protecting light.' The Spirit, since He is eternal and life-creating, cannot be quenched; but if He is grieved - that is if He withdraws - He leaves the intellect without the light of spiritual knowledge, dark and full of gloom.”

We live in a world where everyone can see the implication of these words. We live in a time where the news, advertisements, even our entertainment seems to be tinged with a sense of dread and gloom. The music in the 80’s and 90’s was optimistic. It was oblivious, but still smarted with dreams and hopes. The music today is desperate and angry. Where is life? We have quenched the Spirit of Life by giving into sin. We have forced the Holy Spirit to withdraw through forgetting God.

“The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, who fills the whole universe, passes through all believing, meek, humble, good, and simple human souls, dwelling in them, vivifying and strengthening them. He becomes one spirit with them and everything to them - light, strength, peace, joy, success in their undertakings, especially in a pious life, and everything good - "going through all understanding, pure and most subtle spirits" (Wisdom of Solomon vii, 23). "We have been all made to drink into one Spirit" (I Cor. xii.13). All pious people are filled with the Spirit of God similarly as a sponge is filled with water” (St. John of Kronstadt).

What is the opposite of Quench? Ignite, kindle, inflame.

Through righteousness our souls are opened to life. Through struggle in Christ our hearts are refined through fire. Through thirsting for God, His Holy Spirit refreshes and renews everything parched.

"And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:3-4).

Come Holy Spirit! Remain Lord and do not leave me alone.


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