From The Blog

Mission Monthly – June 2006

“When the Spirit of God descends upon a man and overshadows him with the fullness of His outpouring, then his soul overflows with a joy not to be described, for the Holy Spirit turns to joy whatever He touches. The kingdom of heaven is peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Acquire inward peace, and thousands around you will find their salvation.”

St. Seraphim of Sarov

Many of us recognize the ending of this month’s meditation quote. Those who are familiar with St. Seraphim of Sarov have seen this statement (maybe with a slightly different translation) written on a scroll on many of his icons. It is often quoted by Orthodox priests and lay people when explaining the Orthodox view of evangelism—that is, evangelism begins with the witness of personal transformation. If I am trying to share my faith with someone and yet my life seems undistinguished and unaffected by the practice of that faith why would anyone care to listen to what I have to say?

Recently I came across this extended quote. It is the first time I recall seeing the greater context of St. Seraphim’s famous holy words. What is most striking is how “charismatic” this quote is. It is as charismatic as anything in Orthodox Christianity, and in fact I would argue that it is what true “charism” is! Most “cradle” Orthodox have no idea what (Protestant) “charismatic” Christianity teaches. I cannot say with any real certainty that I know much about this rather curious Christian denomination. One basic tenet I believe to be central to (Protestant) charismatic Christianity is the requirement of certain “spiritual gifts” as main indicators of one’s salvation, especially the “gift” of speaking in “tongues.” While I do not wish to raise more questions than I have answers for in this meditation this minimal background may help us to define words such as “charism” and “charismatic” in an Orthodox context.

This month we will be celebrating the Great Feast of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit in the fulfillment of our Lord’s promise, fifty days after His Holy Resurrection. What was the purpose of this “coming?” Jesus Himself answered this question before it was even asked. The Holy Spirit will come to 1) bear witness to Jesus; 2) teach the disciples all things while bringing to remembrance all that Jesus said; 3) guide the disciples into all truth; 4) live IN His disciples (see St. John’s Gospel chapters 14-16). Nowhere in Jesus’ words do we hear anything about particular (or peculiar) gifts, especially as being “necessary” for one’s salvation.

St. Seraphim’s words provide great guidance and balance to what it means to be “charismatic.” Essentially every Orthodox Christian is a “charismatic” Christian! Anyone who has been to an Orthodox baptism or chrismation service knows that when anointing with Holy Chrism the priest proclaims, “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit!” and the people answer back, “Sealed!” This “coming” of the Holy Spirit is the very same fulfilled promise which Jesus made to His disciples that the Holy Spirit will come and “be in you” (St. John 14:17). According to Apostolic Tradition, and according to Orthodox sacramental teaching, this formal act of God isthe act which begins the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in man. In Apostolic times the formal act was completed through the laying on of hands. In our day it is through the Sacrament of Chrismation that the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in men. The Gospel of St. John affirms the presence of the Holy Spirit with Jesus’ disciples prior to the indwelling at Pentecost, “you know him, for he dwells WITH you (St. John 14:17). In this way any follower of Jesus is justified in claiming the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Indeed the Holy Spirit is with them, but for the Holy Spirit to be IN a man he would need to submit to the formal mystery of Holy Tradition.

In so doing, however, there must be a real response to this great gift of God: our lives should be filled with joy in all things! And here is the true “connection” with one who has submitted his life to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit AND is actively pursuing a life transformed by forgiveness and repentance:the Kingdom of Heaven is peace and joy in the Holy Spirit! This is not the drama of the “gift of tongues” or any highly emotional acts of charismatic Christianity, it is the simple and settled conviction that Christ and His Kingdom are among us—in our homes, our families, our jobs, our activities, our choices, our humility, our virtue, our struggles. This is true charismatic Christianity and, indeed, if we ever “acquire” it, it will be our salvation and the salvation of many around us!