On the Gifts of the Holy Ghost XIII

Select Sermons
St. Philaret of Moscow
Elibron Classics
Sermon XIII
On the Gifts of the Holy Ghost
Pentecost

"And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost." (Acts 2:4)

After man had fallen, and, no longer able to endure the uncreated light, "hid himself from the presence of the Lord God," (Gen 3:8) and God had withdrawn Himself from man, lest He should annihilate the transgressor by His holy presence, then was it that He Who is One in Three Persons, did of His ineffable mercy once more draw nigh unto alienated man, in successive revelations, "that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost" (II Cor 13:14) might raise up, and once more elevate the fallen one.  In promises of love and mercy the Father revealed Himself and brought the sinner, awed by the decree of Almighty justice, under the mediation of the Son Who appeared under the form of humanity, and having overcome sin in His own self, and vanquished death, opened unto the children of wrath the door of the grace of the Holy Ghost; under the sign of "tongues like as of fire," the Holy Ghost at last appeared, and penetrated human nature in the Apostles, so that the good will of the Father and the merits of the Son might be applied to it, and "that by these we might be partakers of the divine nature." (Peter 1:4)  On the very same day on which the law of "the spirit of bondage to fear death," (Rom 8:15) was given of old on Mount Sinai, on that same day has now come forth from Sion, "the law of the Spirit of life, of freedom, the Spirit of adoption," that we might understand "that the law of righteousness," which had not been attained by the worldly Israelites, can be attained by the children of faith, "who walk after the Spirit," (Rom 10:31, 8:4) and that the company of the elect go on in preordained course, to perfection.

We must therefore look upon the descent of the Holy Ghost, not only as upon a miracle which glorified the Apostolic Church, but also as upon an event, which is essentially connected with the work of our salvation.  The present festival is not merely a commemoration of the past, but also a continuance of the Apostolic preparation for receiving the Spirit which ever "breatheth where it listeth." [In the English authorized version, this passage is rendered thus: "The wind bloweth where it listeth," (John 3:8) but in the Slavonic the words wind and bloweth are rendered spirit and breatheth.]  The Apostles, as we are told in the book of the Acts, after having continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, "were filled with the Holy Ghost"; and not only the Apostles themselves, but according to St. John Chrysostom the disciples also who were with them, of whom "the number of the names together were about an hundred and twenty, (Acts 1:15) were all filled."  And now the Church unites us also in this temple, as it did then, in the upper room at Jerusalem, to invoke the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, to come and to make His abode in us.  That so great a supplication might not meet with the old reproach, "Ye know not what ye ask," (Mark 10:38) let us first consider, brethren, what it is "to be filled with the Holy Ghost," and in what measure this gift is necessary to all and every one of us.

We will not venture here to speak of the Holy Ghost, as of the Third Person of the adored Trinity, proceeding from the Father and abiding in the Son; for the "Spirit of God alone searcheth the deep things of God." (I Cor 2:10-11)  The Spirit "which is sent by the Son from the Father" (John 15:26) in saving gifts, – the Spirit, which filleth man, and man who is filled with the Spirit, – these are the subjects, which it is given to man to understand; and yet not to every man, but only to him in whom the Spirit abideth; and we, who have scarcely "the first-fruits of the Spirit," (Rom 8:23) may only contemplate from afar, in the mirror of God's Word, the manifestations of this great mystery.

What the Holy Ghost is in His first gifts, then Holy Ghost Himself explains to us by His "tongues of fire."  He is a spiritual, immaterial fire, working in two ways, – through light and warmth, – through the light of faith and the warmth of love.  This heavenly light, as Solomon says, "shineth more and more unto the perfect day." (Prov 4:18)  It dissipates the gloom of ignorance and doubt; it reveals the delusion of phantoms, which the mind, sunk in sensuality, not infrequently mistakes for truth; it enables man to see himself in the nakedness of his fallen nature, to perceive the world in its relation to the soul, and to feel the presence of God as the source of light; it imparts "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Heb 11:1)  In the same measure in which the light of the Sun of Righteousness increases in the mind, does the heart also acquire warmth and fervor.  Divine love drives from the heart the love of self; it destroys therein the thorns of carnal desires; it purifies and disencumbers it, and in return attracts a new light unto the soul.  The fusion of these first spiritual gifts forms that "tongue like as of fire" which proclaims "the law of God" the word in the heart (Ps 37:31) of man, "forms Christ in him," (Gal 4:19) and regenerates him unto spiritual life.

The means by which man is filled with the gifts of grace is the one and indivisible working of the Holy Ghost: and yet this action of the Spirit may both begin and cease in man; it may diminish or increase, tarry or hasten; it takes various directions and forms; it is always in proportion to the readiness of the recipient, but never depends on his arbitrary will; it is accompanied by palpable results, but shuns the mind which desires to penetrate its source.  Spreading outwards from within, it is like unto the dew, which invisibly contained in the atmosphere, descended upon the fleece of Gideon, and manifested itself in drops of water, which filled a bowl; (Judges 6:38) or unto the wind, which is seen only in the motion that it causes, but not in the causes which produce it.  "The spirit breathes where it lists, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is everyone that is born of the Spirit." (John 3:8)  What then are the most remarkable changes that indicate the workings of the Spirit of God in the soul of man?  There are moments, when even the man abandoned to the world and the flesh awakens from the fascination in which they enthrall him; he sees clearly, that his past life has been a chain of errors, infirmities, sins, and faithlessness towards God; that his deeds are naturally the seeds of future punishment; and that even his very virtues will not stand the test in the sight of the eternal Judge; he condemns himself, trembles throughout his whole being, and despairing of himself, is through this same despair led to put his trust in God.

What can be this disposition to repentance, if not that "great and strong wind which rent the mountains", and brake in pieces the rocks, – (that is to say, which puts down pride and softens hard-heartedness) – that great and strong wind, which the Lord sent forth before Him as He passed? (I Kings 19:11)  What else can it be but that mighty wind which announces the descent of the Holy Ghost?  What else can it be but that fear of the Lord with which we have been with child, which we have been in pain with and received the Spirit of salvation? (Isa 26:18)  Blessed is he that yields obediently unto such an impulse of the Spirit of God.  It will lead him by the "narrow way" (Matt 7:14) of self-renunciation; it will make him root up that which he has sown before, and demolish that which he had built up; it will teach him to suffer, and to "rejoice in sufferings" (Col 1:24) and to "crucify his flesh with its affections and lusts," (Gal 5:24) that he may fully yield his spirit into the hand of God.  By degrees the mighty wind will change into those "groanings which cannot be uttered", and by which the "Spirit itself maketh intercession for us," (Rom 8:26) into that living voice with which "He cries in our hearts, Abba, Father"; (Gal 4:6) and then does man fulfill Christ's commandment of unceasing prayer, which had he been left to his own efforts, would have been quite impossible for him, both by reason of his tendency to be led astray, and by his ignorance of the subject and form of true prayer: "for we know not what we should pray for as we ought." (Rom 8:26)  In close connection with the exercise of constant prayer, is spiritual solitude, during which the Christian "entering into his closet, and shutting the door," continues, like the Apostles, to "wait for the promise of the Father." (Acts 1:4)  He does not abandon himself to those pleasures, in following which the lovers of the world become bound by vain conventionalities, and pursuing delights, and pursued by cares, seldom come to themselves; but he is found "bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ," (II Cor 10:5) he either raises all his desires heavenwards, "where his life is hid with Christ in God," (Col 3:3) or pacifies them within himself, where grace will at last reveal the kingdom of God.  He fulfills the duties of his station, without becoming engrossed with its advantages; enjoys the good things of this world, without becoming attached to them; gains them like one who needs them not, and parts with them, as if they were superfluous.

If a man is but firmly resolved to abide as much as possible in this state of self-denial, then very soon will "his wilderness and solitary place blossom as the rose." (Isa 35:1)  The grain of mustard seed which is cast into the garden of his soul, "will grow and wax a great tree" (Luke 13:19) through the corrupt covering of the old man, hourly more and more put off; the "new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Col 3:9-10) will shine forth, and the spirit of holiness will breathe in all his abilities and acts.

Thus does a man filled with the Holy Ghost afford unto every eye not darkened by prejudice, an image of perfection, before which vanishes like a shadow all that the world calls beautiful and sublime.  To such, my brethren, did the Apostle refer when in speaking of some of the soldiers of the faith, he said, "of whom the world was not worthy." (Heb 11:38)  Grace transforms into a priceless treasure everything in the man devoted to it, and everything with which it comes in contact.  In his mind shines the spirit of wisdom, – not of that wisdom in which the sons of this world excel "in their generation," (Luke 16:8) as the Lord said, which teaches them to be ready in means, and clever in opportunities of acquiring temporal advantages, and to increase their worth, not so much intrinsically, as in the opinion of others, but that wisdom "which spiritually discerneth all things," (I Cor 2:15) in order to turn everything into a means of obtaining solely the eternal welfare of the soul.  His will is moved by the spirit of freedom, "for the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus, hath freed him from the law of sin and death," which imposes upon its slaves as many hard masters as there are wants and desires, passions and habits.  In the depth of his heart abides the spirit of consolation and of "peace which passeth all understanding," (Phil 4:7) which "Jesus Christ gives" unto His Disciples, "not as the world giveth it," (John 14:27) for the peace of the world is but a short slumber, broken by the sound of threatening storms; a state of security founded on ignorance, so that the joyful exclamation, "peace and safety" is at times interrupted by "sudden destruction"; (I Thess 5:3) whereas the peace given by Christ is grounded on the sure hope of reconciliation unto God, so that the Christian in the very midst of his trials, sorrows, and dangers, "faints not," but yields himself up peacefully even unto death, assured that "our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." (II Cor 4:17)  In him abides also a sublime spirit which is neither a blind audacity, nor pride decked out in ostentation, nor the lustre of natural virtues, impure in their source, but a true sublimity of thought occupied with God, a vastness of view bounded by eternity alone, a nobleness of feeling born of, and nurtured by the Word of God; a spirit of lowliness, which amidst the treasures of divine goodness discerns in its own self nothing but poverty and unworthiness, the more to "magnify the Lord"; whilst on the contrary they who are not born of the Spirit of God, are ever striving to find in their very defects something great, by their very abasement are seeking consideration, fawning on some to oppress others; a spirit of might with which the Christian is no longer that weak man, the captive of his own feeling, exposed on every side to attacks of the enemy, vanquished before the battle, and when subduing one passion, becoming the slave of another; but a faithful soldier "clad in the whole armour of God," (Eph 6:11) "who can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth him," (Phil 4:13) "and taketh by force the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 11:12)  And what shall we say of those extraordinary gifts, of those signs of the Spirit which are given to the elect of God, for the benefit of others, and for the edification of the whole Church?

What unexampled bliss to be the vessel, the abode, the instrument of the Spirit of God!  What heavenly happiness on earth!  What a mystery, in which is hidden all that the spirit of man is in search of, and after which "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain." (Rom 8:22)  But who, O Lord, "hath believed our report," and "to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?" (Isa 53:1)  "Flesh and blood revealed not" (Matt 16:17) this mystery.  The world thinks that in heaven itself breathes the spirit of this world, and having already oftentimes heard the voice of Thy Spirit, O Lord, do now, even as of yore, continue to revile it, saying "these men are full of new wine."

Very true.  There are some even among Christians, to whom the gifts of the Holy Ghost seem so strange, that although they dare not entirely to reject them, they nevertheless refer them to other persons and to other times, and without acknowledging the necessity of being "born again," content themselves either with a vain hope in the merits of the Mediator, or even with their own righteousness.

Let us not be deceived by the tempting aspect which worldly honesty generally bears.  To be no enemy to faith, to do no crying injustice, to make an occasional display of charity, to avoid pernicious excesses, in short to fulfill merely the most indispensable and outward duties of a man and of a member of society, is but to whiten one's sepulchre, which nevertheless remains "within full of dead men's bones;" (Matt 23:27) it is to pluck the "leaves of the tree of life," given for the "healing of the nations" but not to "eat its fruit," (Rev 22:3) which should feed the Christian; it is to have "the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees," which does not lead into the "kingdom of God." (Matt 5:20)  But to penetrate into the recesses of one's own heart, from which "proceed evil thoughts," (Matt 15:19) and there to establish purity and holiness, "to keep the whole law," and not to "offend in one point," in order not to be "guilty of all"; (James 2:10) who is the man, that left to his own understanding and powers, will boast of being able to do this?  It is God alone Who "creates in man a clean heart, and renews a right spirit within him." (Ps 51:10)  We must "be born again," in order to "see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3)

On the other hand, although the incorruptible seed of this heavenly birth was brought down unto earth by the death of the God-Man Jesus, (Pet 1:23) still we cannot leave all the rest to the power of His merits, however unlimited they be.  How is this?  Did God then deliver up His Son as a sacrifice not only to His own justice, but also to our ingratitude?  Was the reality of the Sacrifice of the Cross made known to us in order that we might remain the more thoughtless and inactive?  To think thus is not to exalt the merits of Christ, but rather to lower them, and to rest on them with the same pernicious thoughtlessness as once the Jews "rested on the law."  If we have been baptized in Christ, then let us, in accordance with that confession, manifest in ourselves the fruit of baptism, not by water only, but by the Spirit, for Christ "baptizes with the Holy Ghost and with fire." (Matt 3:11)

Finally, when the Divine gift of the Spirit appears to us to be but seldom manifested, let us not on that account infer that it does not exist for all.  It is for us all as long as all are for it.  If its presence is no longer perceived, then it is either because though we have eyes yet we do not see; or is it indeed because the question, "when the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on earth?" (Luke 18:8) is near its solution, and the world itself is come to its last gasp?  The universe knows what became of it when God said in His wrath, "My Spirit shall not always strive with man. for he also is flesh." (Gen 6:3)  Then was it that not only lawless mankind, but all creatures subject not of themselves to vanity were destroyed by the revenging flood. (Rom 8:20)  One more such threat, – and there comes the fiery deluge of the last judgment.

But as long, Christians, as God preserves our existence, and the welfare of His Church, so long need we not doubt that the Spirit of God abideth in it.  Even as at the time of the creation of the world, "the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters," (Gen 1:2) so is it moving even now, during the continued restoration of man, upon the deep of our disordered being, and by its quickening power endures his regeneration by grace.  Let us yield ourselves unto His Almighty will; let us turn our thoughts and desires from the flesh and the world unto Him; let us, out of the depth of our fallen nature cry unto the Holy One, that He should come unto us, and by the grace acquired through the mediation of the Redeemer, should cleanse, enlighten, regenerate, sanctify, and save our souls.

Amen.

Homily on the Birth of Christ

HOMILY ON THE BIRTH OF CHRIST

by St. Philaret of Moscow (Given by Archimandrite Philaret in the St. Alexander Nevsky Lavra)

Great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifest in the flesh (I Tim. 3:16)
The New Adam comes forth from virgin earth. Woman, the source of the curse, bears the dew of blessing. The true Noah has appeared, Who shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed (Gen. 5:29). Melchizedek, without father, without mother, without descent (Heb. 7:3), comes to inherit the eternal Kingdom and Priesthood. The long night of fear and universal expectation finally passes, and the morning light penetrates the darkness of the Old Testament Sanctuary, opened not daily, but eternally to the East. The Heavenly Manna is poured forth from the vessel which contained it. The rod of Jesse blossoms forth in place of the fading rod of Aaron. Christ is born.
Come, meek shepherds, and kiss the Lamb and Shepherd—the Lamb, tended by the shepherd, and the Shepherd, Who is able to gather into one peaceful fold the lambs with the wolves, and the calves with the lions. Come, wise men, and bow down before the mystery of the ancient Child; learn from the unspeaking Word, taste of the angelic bread at the table of the speechless animals and see that the Lord is good. Choirs of heavenly hosts who have praised the Lord since the creation of the stars, double and triple your doxology before your Sun, Who has risen for us. Christ is born.
Christ is born in Bethlehem: is this the reason for all the present joy and all the glory to God in the highest? Glory to God: He is also born for us, unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given (Is. 9:6). Amid the celebration of His birth, the Church suffers pains of birth, until Christ be formed in us (cf. Gal. 4:19). Let us not disdain the joyful sorrow of our Mother: let us take at least a few traits from the image of the birth of Jesus and let us place them in our hearts.
Bethlehem was the ancestral home of the forefathers of Jesus: however, Joseph and Mary did not have even a poor hut, a piece of inherited land or a permanent residence. Providence, by the hand of Caesar, led them to this place from which, it was determined, would come a ruler of Israel (cf., Matt. 2:6). The foreigners in the land of the forefathers, the newcomers to their own homeland gave a homeland to the Son, of Whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named (Eph. 3:15)—Christians! As long as we live in the world as satiated citizens and enjoy it as its masters, Christ cannot be formed in us. The world continually tries to stamp on our souls its passing images; satiated desires give birth to other desires which imperceptibly grow into giants and build Babylon. Blessed shall he be who shall seize and dash the infants of this Babylon against the rock of faith and alienate himself from the city which exists here in order to see the one that is coming! If Abraham, at the command of God, had not departed from his land and his people, he would not have received the glorious testament, the promise, and the inheritance. If suffering Israel had not decided to endure the difficulties of a dangerous and unknown journey, Jehovah would not have strengthened it and prepared in it a dwelling-place for Himself. If the intuitive mother had not sent the innocent Jacob away from the vengeful Esau, he would not have come to the fearful place, the heavenly gates. Only the homeless strangers find Bethel and Bethlehem—the house of God and the house of the living Bread. Only the voluntary exiles of earth will be received as citizens of heaven. Whoever desires to be a dwelling place of the Son of God, must have his homeland only in God, and with all his ties to his earthly homeland, however natural and proper they may be, he must not compare it to the heavenly.
By taking nothing from this world for his birth, Jesus evidently wished to show that He had no personal possessions. The Carpenter received His name from His father; His mother, having carried Him in Her womb, could offer no other virtue for this service other than, by Her own admission, the sense of Her own unworthiness: For He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden (Luke 1:48). He concealed His immeasurable eternity until the day of His birth. A manger became the throne for the King of kings, His robes—swaddling clothes, the first servants of the Kingdom—the shepherds of the flock. The power and wisdom of God were concealed in the infirmities of an infant. But who can measure the distance from the height of His Divine Essence to the depth of His belittlement? The finite mind is not able to comprehend His operations, neither His ascent higher than the heavens, nor His descent to the lowliness of fallen nature. Seeing such humility, what must a heart feel which desires to be formed after the image of Christ? Strength of mind, greatness of spirit, celebrity of deeds, privilege of rank! I am not deceived by you and do not envy those who are proud of you. There is no greater wisdom than to reject wisdom for the sake of Christ; there is no greater glory than to share dishonor with Jesus; there is no greater wealth than the poverty of Jesus. There is no other entrance to perfection and blessedness than through the infancy of Christ; there is no better adornment for the soul, in which He must dwell, than to see itself deprived of all adornment, like His manger. The current of Grace, like the flow of a river, steams into the vales; the cedars on the mountains observe the thunder and lightning. God creates out of nothing: as long as we want and think about being something, God does not begin His work in us. Humility and self-denial are the foundation of His dwelling in us: whoever delves into this more deeply is established higher and more secure.
One of the essential features of the birth of Jesus was the purity of His Mother, not violated either by sight or by thought. She had to have a betrothed, but merely in order to have someone who would be a protector and witness of Her virtue, and so that Her holy virginity would not seem to be disgraced by marriage. At the same time She was, as the Church confesses with one mind, a Virgin before birth, during birth, and after birth. Look at Her example, a soul striving for union with God, and see in the mirror of Her perfection your duty. The Lord is a jealous God. When He says to man with a voice of fatherly kindness: Son, give Me thy heart, His righteous jealousy is commanding, in a spiritual as well as a moral sense: Do not commit adultery. He Who gave us a heart is not satisfied with a larger or smaller portion of it: it must all belong to the Master of everything. He does not consider any kind of love to be worthy of Himself which is not based on love of Him. Every enjoyment which we passionately seek for ourselves, every thought directed toward creation, every distraction, is a departure from Him. Only strict vigilance over oneself can lead to blessed union with Him and maintain it: Keep your heart with all vigilance; for from it flow the springs of life (Prov. 4:23). The heavenly Bridegroom is betrothed only to wise and chaste virgins, not those sleeping near His bridal chamber. The virgin soul directed only towards God conceives the spiritual life and gives birth to the blessedness of pure contemplation. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God; and where?—in their very heart. A pure soul, just like pure water, receives the living images of the sun and sky.
We will not keep our gaze fixed on those characteristics of the image of the birth of Jesus which might frighten those who wish to imprint them on their own souls, due to their difficulty in imitating. But let us take one more glance at those characteristics in which His Divine glory shone through His humiliation and through which Grace is revealed in our spiritual birth.
At the birth of Christ the Angels proclaim glory to God and peace on earth: at our birth they proclaim the glory of Grace and the peace of man with God. Joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth (Luke 15:7). Shepherds and wise men come to Christ with piety, in spite of the poverty and obscurity which seemingly separate Him from the whole world. So also he who is united with Christ is united, in Him, with all those who believe in Him, by an indissoluble as well as incomprehensible union. That Spirit which forms from them one community, or rather one body, sometimes unexpectedly, but always in a timely manner, brings them closer to each other, in order for them to mutually edify and learn, comfort and receive comfort, and confess the mercy and glory of God. They offer gifts to Christ: gold, as to a King; incense, as to God; myrrh, as to a deceased of mortals. But did He not promise us that for those who seek the Kingdom of God, all things shall be added (Matt. 6:33)? Does He not want to make us kings and priests unto God and His Father (Rev. 1:6)? Is not our spiritual birth linked with that life-giving death, after which our life will be hidden with Him in God (cf. Col 3:3)?
O God, Who hast given us Thy Son! What doest Thou not give us thereby? Grant us only that we may give birth to the Spirit of Christ within ourselves and that we may live His life. Then let Herod and all Jerusalem be troubled with us as they were with Him. Let the prince of this age rage and let all the world take up arms: Thou shalt nourish us and with an Angel of Thy counsel. Thou shalt lead us to Thy holy mountain. Amen.
Translated from The Writings of Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow and Kolomensk (in Russian), Vol. 1, pp. 16-20.

from Orthodox Life, Vol. 50, No. 6, Nov-Dec 2000, pages 2-5