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HomeArticlesA Reflection on the Perfecting Spirit During the Days of Awaiting between the Feasts of Ascension and Pentecost :- Fr. Dr. Bijesh Philip

A Reflection on the Perfecting Spirit During the Days of Awaiting between the Feasts of Ascension and Pentecost :- Fr. Dr. Bijesh Philip

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Published: Tuesday, 30 May 2017

After celebrating the ascension of Jesus Christ, we are moving towards the celebration of the  feast of Pentecost  which is  not only a memorial of the  descent of the Holy Spirit on the early Christians but also the abundant rejuvenation and filling  of the  Holy Spirit in us.  Just before His ascension, Jesus told his disciples “not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father”.  Then His last words:  “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem , and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1: 4-8)

Apostles and other followers of Christ including His mother Mary waited for being filled with the Holy Spirit and on the tenth day  after the  ascension   or the fiftieth day after the resurrection of Christ,   the Spirit of God came upon them in the form of fiery tongues.  Many of them were ordinary people like us with weaknesses and frailties.  For example: Once Christ’s disciples James and John asked their Guru to pray so that fire will come upon Samaritans  who  blocked them in their journey to Jerusalem.  It was a painful experience for Jesus to see his disciples filled with the spirit of hatred.  But when they were filled with the fire of the life of God, they were purified and became agents of light and love.  The Spirit of God removes  short comings  and leads us to perfection.  That is why the ancient  liturgical tradition of the Church presents Holy Spirit as the spirit of perfection.   When Jesus introduces Holy Spirit as a helper or paracletos, what He means is that the Spirit who comes from  His Father is the  one who helps us to overcome our inhuman  and selfish tendencies and encourages  us to be Christ-like.  When the holy paten and chalice are elevated and celebrated in Holy Qurbana , the chief celebrant says   “with us is the One Holy and Living Spirit who completes and perfects of all that is and all that is to be.”

The Spirit perfects us by enlightening us with moral  guidance. Jesus describes the Spirit as a Spirit of truth perhaps in contrast to the Spirit of deception.  According to Him when the Spirit comes, he will remind us about Christ’s teachings. In other words,  the commandments of Jesus will shine as very relevant and important in our life. So Christian life is defined as a  life in Christ guided by the Holy Spirit.   Evil and moral degradation is there in all ages.  But the negative specialty of our age seems to be a deliberate attempt to destroy even the standards of ethics and moral life.  This is like an impatient driver destroying the red lights in a busy  junction.  We need to permit the Spirit to convict us and convince us about the right and wrong so that we could repent and choose the right.  The Spirit helps us  to deepen our foundations in the enlightening Divine teachings.

The Holy Spirit leads to perfection also by empowering and encouraging us. The weak and frustrated disciples of Christ might have been thinking to flee from Jerusalem  where their Guru and master was persecuted and crucified.  But the Risen Lord  told them to be empowered by the Holy Spirit by staying in Jerusalem itself indicating that the believers will be strengthened by the Spirit in the midst of challenges and crisis.  So the Holy Spirit is our hope and power.  It must be noted that by the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit early Christian church was able to overcome severe persecutions and also many distorted teachings and grew up to witness Christ meaningfully. The Holy spirit strengthens us today to overcome the attack of militant atheism as well as militant fanatic religious teachings and also to be genuine followers of Christ by conquering the temptations to exploit  churches and distort spiritual practices for  selfish agendas.

The Spirit leads to perfection by making us fruitful and virtuous.  As the water helps seeds to germinate and plants to blossom, the Spirit of God  stimulates and fulfills virtues like humility,  love,  truthfulness and  ardent desire for justice which are  like seeds in all.  The use of the image of a Hen hovering over its eggs to transform them to be chickens used in the ancient liturgy to explain the turning   of bread and wine to be  the body and blood of Christ by the intervention of the Holy Spirit is noticeable.   As St. Basil the Great says,  ‘man is an animal with a vocation to become like God’.  And the Holy Spirit is our helper to fulfill this vocation and potential.  At least from the time of the publishing of the book ‘Origin of Species’  by Charles Darwin in the middle of nineteenth century  a misconception began gaining momentum that man is only an animal.  Of course man is basically integral part of the rest of the creation but there is a very high spiritual potential in all of us which can transcend the limitations of materialism.  The Holy Spirit’s help is sought for the fulfillment of this potential which is called the image of God in humans.  The Holy Spirit who helps the world to emerge and evolve through billions of years is also there in evolution of life as well as in the divinization of life.  St. Paul beautifully describes the fruit of the Holy Spirit as “love, joy, peace, forgiveness, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”.  So when the quality of human life is declining like the water level is going down in earth today, the Holy Spirit is our comforter and helper.   By quoting Prophet Isaiah, Jesus says that the Spirit of the Lord has anointed Him to preach the gospel to the poor and He was sent to heal the broken hearted.  The Holy Spirit imparts a real concern for the marginalized and the bruised environment and rivers.  Thus the Spirit rejuvenates our humanity.

The Holy Spirit is the indwelling God  who keeps us one with Jesus Christ and the Heavenly Father.  God dwelling in us and to live in God is the joy of the paradisiacal experience.  The Spirit is helping us to have the joy of real communion with God.  Inner emptiness can never be filled with more power, luxury, greed and wealth.  Jesus taught us to keep on praying for being filled with the Holy Spirit which cures our spiritual vacuum and gladdens our hearts. In certain parts of India we can see people waiting in long queues to purchase foreign liquors.  But the Holy Scripture exhorts us to wait and pray for being filled with the Holy Spirit and not with the alcoholic spirit.  Jesus says “If any one thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” St. John the apostle says that Jesus spoke this concerning the Holy Spirit. (St. John 7: 37-39).  Jesus is facilitating the reception of the Holy Spirit, quenching the  spiritual thirst and leading  to the  overflowing from the believers to nourish the world around them.

According to the Orthodox baptismal liturgy, the greatest gift in the Holy Baptism is the Holy Spirit.  As the Risen Lord gave the Holy Spirit to the disciples by breathing on them,  the chief celebrant breathes  three times on the baptismal candidate for the reception of the Holy Spirit.  In the baptistery, the  celebrant places his right hand on the candidate reminding us of the coming of the Holy Spirit on Jesus in the form of a dove when John the Baptist placed his hand on Jesus in River Jordan.  After this ordination comes the Chrismation or anointing with the Holy Oil for the reception of the Holy Spirit.  St. Paul reminds us not to quench the Holy Spirit.  We have to renew and rejuvenate the experience of the Holy Spirit in us.  When we approach God with repentance and humility we will be really blessed. By believing the promise of the Lord and with an ardent desire and prayer, if we seek an abundant experience of the Spirit of God, of course our baptismal grace will be renewed. 

Major images used in the Scripture to indicate the Holy Spirit are fire, air and water which are indispensable for life.  Likewise the Holy Spirit is the inevitable grace for an authentic life.  As Fire, air and water facilitate purification, the Holy Spirit is the agent of sanctification and renewal.  St. Irenaeus of Lyons in second century CE in his famous work ‘Against Heresies’  portrays the Holy Spirit as inevitable part of human being who serves as the agent of deification. Irenaeus observes that “the complete man is made up of these three things – flesh, soul and Holy Spirit. One of these saves and forms namely the Spirit.”  The Holy Spirit needs to be a dynamic and integral part of our life much more than the Mobile phone which has become almost a part of life for many today. Technology and many of our modern devices and gadgets are helping us in various ways.  Focusing on the Holy Spirit who is  our ultimate helper to be fully humans by avoiding the helps of social media and various devices for a few days  is worth practicing especially during these days of awaiting . Then our senses and their technological extensions will  become channels of blessings to us and all. 

The days between the feast of Ascension and the feast of Pentecost are known in the Orthodox Christian tradition as the days of awaiting, yes the hopeful waiting for the abundant experience of the Holy Spirit. As individuals and communities we can wait and pray for the Spirit.  When the Holy Spirit descended on the early Christians, they became a community of one heart and one mind.  There are many families and parishes which go through the experience of disharmony and conflicts  like that of the confusion and disintegration associated with the tower of Babel. May the Holy Spirit bless us to overcome it to enjoy the unity and harmony of the Spirit-filled ancient Church which witnessed amazing communication beyond the barriers of language on the day of Pentecost. Our parishes need to arrange prayers for rich experience of the Holy Spirit so that they could shine as communities  of love and fellowship and thus to shine as Christ in their respective localities.      May the Spirit gives enthusiasm and encouragement to our prayers and worship.  May the Holy Spirit  empower us to manifest the glory and love  of God through our deeds and words.   

 Let us pray:

Come Holy Spirit and sanctify us,   and enlighten us  

O Holy Spirit  and  fill us to be Christ like and  to witness Him

O Holy Spirit,  make us lovers of Christ by fulfilling His commandments

O Holy Spirit,  rejuvenate our humanity and renew our world.

We thank you and worship you with the Father and the Son now and always and unto the ages of ages. Amen. 

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