‘And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, who spoke through the prophets . . .’
We read this verse each time we recite the Creed, the Proclamation of our Orthodox Christian Faith. However, do we really know Who God the Spirit – the Third Person of the Holy and Consubstantial Trinity – is, and what His attributes or characteristics are?
The Creed itself characterises the Holy Spirit as the ‘Creator of Life,’ proceeding from God the Father. In the opening prayers of each Orthodox Christian service we affirm:
‘ O Heavenly King, Paraclete (the Comforter) the Spirit of Truth, Present everywhere, fillest all things, treasury of blessings and giver of life, come and dwell in us, cleanse us from every stain and O Good One save our souls.’
This frequently read prayer beautifully summarises not only Who the Holy Spirit is, but also His role in the life of each Christian. The Holy Spirit comforts and renews us, heals us and cleanses us. The ‘seal of the Holy Spirit’ (Eph 1:13) is granted to us at our Chrismation, and we are of course baptised in the name of the Holy and Life-Giving Spirit (along-with the Father and Son) as we are renewed in Christ. However, throughout our entire lives as Christians, we are called to invoke upon the Holy Spirit in prayer, in contemplation on God, as we grow, by His Grace, in virtue. (1 Cor 12)
We are told that the Virgin Mary will conceive a child ‘from the Holy Spirit.’ (Matt 1:20) In addition, Scripture shows us that if we keep the Lord’s commandments we ourselves become vessels of the Holy Spirit, that He abides in us. (1 John 3:24) The Spirit, is perhaps, slightly more difficult to identify or explain in the sense that He is immaterial, indivisible and incorporeal. However, He is certainly equally present and essential, for God ‘is spirit.’ (Jn 4:24) He is the Spirit of Truth, Who ‘proceeds from the Father’ (Jn 15:26) Who casts out evil ( Matt 12:28) Who, through our prayerful efforts, dwells in us (Jn 14:17) cleanses and purifies us in our Christian lives and witness. If we are to contemplate on the presence and gifts of the Holy Spirit we may think of the dove present at the Lord’s baptism – white, symbolising purity, freely gliding through our lives, guiding us and refreshing our very being, for ‘the Spirit breathes where He will.’ (Jn 3:8)
As the Bishop invokes the Holy Spirit during the service of ordination, the Hierarch prays that the Grace of the Holy Spirit may come upon the clergyman and that He, the Holy Spirit, may ‘heal that which is infirm and complete that which is lacking.’ Yet, again, we witness the Holy Spirit acting in a healing manner, perfecting our imperfections and blessing and completing us.
It is the Holy and life-giving Spirit Who offers us our individual gifts, talents, the various divinely inspired charismas (1 Cor 12:11) and ways in which we can serve Him and our neighbours in His love.
Though we are baptised into the body of Christ ‘with the Holy Spirit,’ (Acts 1:5) we are called to cultivate the life of the spirit in our hearts, for ‘if we acquire the spirit of peace…a thousand souls around you will be saved.’ (St Seraphim of Sarov)
With the coming of Christ, we witness the fullness of the Holy Spirit, fully revealed to us in the incarnation of the Word. The Holy Spirit fundamentally gives life, grace and preserves the living tradition and Apostolic succession of Christ’s body, the Church. Following the Resurrection of our Lord and through the descent and guidance of the Holy Spirit, He teaches His disciples to ‘ go and teach all nations…’ This Spirit is not an addition or simply a sign of God in our lives, He is God Himself (Acts 5:4 & 2 Cor 3:17)
Let us then call upon the Holy Spirit, as our Comforter, to abide in us as we grow in our faith, that He may strengthen us in our good fight (1 Tim 6:12) and enlighten and guide us on the path of salvation. St Symeon the New Theologian writes, ‘ “May the Holy Spirit fill us with His good spiritual scent, the fragrance of which is ineffable and whose exhalations are like odors of light.’