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The Holy Spirit in the Mysteries of the Church

Our Lord Jesus Christ promised the gift of the Holy Spirit to His disciples "I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever" (John 14:16). He assured them that the Holy Spirit would reveal truth to the Church. "When He, the Spirit of truth has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take what is Mine and declare it to you" (John 16:13,14). Just before His Ascension our Lord Jesus Christ promised, "John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now" (Acts 1:5). This word was fulfilled ten days later on the Day of Pentecost.

In his homily "On the Holy Spirit" St. Gregory Nazianzen says "We celebrate the feast of Pentecost and of the descent of the Spirit, the fulfillment of promise and the achievement of hope. O how great and how exalted is the mystery!" The divine revelation of the Holy Trinity was brought to its completion by the descent of the Holy Spirit, which St. Gregory called the ‘great and exalted mystery’.

The Holy Spirit gives us the Church and she, in turn, gives us the Mysteries. St. Augustine taught us, "What the soul is to man’s body, the Holy Spirit is to the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is the Church. The Holy Spirit does in the whole Church what the soul does in the members of the one body."

The Holy Spirit is involved in every step of the development and growth of the Church. He is the power that builds up the Church. His work is clear in all the mysteries, in the grace of God, in the gifts and in the virtues. Nothing happens in the Church without the direct involvement of the Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit, our Lord Jesus Christ unites the Church as one, holy, catholic and apostolic. The Holy Spirit plays an important role in each of the mysteries of the church.

The Holy Baptism

In the mystery of Holy Baptism, the Holy Spirit descends upon the water and turns it from ordinary water into living water which washes a person and gives him a new birth "But according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5). Water is a symbol of the Spirit in that it is necessary for keeping life and maintaining it. God is the fountain of living water because from Him comes the Holy Spirit "But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me" (John 15:26).

Through the water of baptism, the Holy Spirit freed us from sin and joined us with our Lord Jesus Christ, sharing in His holiness and destined for eternal life. Baptism leaves us permanently changed, no longer the person we once were, but a new person, dying to death and sin, and rising to new life in our Lord Jesus Christ. In the words of St. Paul, "We were buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so too may we live a new life" (Romans 6:4).

Ezekiel the prophet said, "Then I washed you in water; yes, I thoroughly washed off your blood, and I anointed you with oil." (Ezek 16:9). As the words ‘bathed with water’ refer to the work of the Holy Spirit in baptism the words ‘anointed you with oil’ refer to His work in the mystery of Holy Chrismation.

The Holy Chrismation

St. John the Baptist came preparing the way for our Lord Jesus Christ, and teaching that when the Lord comes, He will baptize not just with water but with the Holy Spirit! "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" (Mt 3:11).

We were baptized by the Holy Spirit at the time of our Chrismation when the priest anointed our body with the holy chrism (Myron). At this moment we received the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This is the same gift that the holy apostles obtained on the day of Pentecost. In the mystery of Holy Chrismation, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon us, taking possession of our soul. We became a living "temple of the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor 6:19).

Through this mystery, we became "the anointed ones" when we received the sign of the Holy Spirit. St. Cyril of Jerusalem explains "Christ bathed in the river Jordan, imparting to its waters the fragrance of His divinity, and when He came up from them the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, like resting upon like. So we also, after coming up from the sacred waters of baptism, were anointed with chrism, which signifies the Holy Spirit, by Whom Christ was anointed and of Whom blessed Isaiah prophesied in the name of the Lord: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor."

St Cyril of Jerusalem also says:

"But we too have been anointed with oil, and by this anointing we have entered into fellowship with Christ and have received a share in His life. Beware of thinking that this holy oil is simply ordinary oil and nothing else. After the invocation of the Spirit it is no longer ordinary oil but the gift of Christ, and by the presence of His divinity it becomes the instrument through which we receive the Holy Spirit. While symbolically, on our foreheads and senses, our bodies are anointed with this oil that we see, our souls are sanctified by the Holy and Life-giving Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives us a new divine life and, therefore, we profess Him to be the ‘Giver of Life’"

This divine life is the life of grace, making us "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pet 1:4) and true children of God: "For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out,"Abba, Father." The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (Rom 8:15-16).

Chrismation, then, is our own "Pentecost" when the fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is poured upon us, enabling us to live a life worthy of our Christian calling as the children of God.

Holy Baptism and Chrismation are closely connected to the Eucharist. In Holy Baptism we take off the old, sinful person and wash away the sinful nature. In Chrismation, we are anointed with the oil of the Holy Spirit and filled with His gifts. Finally, we are led to the Eucharistic banquet

Holy Baptism and Chrismation are considered the mysteries of entrance into the life of the Church. They lead us into the life of the Church and unite us with its essential nature. They are therefore intimately connected with the Eucharist, which is the center and the source of the whole life of the Church.

The Holy Eucharist

In the Divine Liturgy, the priest ask the Lord for two things, the descent of the Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine into the Holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and His descent on us to change us who eat and drink of the Holy Body and Blood ‘We worship You by the pleasure of Your goodness that your Holy Spirit descend upon us and upon these gifts set forth and purify them change them as a sanctification of Your saints’. St. Augustine reminded his audience: "If then you are the body of Christ and His members, it is your mystery that reposes on the altar of the Lord…Be what you see and receive what you are" and "There you are on the table, and there you are in the chalice."

The Holy Spirit underlies and pervades the Church’s celebration of the Holy Eucharist. He makes present the blessed Body and Blood of the risen Lord Jesus Christ and by our eating and drinking the Holy Gifts, we ourselves are renewed in the Spirit

Although it is the Holy Spirit that accomplishes the change of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the incarnate Word, it is by our partaking of our Lord’s Body and Blood that we receive the Holy Spirit. The Spirit indwells, penetrates, and suffuses the glorified flesh of the Lord Jesus Christ. St. Paul writes: "Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit" (1 Cor 15:45).

This invitation to partake of the Holy Eucharist is truly an extension to the day of the Pentecost. For by partaking in one bread and one cup with one spirit we are united with our Lord Jesus Christ and with one another to become one church, the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ and enter in partnership with the Spirit receiving the forgiveness of our sins.

Repentance and Confession

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the stain of sin is removed in the mystery of confession. This Divine power and authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to forgive sins or to retain them, was given to the Apostles when the Lord outpoured the Holy Spirit upon them. "And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (Jn 20:22-3).

It is the Holy Spirit that convicts us and drives us to repent and confess our sins. "And when He is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment" (Jn 16:8). Sin grieves the Spirit and quenches His work in our lives. By acknowledging both our sin and God’s gracious forgiveness and cleansing through Christ (1 Jn 1:9), we free the Holy Spirit to fill us.

Unction of the Sick

The unction of the sick is a gift of the Holy Spirit ministered by the Church and performed by the priest. The chief biblical text for anointing of the sick is "Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. And their prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make them well. And anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven." (James 5:14,15) When Christians are experiencing illness they receive the necessary particular gifts of the Holy Spirit such as strength, peace and courage to overcome such difficulties. Through this anointing, the sins are forgiven. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the sick person’s soul will be healed; and if it’s God’s will, he also may be healed physically. The sick person receives the strength and gift of uniting his sufferings with our Lord’s Passion.

Holy Matrimony

Through the mystery of Holy Matrimony, the Holy Spirit forms a communion between the bride and the bridegroom. St. Paul reminds us that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. A man and a woman who are members of the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, through the mystery of Holy Matrimony not only do they become ‘one flesh’, but their union is sealed by the Holy Spirit living in each of them.

Holy Priesthood

The priesthood is the vehicle that God, through His Son, chose to maintain the regular flow of His grace and blessings through the sacraments. The Divine power and authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, was given to the Apostles "Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Mt 18:18). He gave them the authority to forgive sins or to retain them, when He outpoured the Holy Spirit upon them. "And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (Jn 20:22-3). This breath of the Holy Spirit still remains in existence, being passed down from generation to generation. In the ordination ceremony, the candidate chosen for the priesthood opens his mouth and the bishop blows into it saying ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ while the new priest recites "I open my mouth and pant, For I long for Your commandments" (Ps 119:131).

The apostles used to confer the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands upon all ranks of priesthood, bishops, priests and even deacons.

Through Holy Mysteries we have received the seal of the Holy Spirit. Our task now is to preserve the integrity of what we have received by living a truly Christian life. We must give time to prayer, and to the study of scripture. Speaking to God, listening to His word to us, and letting His teaching mold us are possible by the power of the Holy Spirit Who dwells in us.

Posted by Fr. Moses Samaan

April 9, 2009