February 19, 2011

The Orthodox Encounter With the Holy Spirit

By Archimandrite Cherubim Karambelas

If the Holy Eucharist is communion with Christ, the Mystery of Chrismation is communion with the Holy Spirit. Every Orthodox Christian who is anointed receives upon them the sacred seal of the Paraclete. From that moment, the Holy Spirit is established within them like a heavenly seed. If it finds good earth and mild air, it germinates, grows, and develops "into a great tree" (Luke 13:19) with paradisaical leaves and flowers and fruits. Then takes place within the faithful unspeakable things that the mind of man has never imagined, and "which has never entered the heart of man" (I Cor. 2:9).

In the Orthodox book titled Philokalia (which is only Orthodox; among the heterodox one never encounters such great heights) there are extensive passages dealing with these Heavenly states. They describe in detail all the stages of the growth of the spiritual seed. Unusual mystical expressions are encountered there: "activity of the heart", "dew of the Spirit", "noetic sense", "fire of the heart", "divine intoxication", "leaping of the heart", "the ravishing of the mind", etc.

The Christian who truly and genuinely follows this course will without fail encounter the activities [energies, powers, or gifts] of the Spirit. As he advances with sweat and toil along the narrow road of ascetic life, the blessed hour will arrive when he will feel within himself the palpable presence of the Holy Spirit. From that moment, his heart becomes a "place of verdure", as the Psalmist expresses it (Psalm 22:2). From that hour, the holy words of the Lord take on their full divine meaning: "He that believeth on me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water" (John 7:38). And those waters will sometimes change to a flaming fire which warms the soul and body, and which makes the heart "burn", as did the hearts of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Then man, in amazement, cries out like St. Symeon the New Theologian:

"How dost Thou exist as blazing fire? How also as bedewing water?"

If a Christian is found to be a worthy vessel of Grace, the Paraclete is given to him even more powerfully. Whatever was "darkness" becomes "manifest as light", according to the phrase of St. Gregory the Theologian ("In Defense of His Flight to Pontus"). And the unutterable activity of the heart is transformed into unutterable light; a light which even emits sweet fragrance - "sweet-smelling light". The fragrance of a spiritual person is felt by other virtuous and spiritual souls.

From Contemporary Ascetics of Mount Athos (vol. 1), p. 142-143.