I am going to speak today of the Holy Spirit, centring our discussion on the event of Pentecost, Whit Sunday; but I would like to preface the remarks I have got to make about it, by a few things. There are 4 events which stand out in the Old and the New Testament, as the coming of the Holy Spirit, the breathing of God, the power and manifestation of God, which I think we must somehow connect together, if we wish to understand, not only the single event of Pentecost, but also the relationship there is between us and the Holy Spirit. The first record we find, is that of Genesis 11th, the tower of Babel and the confusion of tongues; the second one which I want to bring to your attention is the giving of the Law on Sinai, and then I would like to connect together and to contrast the two gifts of the Holy Spirit to the eleven, the disciples guarded in the house of John Mark, on the first day of Christ’s Resurrection, and the gift of the Holy Spirit on Whit Sunday to the twelve, to the Mother of God, to innumerable disciples and later on to all those who believed, as we can see from Acts 19th which is a classical passage of the Confirmation service of the West.
First of all, these (this?) [meeting] of God and His people, as it appears in the 11th chapter of Genesis: “And the whole earth was of one language and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shi-nar; and they dwelt there. And they said to another: Go, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly. And they had bricks for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And they said, Go, let us build us a city, and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven, and let us make us a name lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And then the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men build. And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel, because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth; and from thence did the Lord scattered them abroad upon the face of all the earth”. The connection of this passage to the event of Pentecost is obviously a confusion of tongues, in Genesis 11th and the gift of tongues as a gift of the Spirit recorded in the first chapter of Acts. If we take the story for what it means, not only as an event of history, but also as an event with significance, we see the people born from the old patriarchs, moved upon the face of the earth; they come to a place on the land of Shi-nar, they dwell there, but their journey has been from the rising sun to the setting of the sun, they have turn their back on the sun and they have journeyed towards darkness, and in this process, having turn their back on the uncreated light, and moved towards the darkness of createdness, they seem to have moved in a way which is opposite to that of the creative act of God. If you look up the first chapter of Genesis, you will see that every day begins with darkness and move towards a greater light. This is perhaps a more interesting feature of the chapter than which arouses so much discussion as were there was seven days or seven epochs; it has been, an unfolding of the universe, dark to begin with, without form, void darkness upon the face of the deep and upon the face of the deep, the Spirit of God moves upon the face of the waters, and every step of creation is a movement from evening to morning. This has been kept liturgically by the observance of Vespers, looking towards the coming day, and not simply concluding the day that has past. The whole picture of creation in the book of Genesis as one of unfolding things that come to light, things that were kept in darkness, in the secrecy, in the unfoldedness of the mind of the Creator. And here they journey in the opposite way, and they intend to build a city and a tower whose top may reach unto heaven, and that in order to make themselves a name. Here again, we find a parallel between the rebellion of the angels as recorded in the various traditional stories and this event. The archangel that stands for victory, that becomes the head of the angelic hosts is Michel, whose name means ‘none but God’; he is the one who affirms that there is no other name before whom all knee should bent, none. And this affirmation of his is, as it were, identified with his person, here again we find the opposite: let us make a name, a name for ourselves, that will compete with the Name of God; a city and a tower whose top may reach unto heaven. And the oneness that was possible before, the oneness of the children of man, that had been rooted in that gradual unfolding of the created world, from darkness into light, from a light which was darkness with compare to the next revelation, is now come to an end. And even the act of creation seems to be set aside, let us take bricks for stones; they want to create their own material, it is no longer God’s own world: they want to build their own world, the world of the children of men become independent; but independent means also, cut off. And the Lord comes down and He sees the spirit of men, and He brakes up visibly what is already broken up invisibly. Because the moment it is no longer the name of God which is the only Name, whenever it is not the creation of God in its harmony that is held together by their allegiance, by their obedience, by their worship, by their joy in the creation, there can be only a braking up of this creation; and this braking up is made evident in the confusion of tongues. Much later, in the book of Exodus, we find the story which you know so well, of the giving of the Law. There men meet God; they have been a very long way since the day of the tower of Babel. They have been scattered, and then they have come together in new combinations of families, of tribes, and of people. They have outgrown at times these oppositions that have become natural, they have learned one another tongues. And they have found in the course of all this long process of history, beyond the words that are unlike, that do no longer convey the same meaning to people, a common language, rooted in their humanity, an understanding of man for man, as we can see from so many audiences from the Old Testament. They have been slaves as a result of their separatedness, and now, they stand again before the eyes of God. And a Law is given to them, a Law which is not a final Law, a Law which is a first limitation of man’s rebelliousness, of man’s anarchy, God is set at the centre of things “I am the Lord, thy God, and thou shall have no other gods before me, thou shalt not make unto thee any engraved image, thou shall not bow down thyself nor serve them”. Is not this the counterpart of what happened in the plain of Shi-nar? When each of them wanted to build this tower to the glory of their own name, and in a way, to displace God’s glory by the glory of man. Here we are brought back to the only possible relationship between men, which is rooted into the worship of the one God, and then the various ordinances, which you know so, the ordinances that protect the life, the wealth and the honour of your neighbour; these ordinances that are half way between the anarchical attitude of men without God, and the Gospel. Remember the words of the law: tooth for tooth and eye for eye, which so often are shown as manifesting how unsatisfactory the law was, but turn back to what man says, when there is no God about him: when he is his own judge, turn back to Lamech: I have slain a man for a wound, a young man for a hurt and if Cain will be avenged seven folds, truly Lamech seventy and seven folds. This is the power of man in his anger, of man unrestrained, of man who has become his own God, who once offended knows no limit to his hatred and sets no limits to his vengeance. Half way between the Old and the New Testament, or rather half way between this man and the man of the New Testament, we find the law that will be fulfilled and outgrown by the commandment of Christ, which is at the exact opposite of Lamech’s words. How often says Peter, should we forgive those who offend us? — Unto seventy time seven. Here again God has come to his people, but this time He has come to bring them the law, to bring them peace, to bind them into a human harmony, which is far yet from being God’s own kingdom. Justice, that prepares the way to love and checks violence. And this meeting is a meeting full of fear, full of dread. Mt. Sinai is covered in smoke and of thunder storm; the Jews, down below, in the sunlight plain are in terror of the manifestation of their God. And in an act of perfect trust, that is of faith, Moses enters the dark cloud, he abandons the seeming security of the plain, where his people are awaiting him, the security of the world as it is when God has not made his intrusion into it, in the world of man, and he enters into the place where no one is present, and this darkness, once he has entered into it, becomes the light of the glory of God. Men have become exterior to God to such an extent that they can see Him as an outsider, a mystery and a fear. He is darkness seen from the outside, and now He appears as light to the man who has entered into the mystery. This is the second meeting of God, of the Spirit of God, of God invisible, unsearchable, with his people. And then we find in the 20th chapter according to St. John, and in the very beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, two events which are linked together and yet different from one another. In the 20th chapter in St. John, an event occurs which some theologians have called the Johanian Pentecost, the Pentecost according to St. John. And then in the second chapter of Acts, the event of Pentecost, which we all remember and which we all mean when we speak of the gift of the Holy Spirit. When Christ had appeared to his Apostles on the first evening of his resurrection, his first words were ‘Peace unto you’. ‘As my Father has send me, even so do I. send you’. And when He had said this He breathed on them and said unto them ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost’. None of the Apostles received it in any peculiar way, none of them seem to have received it as a personal gift. The gift is given in the plural, they receive it in their oneness. They possess it in their togetherness, no one is in possession of it, no one can handle it as it were. On that first day, on that first evening, Thomas, one of the twelve was not with them when Jesus came, and when a week later Jesus appears, this time not to the ten but to the eleven, when Thomas makes his profession of faith ‘My Lord and my God’ he is not given a measure of the Holy Spirit, or the Holy Spirit altogether, as if he had not received it together with the others, as if he was not in possession of something which the others had. This gift of the Holy Spirit is beyond the individual. Here Christ gives it to the Church, to those are the Church at that particular moment and who ever enters into the apostolic circle, enters also in possession of this gift or rather, he also becomes one of those, who can in the power of the Spirit, act in the Church for God. We see something profoundly different on the day of Pentecost. Yet, one feature links the two events: they were all, with one accord, in one place. This oneness that had made them capable of receiving the Spirit of God was manifest at that particular moment. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as a mighty rushing wind, it filled all the house where they were sitting and there appeared unto them cloven tongues, like as fire and it set upon each of them and they were filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak with tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Here, as we can see, not only on classical icons, but on any painting representing the event, these cloven tongues of fire, rest on each of the Apostles. If, in the first place of which I have spoken, the gift is possessed in common, here, each of the Apostles enters into a personal, unique relationship with the Spirit of God, given, offered, but also received. They can receive the Holy Spirit individually, because they belong to a body which is the body of Christ and which can contain the Holy Spirit in his oneness and in its entirety. And now how does the Holy Spirit manifest itself? First of all, these men are quickened, they come to life, new depths are manifested in them. When this was noticed abroad, the multitude came together and were confounded and they were all amazed and in doubt, saying to one another, what means this? And others, mocking, said: these men are full of new wine. And there is a passage in the Epistle to the Galatians which should be said in parallel to this remark: yes, to be possessed of, to be filled with the Holy Spirit in a way, is a state of drunkenness. It is a state in which the Apostles, and after them other people came to life to such a degree, in such a way, as others achieve only by loosing their sense, the mysteries of Dionysus aimed at it in ancient Greece, wine aims at it; to be beyond oneself, and these men because they were beyond themselves, they had grown out of their limitations into being, renewed people, people renewed in their relationship with Christ and in relationship with the Spirit, these people began to speak, and they spoke to every men its own language. I am not now insisting on the gift of tongues as a miracle, but as something which is almost as miraculous, the ability which these few men, born in Galilee, brought up as peasants and fishermen, the ability which these men manifested of speaking to every single human being they met, in such a way, that they understand. As one of the later writers of the Russian Church said: they acquire the language of the Holy Spirit that speaks from heart to heart and has meaning; meaning almost beyond the words, almost apart from the words, that reaches out into the very core of a human soul. And now who is this Spirit whom the Apostles received? You remember the beginning of the Gospel according to saint John, and the conversation between Christ and Nicodemus. The Spirit can be known, yet he cannot be defined. The word which Christ uses in this conversation is an ordinary word, which we have made into a theological term. That which is born from the flesh is flesh, that which is born from the spirit is spirit; the wind bloweth where it listeth and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and where it goeth. The Spirit is the blowing of the wind, the wind you hear the sound thereof, you perceive its touch, you are aware of it, and yet, it remains unsearchable, unseizable, and yet, in a sense, it is more certain than any other manifestation of God. Remember what St. Mark’s Gospel tells us: that every blasphemy can be forgiven, not that of the Holy Spirit, every blasphemy of the Son of Man, because the Son of Man is a manifestation, is a presence of God who remains outer to us. As the Epistle to the Cor. teaches us we can recognise in the Prophet of Galilee, the Incarnate Son of God only we be (?) taught by the Holy Spirit. Seen as a man in history, He can be misunderstood, He can be mistaken, He can be blasphemed, in good faith. The Spirit is not an outer manifestation, we do not know Him as the other one, outside us; if we know Him at all, we know Him only through a direct experience, and if we deny this experience, no one can put us right; indeed no one can forgive us, because we are denying what we know, not misinterpreting what we do not understand. The Spirit can be known to us personally by each of us in a way which is unique, as each of us is unique. He is known as the blowing of the wind or not known at all. He cannot be mistaken or confused and He is the Spirit of Truth. And the Truth begins at this experience and a truthful behaviour with regard to this experience. And it reveals to us whatever is within the Truth, He reveals Christ as the Word of God, as the manifestation and the affirmation of all that God stands for and is. It reveals the depth and meaning of what Christ has said. He will take of my own, says Christ, He reveals Him as the Truth not a Truth; or not truth about Him, but about the Truth personal, alive, saving. He reveals us to ourselves. He is the Spirit of Sonship, that in unutterable groanings speaks within our heart, and teaches us to call God, Abba, Father. He reveals us even the depth divine. Again, as one of the Epistles says, that the Spirit searches and reveals to us even the depth of God and yet remains unrevealed otherwise than through those who receive Him. The Father is revealed in the Son; the Son is revealed by the Spirit; the Spirit proceeding from the Father, sent and given by the Son, is revealed; only within the creatures who receive Him and who shine back with this divine light.
Well, these are a few things which I wanted to say concerning the descent of the Holy Spirit and his person. I know that I have left unsaid many things, more things than I have said, but perhaps in the discussion which we can have, we will be able to find more.
Question: Going against our conscience is it not blaspheming the Holy Spirit?
Answer: God has been extraordinary merciful to us not to reveal more than He has about blaspheming the Holy Spirit. For one thing it had saved us to fall into despair at every moment, but it has also saved us from knowing that every one of our neighbour is blaspheming the Holy Spirit. And I think that one should not identify our conscience with the Holy Spirit. Our conscience is the place perhaps were God is at work most manifestly, where He speaks more loudly than anywhere else; where He prompts us more than anywhere, but our conscience is not the Holy Spirit, and sure enough, when we trample on it, we do ourselves harm and we take a stand against God, but to a degree which I think we cannot measure… It is still disobedience more than blasphemy….
Q: How can we hear the Holy Spirit? If we ask really why are we not answered where the Truth is and where is the right path? It is not always clear to see…
A: I think that the Truth is not something that one can just formulate for one objectively as one would about truth of the scientific order, geography, mathematics: it is these, it is objective. The truth concerning God is something which we can perceive only to the extent to which we can receive it. Even if we were shown it, we would not see it or take it when we are not prepared for it. The same is true perhaps in another way on the human level, about things like love, beauty and so on. You can be shown beauty and remain completely blind to it; until, one day, something happens to you and you become perceptive. The same is true about love, about other things probably. And I think this — I am not really answering your question now — but this is also I think why so many things are put in parables in Scripture. Because a parable is understandable in degrees; depth and integrity of your understanding will depend on the depth of your experience and of your ability to understand.
I have read lately in a dictionary that a parable is an open curb with two focuses; one which is visible, because it is the proximate one, and the other one which is invisible because it is at the infinite; and it is exactly what a parable is, because the infinite is not a place to which you can reach. The curb is there to signify: do not look for a centre here, rather than there; look for it anywhere. It gives you one focus which you can see and which you can know and the rest will depend on how far you can see. The more short-sighted you are, the less your eye is at the infinite as it were. It is one of the greatest acts of charity which God has made, because if you are given a parable and have just the understanding you can possess, you are always safe as it were; if you possess more knowledge than you are capable of applying, you are torn and you take a responsibility by poking your nose into more knowledge than you can afford, for the amount of knowledge you have. If you understand that, why do not you do it !? (kind of thing) and it seems to me that in this process, the Holy Spirit is active, the whole world is a parable; we are constantly in a situation where there is an obvious focus and a possible understanding, and at every moment God tries to show us something through every situation, every passage of Scripture, but also through every person or every letter or every event of life, and yet He leads us where to? To the infinite, not to a place. You cannot come to a place and say, there it is, that is the Truth, because the essence of the thing is — it seems so obvious to me from the Gospel — the Truth is never something you can define, it is Someone. I mean it is God Himself, it is Reality itself and you can be lead towards it and indeed the Holy Spirit does hear. He is constantly unfolding; it is always: ‘Oh, I am in the light’ and then you discover that this light is darkness when you come into the next light and the next one, and so on; I should think “ad infinitum”. He is in the process of unfolding both us and the Truth; but to unfold the Truth to us, he must unfold us to the Truth, because there are things which we can understand with our brain or rather imagine that we do understand, and when we experience them personally we see it has absolutely nothing with what we thought it would be. We had a perfectly adequate vision of things, but it was adequate to one sort of circle or level of things, and so untrue on another level, so that it seems to me as for instance in the Epistles of Saint Paul, that there is a complex process in which the Holy Spirit works on us, do something to us and when, something has happened to us He confronts us with the Truth and we see how it has widened again, or it has changed again.
A: The prophet is not primarily one who foretells, but one who speaks for God. The word prophet means one who speaks pro: for. You can see in Amos or Hosea, that a prophet is a man with whom God shares his intention and I think this is a very interesting definition, because a prophet is not a medium, a prophet is not someone who, in a state of trance of any kind, receives from God an impact, and, as a result, speaks what he does not understand. There is a certain amount of it when, you read the prophecies, for a variety of reasons; it is basically a relationship between him and God which results into his speaking for God; the way he speaks may be rather complex and difficult, because of other reasons, the problem of communication and the problem of expressing the inexpressible experience; but the will of the prophet remains an independent and a free will who receives God and even if the prophet seems to be acted upon, he is acted upon as someone who has surrendered, not as someone who has forced into a situation and has been made prisoner of a situation.