April 13, 2019

When the Holy Spirit Liturgizes in the Heart: A Most-Illuminating Conversation

I recently had a conversation with someone inquiring of me about the meaning of 1 Corinthians 6:19, where Saint Paul says, "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit?" This is basically how it went:

"John, I have a very specific question: When do our bodies become temples of the Holy Spirit?"

"St. Paul is very clear in 1 Corinthians that our bodies become temples of the Holy Spirit when we receive the Holy Spirit into our hearts."

"And when exactly is this? Are we born with the Holy Spirit in our hearts?"

"No, there are two ways for the Holy Spirit to come into our hearts. The most common way this was done in the Early Church was when someone was preparing for baptism, known as a catechumen, they cleansed or purified their heart first of every sin and passion which afflicted them, then with a clean heart to approach Holy Baptism, which is the final form of purification."

"So the Holy Spirit enters our hearts through Baptism?"

"Not exactly. Our preparation for Baptism and Baptism itself is what makes the heart ready to receive the Holy Spirit in the heart. The gift of the Holy Spirit to enter our hearts is given to us immediately after Baptism, when we are chrismated or illumined."

"So since I've been baptized as an infant, I have been a temple of the Holy Spirit since infancy?"

"Again, not exactly. What I described to you was the ideal method for many in the Early Church. However, in the Early Church, oftentimes those who were baptized and chrismated did not properly prepare themselves by being purified of their sins. Our Lord said, "For out of the heart come evil thoughts like murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander." You can't have evil thoughts in the heart and expect the Holy Spirit to dwell there at the same time. So if you are already baptized and chrismated, but still have a heart that has not been cleansed, then you have what is called a heart with inactive grace. A heart with inactive grace cannot be properly called a temple of the Holy Spirit."

"How does this relate to those baptized as infants?"

"If you are baptized as an infant, without choice, then you are automatically in a state of inactive grace. As you grow up and get older and start making choices in life, this will help determine whether or not this grace in your heart will remain inactive or active."

"Does Holy Communion help us activate this grace?"

"Holy Communion is meant to be received by those whose grace has already been activated, having purified the heart and been illumined. The deifying grace of Holy Communion that is received by those who have not been truly illumined is inactive until we are illumined. Holy Communion for those illumined aids in the process of glorification, otherwise known as deification or theosis."

"So until we are purified, we cannot be illumined, and until we are illumined we cannot be glorified?"

"Exactly. Let me illustrate this with a very simple example. Let's say there is a lamp next to you. The lamp is currently off, but it is plugged in and has a light bulb with the potential of giving light. Therefore you have there an inactive lamp. If you turn it on, it gives off lumination and becomes an active lamp."

"So what is the sign of a heart that has active grace, having been purified and illumined? How do we know?"

"How do we know a church, which is a temple, is active?"

"When people and a priest are there, and there is chanting and a service going on."

"Precisely. And this is how you know the grace of the Holy Spirit is active in your heart. When your heart becomes a priest and a chanter, this is a sign your heart is active. In other words, when the Holy Spirit liturgizes in the heart, then His grace is active in the heart, and our bodies truly become temples of the Holy Spirit, and a splendid temple indeed. St. Paul speaks of the priesthood of all believers. This is what he meant when he said all believers are priests, when we have the Holy Spirit liturgizing in our hearts."

"What exactly does this mean, the Holy Spirit liturgizing in the heart?"

"I was listening to a lecture recently by a well-known priest and theologian that passed away in 2001, Fr. John Romanides, and in this lecture a student asked him a similar question. He responded by telling him a personal story of a pilgrimage he once went on to the Holy Land with about forty-five other pilgrims. They went together to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Christ was crucified and rose from the dead. They were standing near the spot at the top of Golgotha where Christ was crucified, and they were all venerating the cross there and chanting. He said that when you go there, there is a beautiful fragrance, not from the incense only, but a spiritual fragrance that comes from the Holy Spirit, whose grace permeates the place. Now when they all venerated the cross and completed the chanting, Fr. John told the people to kneel and pray whatever was in their heart. Later that night someone from the group approached Fr. John and told him that when he was kneeling and praying on Golgotha, something happened to him that he never experienced before. He suddenly felt a sweet fire in his heart and the prayers in his heart were not coming from him but from someone else. He further said that at that moment he knew that no matter what he did, even if he held a conversation with someone, was working or was even sleeping, the praying that was being done in his heart would continue without interruption. Fr. John explained to him that this is exactly how the Fathers of the Church describe unceasing prayer, when the Holy Spirit is active in the heart of the human being and praying on their behalf.

This is the Holy Spirit liturgizing in the heart. Now you know your body is an active temple of the Holy Spirit. Now you are a priest of God in the true sense of the word, even if you are not technically ordained. You are now a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. You are now a member of the Body of Christ. In the Early Church, when someone was chrismated, it was a confirmation and a seal that they were now a member of the Body of Christ. It was a confirmation and a seal that the Holy Spirit was present and active in the heart. However, you must maintain this communion with the Holy Spirit by how you think, speak and live. Fr. John went on to explain that the gentleman this experience happened to very soon afterward lost what he had received. Who knows why exactly, but it happens. When you find the pearl of great price, you must hold on to it and guard it with your life, or else a thief will come and snatch it away from you."

"How exactly do you lose this active grace?"

"There are many ways. Fr. Romanides in the same lecture talks about a woman he knew who had the Holy Spirit praying in her heart unceasingly for about four or five years, but then it suddenly stopped when she judged and condemned someone. It never returned to her again. She would just simply say by herself the Prayer of the Heart, 'Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.' I also once heard an ascetic say that he at one time possessed this unceasing prayer of the heart for years, but thoughts of pride one day came to him which he entertained, and by this he lost it. In relating this story, you could see how disappointed he was in himself that he lost it and could not recover it. It just becomes more difficult once you acquire something so precious to regain it after you lose it. The Holy Spirit is only active in the heart and liturgizing when the heart is clean of all evil thoughts. We must cooperate with the Holy Spirit for Him to actively liturgize in our hearts. And when He does, we must be watchful and guard this treasure by any means necessary. Our Lord illustrated this when He said: 'If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off.' Of course, this should not be taken literally, but it is the mentality we should have. It's like the Parable of the Fig Tree. It could bear fruit in one moment, but if it dries up, and Christ is left hungry, then He curses the fig tree and it whithers away."

"You've given me a lot to think about. I've learned a lot. A lot of things suddenly make sense. Thank you for a most-illuminating conversation."