Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Spirit-filled Church - Fr Michael Harper

Father Michael Harper (1931-2010), a pioneer of global and ecumenical charismatic renewal, and for the last period of his life a priest of the Antiochian Orthodox Church gave an inspiring talk on the Holy Spirit as part of THE WAY series. The following is a short extract. The pdf of the whole talk can be downloaded HERE. (Also, go HERE to read my tribute to Fr Michael). 

We have just seen that the Holy Spirit plays a crucial part in the two major sacraments of the Church, the sacrament of Baptism by which we enter the Church and become members of Christ’s Body, and the sacrament of the Eucharist, by which we are strengthened, united, and renewed for our daily pilgrimage in the Way. 

But the ministry of the Holy Spirit extends to each member of the Body of Christ not only when they are in Church, but also at home and at work throughout the day and night. We are to be full of the Holy Spirit throughout our lives. 

Metropolitan Kallistos and others use the phrase ‘becoming what we are’. What then are we? We are children of God. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit. We are partakers of divine grace. We are saved. In the Homilies of St Macarius we are told, ‘Each of you has been anointed with heavenly Chrism, and has become a Christ by grace; each is a king and prophet of the holy mysteries’. (Cited by Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, p. 99)  

But the ‘becoming’ is much harder. Metropolitan Kallistos writes: ‘As pilgrims on the Way, then, it is our purpose to advance from the stage where the grace of the Spirit is present and active within us in a hidden way, to the point of conscious awareness when we know the Spirit’s power openly, directly, with the full perception of our heart ... the Pentecostal spark of the Spirit, existing in each one of us from Baptism is to be kindled into a living flame. We are to become what we are’. [italics added] (Ibid., p.100)  

Let us look for a moment at how St Paul sees the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives. 

In the Epistle to the Romans he wonderfully describes the Holy Spirit’s gift of love: ‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, which has been given to us’ (Romans 5:5). He reminds us of the way the Holy Spirit leads us: ‘For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God’ (Romans 8:14). He writes also about the ‘Spirit of sonship, and by him we cry “Abba, Father”’; Paul speaks of the Spirit Himself ‘bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God’ (Romans 8:15-16). He tells us that ‘the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness’ ( Romans 8:26). 

In the Epistle to the Galatians St Paul gives us the classic list of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control’ (Galatians 5:22-23). 

In the Epistle to the Ephesians he urges them to ‘put on the whole armour of God’ and it includes ‘the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God’ (Ephesians 6:17); and he goes on to urge them to ‘pray at all times in the Spirit with all prayer and supplication’ (Ephesians 6:18). 

These are just a few of the references in St Paul to the work of the Holy Spirit in us. But we need also to remember the important writing of St Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 about the gifts of the Holy Spirit and how they operate in the community. The Orthodox Church does not make a sharp distinction between the gifts and the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Father Lev Gillet writes about this: ‘The Greek Fathers used as almost synonymous the words “gifts” (doreai), “powers” (dynameis), “energies” (energeiai) and “charisms” (charismata). Greek Christian thought always seems reluctant to introduce rational analysis in the realm of pure grace.’ Father Lev Gillet, Orthodox Spirituality (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press: Crestwood, New York, 1987), p. 71.  

The gifts of the Holy Spirit have always had a place in the life of the Orthodox Church down the ages. Stories of healing and miracles are often recorded in the lives of the Saints. However, the gift of ‘speaking in tongues’ seems to have been rarely experienced. 

The Orthodox Church has always had the Holy Spirit at the centre of its life and worship. As we have seen, its theology and particularly its sacramental teaching has always honoured and recognized the importance of the Holy Spirit. A Church or a person without the Holy Spirit cannot be called Christian.

We need to be grateful to God for the faithful witness in the Orthodox Church to the Holy Spirit from Pentecost onwards, but also to pray that we may all be filled with the Holy Spirit, so that He may make us strong witnesses of Christ, to change us into the likeness of Christ, and empower us to do the works of Christ.


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