Posts Tagged holy spirit

St. Seraphim of Sarov: “The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God”

St Seraphim of Sarov (1754 – 1833) – is one of the most renowned Orthodox Russian saints. He is generally considered the greatest of the 19th-century startsy (elders). Seraphim extended the monastic teachings of asceticism, contemplation, and theosis to lay Christians.  He taught that the purpose of the Christian life was to acquire the Holy Spirit. Perhaps his most popular quotation amongst Orthodox believers is “Acquire a peaceful spirit, and thousands around you will be saved.”

Nikolay Motovilov was a disciple of St Seraphim and wrote down many of his conversations with the starets, including this famous Talk On the Purpose of the Christian Life, that took place in November 1831 in the forest near Sarov.  Motovilov’s account is considered one of the spiritual treasures of Russian Orthodoxy.

The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God

Click on the graphic or the blue hyperlink below to open the document:

Motovilov- Acquisition of the Holy Spirit

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Fr. Zacharias: “The Heart of Man”

Archimandrite Zacharias (Zacharou) , Ph. D., is a disciple of Elder Sophrony, who was a disciple of St. Silouan of Mount Athos. Presently, Fr. Zacharias is a monk in the Monastery founded by Elder Sophrony: The Monastery of St. John the Baptist, Tolleshunt Knights by Maldon, Essex, England.

Archimandrite-Zacharias“The heart is within our chest. When we speak of the heart, we speak of our spiritual heart which coincides with the fleshly one; but when man receives illumination and sanctification, then his whole being becomes a heart. The heart is synonymous with the soul, with the spirit; it is a spiritual place where man finds his unity, where his nous is enthroned when it has been healed of the passions. Not only his nous, but his whole body too is concentrated there. St. Gregory Palamas says that the heart is the very body of our body, a place where man’s whole being becomes like a knot. When mind [rational faculty] and heart [noetic faculty] unite, man possesses his [whole] nature and there is no dispersion and division in him any more. That is the sanctified state of the man who is healed.
On the contrary, in our natural and fallen state, we are divided: we think one thing with our mind, we feel another with our senses, we desire yet another with our heart. However, when mind and heart are united by the grace of God, then man has only one thought — the thought of God; he has only one desire — the desire for God; and only one sensation — the noetic sensation of God.”    ~ Very Rev. Archimandrite Zacharias (Zacharou)

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Essence and Energies of God – 1

taboric light

Thaboric Light

One of my main goals in writing is to discover and bring the ancient theology and doctrines of the early charismatic Christian church to the contemporary Charismatic Renewal Movement.

There is a clear disconnect between the doxis of Western Latin Christianity and the praxis of the contemporary Charismatic Renewal Movement which operates in the gifts and fruit of the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The Renewal Movement certainly has the basic praxis (how beliefs are practiced, embodied and realized in conduct) of the early charismatic Apostolic church, but does not have a corresponding supportive, complementary doxis (religious beliefs, worship, doctrines, and creeds) which explains and supports that praxis.

The world needs to see lives transformed, but it also needs to know why and how they have been transformed. To do this, the world must see a complementary balance of belief and action at work. But, just as vital, the world must see something else in mutual support and balance: orthodoxy and orthopraxis– that is, right belief and right action.

A key essential in an orthodoxy which supports a Renewal Movement (apostolic church) orthopraxis is an understanding of the Essence and Energies of God and the distinction between them. It is only in understanding Essence (transliterated ousía in Greek) and Energies (transliterated enérgeia in Greek) of God that we can reconcile the seeming paradox of the unknowable transcendence of God with the universal, yet very personal indwelling presence and power of God in all humankind.

Throughout this discussion, I will rely heavily on the writings of 20th century theologians including Vladimir Lossky, Christos Yannaras, and Fr. John Meyendorff. They, in turn, refer to the authority of many early Church Fathers including St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and St. Macarius the Great (all 4th century); St. Dionysius the Aeropagite (5th century); St. Maximus the Confessor (7th century); St. Symeon the New Theologian (11th century); and last, but not least, St. Gregory Pálamas (14th century). I make all of these citations so that the reader may understand that the theology and doctrines on the Essence and Energies of God are both ancient and continuously attested to throughout the Patristic literature up to this day. These citations also make it clear that none of what you are about to read is my original work or thoughts.

To be continued…

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St. Symeon: “…by what other means can he ever obtain salvation? By no means!”

 

St. Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022) was absolutely insistent that every believer must receive a second baptism, the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  It is not to be confused with ritual Orthodox Chrismation.

 

St_ Symeon the New Theologian

 

“… ‘John Baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit’.  If one is ignorant of the Baptism wherewith he was baptized as a child and does not even realize that he was baptized, but only accepts it by faith and then wipes it away with thousands upon thousands of sins, and if he denies the second Baptism – I mean, that which is through the Spirit, given from above by the loving-kindness of God to those who seek it by penitence – by what other means can he ever obtain salvation?  By no means!”  ~ The Discourses. XXXII

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Nous (νοῦς) – “…the highest faculty in man” 3

“… the noetic energy that functions in the heart of a person that is spiritually healthy.”

Originally, “nous” was understood by ancient (pre-Christian) Greek philosophers, most notably Plato and Aristotle, as man’s highest intellectual faculty. By intellectual faculty, the ancient Greeks did not mean the ability to reason things out to a logical conclusion, but rather the intuitive and immediate grasp of the reality of things. To them, “nous” was more of a direct contact between mind and truth.

The Church Fathers borrowed the term “nous” from Greek philosophy and gave it a distinctive Christian meaning.  They used it to refer to the noetic energy that functions in the heart of a person that is spiritually healthy. The “nous” can be used to explain another borrowed concept from philosophy, the Logos Doctrine of the church.  Second century Christian apologist Justin Martyr used the spermatikos logos (“seed” of the Word) to explain the universal indwelling presence of the Logos, the Word, or Son of God the Father within every human being (cf. the prologue to the Gospel of John, vv. 1:1-18). The idea of the “nous” also evolved over time among the Fathers.  Early use of the term can be ambiguous as some early Fathers used the word “nous” when they were referring to the reasoning rational mind.

According to Orthodox theologian Fr. Michael Pomazansky (in his book, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology), it was the teaching of the overwhelming majority of the Church Fathers that the phrase ‘Image of God’ (cf. Genesis 1:26) refers to man’s soul, more precisely to the highest faculty of the soul, the “nous”.  So, man is the “Image” by virtue of the spiritual nature of his “nous”.  One common comparison made among patristic writers illustrates the relationship between body and the healthy “nous”.  The analogy is that of the body being similar to a horse and the “nous” to the rider guiding and controlling the animal to move in the direction he would have it go.

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St. Symeon: “We bear witness that ‘God is light’…”

St. Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022) was a 10th century mystic monk. His many direct experiences of God (theoría) convinced him that all Christians must have an actual baptism of the Holy Spirit in addition to the ritualized water baptism and chrismation of the church.

His mystical experiences also taught him that God is always received in the form of divine light. Symeon wrote about that light and its power to transform:

 

St_ Symeon the New Theologian“It shines on us without evening, without change, without alteration, without form. It speaks, works, lives, gives life, and changes into light those whom it illuminates. We bear witness that “God is light,” and those to whom it has been granted to see Him have all beheld Him as light. Those who have seen Him have received Him as light, because the light of His glory goes before Him, and it is impossible for Him to appear without light. Those who have not seen His light have not seen Him, for He is the light, and those who have not received the light have not yet received grace. Those who have received grace have received the light of God and have received God, even as Christ Himself, who is the Light, has said, “I will live in them and move among them.” (2 Cor. 6:16) Discourses, No. XXVIII

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Nous (νοῦς) – “…the highest faculty in man” 5

“The aim is to restore the pre-Fall health of the ‘nous’…” 

St. John of Damascus (8th century) says that the “nous” is the eye of the soul. The essence of the soul is the heart (kardia). The “nous” is that part of the soul that sees things most clearly and so it is important that it be purified of any impediment. When the healthy “nous”, the purest noetic power of the soul, is returned to its rightful place in the heart, it is then again capable of experiencing God’s presence through grace. It is this unification or return of the “nous” to the heart that constitutes the cure of the “nous”.

In “Orthodox Psychotherapy“, Hierotheos (Vlachos) speaks of the Church as a hospital which exists to heal those who are sick with sin. That is, to restore to health the diseased and dissipated “nous”, made sick by the “Fall”.  The first step is to guard and protect the “nous” so that it can realize its origin in the “Image of God”.  Then it can begin to be purified and restored to its intended role of leading the entire human being in “attaining to the likeness of God (cf. Gen. 1:26), or “deification” (theosis).  In order to restore the diseased “nous” to this healthy state, it must first pass through a stage of purification. The church’s therapeutic work takes place in this stage of purification.

The “nous” can only be purified with the help of the Holy Spirit. For this reason, it is imperative that every believer be baptized in the Holy Spirit (cf. St. Symeon the New Theologian) and experience His indwelling presence. Through a regimen of self-discipline called ascesis (borrowed from the Greek word askesis, meaning athletic exercise or training), the “nous” can be purified and eventually healed. This only happens as a result of our active cooperation (synergeía) in this work with the Holy Spirit. The first result of this healing of the “nous” is a state which is called dispassion (apatheia) or a release of the “nous” from the influence and distraction of human passions and emotion. Real theology (i.e., a mystical experience of God) is another result, as are an authentic self-knowledge and an accompanying sense of freedom and joy.

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Secular “psychology” can only help you cope: only God can deliver and cure.

The word “psychology” literally means, “study of the soul” (it is made up of two Greek words: ψυχή, psukhē, meaning “soul”; and -λογος – logos, meaning “study of”).

The fact that we are tri-partite (three-part) beings, consisting of “spirit”, “soul”, and “body” is well attested to in the New Testament (cf. 1 Thess. 5:23; Heb. 4:12) and in the writings of the early Fathers (e.g., Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Basil of Cesaraea).

Jesus identified many psychological issues in his teachings that we now might term “denial”, “defense mechanisms”, “projections”, and “inner healing”.  The Apostle Paul was certainly deeply involved in the transformation of the fallen human “soul” and “body” through the power and influence of the “Spirit” of God.  There are many additional New Testament examples of psychological teachings, both in the Gospels and the Epistles.

The actual term “psychology” was first used in writing during the Enlightenment of the 16th century.  The modern science of psychology is brand new, emerging in Europe in the 1870’s, with its super-hero, Sigmund Freud, starting his work in the 1890’s. I know that seems odd, given that “psychology” is such a familiar and popular part of our secular culture of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. But, as a science, it really is brand new, relatively speaking.

The problem with contemporary secular psychology is that, at most, it only deals with two parts of a human being; the body and, perhaps, parts of the soul. With few exceptions, the secular study of psychology virtually ignores the spiritual aspect of humanity. It suffers the modern bias for what can be observed and measured through the five senses, relegating all else (such as spirit), to the intellectual dumpster of superstition and/or imagination.

And that is why I maintain that modern psychology can only help you “cope” with problems, it cannot “deliver” us from them or “cure” them. Secular psychology only deals with two of the three variables of the equation; our fallen “body” and “soul”. It arrogantly ignores the most important element of our being, the “spirit”. Therein lies the healing cure for these problems; the power of the “Spirit” to transform both the soul and the body to align and conform our entire being to the perfect will of God. Only God can truly heal, cure, and deliver us from psychological afflictions.

This is not “new” news, folks.  This is ancient Christian teaching that is largely being ignored or shouted down by contemporary secular “science”.

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Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not

The beginning of the first century AD saw the rapid rise of the Roman Imperial Cult. This religious cult was based upon the proclaimed divinity of Augustus Caesar (c.62 BC – 14 AD / Reigned 31 BC – 14 AD) and subsequent Roman Emperors. This Imperial Cult was a unifying political and religious factor across the whole Roman Empire in the first century. The emergence of the Imperial Cult preceded, but also developed with, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The earliest written Christian records we have are the Letters of St. Paul from the mid-first century. A good summary of the theme of his gospel message is contained in the Letter to the Romans Chapter 1, Verses 3 &4: “…concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead…”.

In the opinion of British theologian N.T. Wright, “Despite the way Protestantism has used the phrase (making it denote, as it never does in Paul, the doctrine of justification by faith), for Paul “the gospel” is the announcement that the crucified and risen Jesus of Nazareth is Israel’s Messiah and the world’s Lord.”

Wright goes on to explain that Paul’s euangelion, his gospel (Good News) message, was every bit as much a confrontational and subversive political proclamation as it was a religious one: “Paul was announcing that Jesus was the true King of Israel and hence the true Lord of the world, at exactly the time in history, and over exactly the geographical spread, where the Roman emperor was being proclaimed, in what styled itself a “gospel”, in very similar terms.”

Later, Wright applies Paul’s gospel message to his [Paul’s] vision for the ekklesia, the church. His basis for this comes from Chapter 3 of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. Wright tells us: “We may begin with 3.20.  “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await the Saviour, the Lord Jesus, the Messiah”. These are Caesar-titles. The whole verse says: Jesus is Lord, and Caesar isn’t. Caesar’s empire, of which Philippi is a colonial outpost, is the parody; Jesus’ empire, of which the Philippian church is a colonial outpost, is the reality.”

Wright goes on to discuss the implications of Paul’s vision of this empire of Jesus: “if Paul’s answer to Caesar’s empire is the empire of Jesus, what does that say about this new empire, living under the rule of its new lord? It implies a high and strong ecclesiology, in which the scattered and often muddled cells of women, men and children loyal to Jesus as Lord form colonial outposts of the empire that is to be: subversive little groups when seen from Caesar’s point of view, but when seen Jewishly an advance foretaste of the time when the earth shall be filled with the glory of the God of Abraham and the nations will join Israel in singing God’s praises.”

Paul’s vision for this ekklesia, as subversive colonial outposts of the coming empire of Jesus, could not be realized after a series of events in the fourth century.  In AD 313 Constantine the Great issued the Edict of Milan, a proclamation of religious tolerance that officially ended the persecution of Christians.  The Christian Church greatly increased in power and influence in the fourth century under Imperial patronage.  The Church quickly became fully integrated into the political and cultural fabric of the Roman Empire, culminating with The Edict of Thessalonica, also known as Cunctos populos, issued on 27 Feb 380, by Roman Emperor Theodosius I.  This edict ordered all subjects of the Roman Empire to profess the faith of the bishops of Rome and Alexandria. The edict officially made Nicene Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire.

And the Church has been “sleeping with the enemy”, the world’s domination systems and institutions, for the entire 1,700 years since.  This is Christendom.  This is not the vision of the ekklesia of the Apostle Paul.

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Why is Theology Important?

What is our theology?  Is it based on a world-view that God is good and the universe is good?  Is God ambivalent, aloof and un-involved in a neutral, Newtonian physics-driven universe? Is God angry and vengeful over our sin, waiting to throw us into the pit of hell in a threatening, violent universe?

 Does our theology promote a search for spiritual understanding? Or does our theology seek security and certainty in dualistic yes/no, either/or, right/wrong answers to spiritual questions?

 Is our theology based on a big God who is broad, expansive, and inclusive in dealing with man?  Or is God small, exclusive, and tribal, belonging to this group (e.g., Jews) or that (e.g., Baptists), with everybody else on the outside looking in?

 Is our theology built from a viewpoint of God’s relationship with man (as experienced and recorded in Scripture and Tradition)?  Or is it based on man’s rational concepts of God based on Scripture and philosophical speculation?

 These are the types of questions theology asks and this is why theology is important.  It is the foundation of how we experience and relate to God and the universe.  It is the reason that God gave each human being a fully functioning nous (mind, intuitive conscience, spiritual intellect) to discover and use. 

Theology is important because it ain’t necessarily so just because grandpa or somebody behind a pulpit said it’s so.

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