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June 3, 2012

Meditation On Pentecost by St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite (2 of 3)

By St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite

2. Consider, my beloved, the change the Holy Spirit wrought in the hearts of the Apostles, who in the beginning were so fond of life, such lovers of the flesh, and such cowards, that in order to protect their lives, one of them deserted his Teacher during His Passion and ran away naked: "And there followed Him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body... And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked" (Mk. 14:51-52).5 Another one denied Him, and all the rest departed: "And they all forsook Him, and fled" (Mk. 14:50). And because they were like frightened hares, they remained locked up in the upper room out of fear and didn’t dare go outside for nearly the entire period of the fifty days after the Resurrection. But after the Holy Spirit descended upon them, He changed the weakness of their hearts into courage and bravery. Then they went outside like fearless lions and preached the crucified Jesus before all the multitudes of people with open faces, with brave chests, and with courage and boldness without flinching before either threats, or lashings, or torments and tortures, or death itself. But they longed for these things like delights and revelries and they exceedingly rejoiced upon receiving them: "And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name" (Acts 5:41). Then you would see Peter, who beforehand was cowardly and in love with this life, and who was not even able to listen to a single word of a simple girl without fear, standing fearlessly and boldly speaking with a loud voice before thousands of people without thinking them at all to be people, but as if they were brutes and plants or stones. And by his speaking he drew three thousand people to the faith of Christ: "But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them" (Acts 2:14). Then you would see those unlearned fishermen so full of knowledge and wisdom that the wise and learned would be in awe: "They perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, and they marveled" (Acts 4:13). And why is this? Because the Holy Spirit put a breadth of knowledge in their hearts, just as it is written about Solomon: "And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart" (3 Kg. [1 Kg.] 5:9); and because "the Lord had touched their hearts," as it is written (1 Kg. [1 Sam.] 10:26). What grace! What power! What fire of the Holy Spirit, which, setting the heart aflame but once, makes hares into lions, the weak strong, the unwise wise. It changes that which is earth into fire, and transforms those who were once statues into perfect men. This is what God promised to give through the Prophet Micah, saying: "There shall be none to hearken to them, unless I am filled with strength from the Spirit of the Lord" (Mic. 3:7-8).

Now you also, my brother, who are reading these things, think about this: If you have received this courage and fervor in your heart so that you do not fear flesh, the world, or the ruler of this world, this is a sign that you have been changed by the Spirit of the Lord, just as it is written: "Then shall the Spirit change him and pass through him, and make an atonement; this strength belongs to my God" (Hab. 1:11). And if you used to seek out with all the vehemence of your desires the goods of this world - riches, glory, pleasures - and if you considered the person who had the greater amount of these goods the most blessed, know that until now your heart has been worn down, unfeeling, and hardened like a stone because of the spirit of the world and of the flesh. For this reason lament and repent, because in all the years of your life you have not become worthy to receive through the Holy Spirit a new heart, with feeling and of profit to you, which God promised to give to you: "And a new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will put My Spirit in you" (Ezek. 36:26-27).

But if you now seek after the completely opposite things – instead of taking pride in wealth you are humbled and rejoice in poverty and long to be dishonored and disgraced; instead of desiring delights and revelries you love frugality and self-control – know that the Holy Spirit has begun to change your heart into another heart, just as it is written concerning Saul: "And it was so, that when Saul had turned his back to go from Samuel, God gave him another heart" (1 Kg. [1 Sam.] 10:9). Therefore be glad and thank the Lord Who through the Holy Spirit has not only purified your mind but has also warmed your heart and wishes to change you from a carnal person into a spiritual person, from a foolish infant into a wise man, and from a worldly gentile into a true Christian. For the Holy Spirit is accustomed to bringing about such God-befitting and strange changes, just as the great theologian Gregory theologizes: "This Spirit, for He is most wise and most loving, if He takes possession of a shepherd makes him a Psalmist, subduing evil spirits by his song, and proclaims him King of Israel; if he possess a goatherd and scraper of sycamore fruit, He makes him a Prophet. Call to mind David and Amos. If He possess a goodly youth, He makes him a Judge of Elders, even beyond his years, as Daniel testifies, who conquered the lions in their den. If He takes possession of Fishermen, He makes them catch the whole world in the nets of Christ, taking them up in the meshes of the Word. Look at Peter and Andrew and the Sons of Thunder, thundering the things of the Spirit. If of Publicans, He makes gain of them for discipleship, and makes them merchants of souls; witness Matthew, yesterday a Publican, today an Evangelist. If of zealous persecutors, He changes the current of their zeal, and makes them Pauls instead of Sauls, and as full of piety as He found them of wickedness."6

Therefore be ashamed, my brother, because until now you were far from such thoughts, going about in the evil desires of your heart, not allowing any place therein for the Holy Spirit to dwell. And to put it briefly, because you have lived only like an unspiritual and worldly person, who is unable to receive the things of the Spirit: "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14). Make a decision that for the rest of your life you will not grieve the Holy Spirit any longer with any improper and evil appetite of your heart, according to the commandment given you by the Apostle: "And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God" (Eph. 4:30). And that you will not oppose His holy will as one hard of heart, like those hardhearted Jews to whom Stephen said: "Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Spirit" (Acts 7:51). Rather, you should offer your whole heart to the Holy Spirit, with all of its desires, so that He may dwell in it, just as the Spirit Himself commands you, saying: "My son, give Me thine heart" (Pr. 23:26). You will give your heart to the Holy Spirit if you always meditate on the Name of Jesus Christ the Son of God in your heart through unceasing prayer. For although the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father, He also is, and is called, the Spirit of the Son on account of being of the same essence and resting in the Son, on account of which the Spirit rejoices when the Son is named: "God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father" (Gal. 4:6). Through this noetic and spiritual prayer you will contemplate the Son in the Spirit, and the Father in the Son, as Basil the Great says.7 And you will be deemed worthy through this noetic exercise to find and behold noetically the grace of the Holy Spirit which you received in Holy Baptism, but which you have buried like a spark under your passions and sins.

And lastly, since the All-Holy Spirit – the other Comforter, the completing Person of the Holy Trinity, the Giver of all spiritual gifts, the Life of the living, the Mover of things moved, and the Perfecter of all beings – simply out of His philanthropy wanted to etch in your heart the first lines and initial from of His grace, entreat Him not to leave you incomplete, but to bring to completion that form and work which He began in you, granting you the charisma of abiding in and enduring perseverance in His grace, which charisma is the greatest of them all.8 And entreat the Holy Spirit through this charisma to deem you worthy, who are presently but earth and dust, to become even here and now completely spiritual, completely angelic, completely holy and a son of God, and god by grace, just as Basil the Great says: "When the Holy Spirit came upon the body of man, He bestowed life, and He bestowed immortality and sanctification. He raised up that which was lying down. That work which was begun by the eternal movement of the Holy Spirit became a holy creature. And man, who once was earth and dust, received the honor to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, to be a prophet, an apostle, and an angel of God."9


5 This was James the Brother of the Lord, who wore only one garment all of his life, as the sacred Theophylact says (Enarratio in Evangelium Marci, PG 123, 657C).

6 St. Gregory the Theologian, Oratio 41.14, PG 36, 448B-448C; NPNF (V2-07), 384.

7 Cf. St. Basil the Great, De Spiritu Sancto 26.64, PG 32, 185A; NPNF (V2-08), 40: "Just as the Father is seen in the Son, so is the Son in the Spirit."

8 According to the theologians, only the charisma of abiding in the grace of the Holy Spirit begins and completes God’s purpose for each person.

9 St. Basil the Great, Adversus Eunomium 5, PG 29, 769B.