The Holy Spirit
in our daily struggle
Father Matta El-Meskeen (Matthew the Poor)
We here continue the research Father Matta has written in 1975, on the efforts the Holy Spirit do to embellish our spirits with His glory.
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The Holy Spirit and Righteous Works
E ARE SANCTIFIED THROUGH CHRIST, IN CHRIST. No man far from Christ or without Christ can be designated as saint “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3:27).
It is therefore “Christ’s holiness” that is attributed to his children. They don it over their nakedness, over their shame and are thus saints and righteous. No one is a saint through his own self or by his works, because no good deed exists before God without Christ “And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, provided that you continue in the faith” (Col 1: 21-23).
Yet Christ’s holiness cannot be added on to us without the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is primarily the beginning of everything. In baptism it causes a superior and mysterious cleansing extremely profound and preponderant. It is a cleansing that delves deeply into nature in its ancient form, removing from it death’s curse and its odor, offering it the power of life eternal. Because the Holy Spirit cleanses man through Christ’s death and anoints him through the ointment of His mysterious resurrection. He thus comes out of the baptismal font a different sanctified creation in Christ the Lord. “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11). (Cleansing refers to the body, justification to the soul, and sanctity to the spirit).
The origin of a saint’s sanctity is therefore but Christ’s death and resurrection gradually transplanted by the Holy Spirit from Christ’s nature into our own nature in an unspoken mystery through faith, repentance, baptism, each Holy Communion, and every Bible reading till we completely change in form with Christ becoming our life “For me to live is Christ” (Phil 1:21), “that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith” (Eph 3:17).
Thus sanctity is Christ’s greatest gift. It is the dwelling of Christ in the heart through faith. His death annihilates our sins and His life renews our creation (recreates us).
Sanctity in Christ is a complete gift. Finally, and after the fulfillment of every mystery it embraces all man’s being in body, soul, and spirit, because it is an internal action, a great and complete Divine act ending by attaining the level of a perfect creation fit to appear before God without blame!
“May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it” (1 Thess 5:23, 24).
This is the outstanding mystery of sanctification that the Holy Spirit “Itself” performs applying it intrinsically in man’s nature, but without man’s material or conscious feeling, which occurs through faith, the Gospel, and within the sacraments of the Church!
Remaining of this sanctification mystery is another sanctification, a completing sanctification, the Holy Spirit fulfills by man himself through his righteous works! “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1).
Meaning that following God’s sanctification of us, through His adoption of us in his Son and through the Holy Spirit, a free total sanctification through grace “since we have these promises” God goes back and openly asks us to struggle the good struggle at the level of the body and spirit against any sin touching the purity of body or spirit “let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit”. Then rise by this struggle to the level of saintly acts such as praying without show, fasting without pride, studying the gospel word with a spiritual consciousness and fear, and perseverance in true brotherly love by participating in Holy Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ in justification of a pure heart, and the service of sacrifice and martyrdom in due time; in a few words, “make holiness perfect in the fear of God.” Here good actions are not the beginning or basis of holiness but as the apostle says, an inevitable perfection of it. So that if the good actions cease or are neglected the sanctification that was given to us in Christ through the Holy Spirit is not complete, nay it becomes useless.
Moreover God finds that perfecting the holiness required of us through righteous works, which he benevolently started in us, is not easy nor does it not need cautiousness and care. For it is extremely dangerous requiring ‘great trepidation and fear’ so as not to be transformed into pride and boasting, or into dead, routine-like acts not leading in consequence to a true sanctification of the body, soul and spirit i.e. unity in Christ, but instead to flattery and then the fall.
The backing of the Holy Spirit in our acts ‘to make holiness perfect in the fear of God’ is thus of greatest danger and importance for our salvation. The Holy Spirit greatly loves righteous works, suggesting and prompting us to it, offering us perseverance and vigor, helping us in weakness, teaching us what we should pray for, interceding for our ignorance and unawareness of unuttered complaints. Because the Holy Spirit alone knows the saints’ needs, and what their concerns should be and that which spirit needs to complete sanctification!
Yet we must realize that righteous works, the works to fulfill holiness, are not human works, nor are they the experiences of strong hermit groups suggested by them. They are created by the Holy Spirit and are the urgent solicitations of grace emanating from Christ’s efforts. They are gospel commandments and are God’s hidden work in the hearts of the righteous: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10).
Thus good works are they themselves the works of the Holy Spirit, works of holiness, of sanctification. They emanate from Christ who made His whole life ‘a good work’ for our sakes. For that reason the Lord says: “For apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). He paved the way by preparing all the required good works for us to fulfill our holiness and unity in Him, not works to be offered without effort, because he says: “that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10), i.e. through many and obstinate hardships, pain, wars, and resistance. But Christ also preceded and offered us the Holy Spirit “the Comforter” provider of power “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8). It is He who can make our efforts, vigil and sufferings an unprecedented comfort, because the nature of the Holy Spirit transforms the nature of pain to gratification, joy and the triumph of holiness: “For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom 8: 36, 37).
Becoming a saint without blame before God is thus an outcome of Christ’s direct work in human nature depending mainly and totally on faith in Christ, the baptism for His death, and His resurrection and an acceptance of the Holy Spirit: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph 1: 3, 4), so that everyone of us may personally receive Christ’s holiness and preserve it and perfecting it day by day till the echelon of life and martyrdom the Holy Spirit’s support of righteous works becomes an inevitable requirement: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (Rom 13:11). “Let us ... make holiness perfect in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1). “Show yourself in all respects a model of good deeds” (Tit 2:7).
Works of holiness may seem to most as an overdoing and excessive worship or piety as it suffices, from their point of view, just to do no evil. But God’s commandment asserts it as an obligation: “As he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, ‘you shall be holy, for I am holy’ ” (1 Pet 1:15, 16). Because holiness “without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14).
It is known that the commandment in the Old Testament was written with letters on stone (in allusion to the hardened heart) while it was written in the New Testament by the Holy Spirit in the heart of flesh. It is the Holy Spirit that commands holiness and portrays all its works in the conscience.
As much as man’s members are overcome and enslaved by sinful carnal appetites due to the weakness of the flesh they become, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, its terrific power and persistent prodding in the heart, able and ready to become subjugated with great joy and happiness to the works of holiness: “I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once yielded your members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification” (Rom 6:19). Holiness here is works, practice and effort (struggle).
This reference to the devil is extremely obvious in expressing the subjugation of the members of man’s body to iniquity to the point of burning. Also the allusion to the Holy Spirit is clear in the transformation from the members’ subjection to iniquity to a subjection to righteousness and sanctification, as the Holy Spirit elevates the level of willpower to accept righteous works with joy in their fulfillment and great love to the degree of worship! It is as if the whole heart has become a treasure for every good thought and every righteous act and attempt, an endless treasure through the work of the Holy Spirit renewed within it. “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good” (Lk 6:45).
Note that here alluding to the heart in its description as a treasure is an indirect expression of its mystery becoming a dwelling for the Holy Spirit, even though the Holy Spirit is described according to ecclesiastic tradition as “The treasure of righteous deeds”. Yet, even after the heart is sanctified by the Holy Spirit, and has become the treasure of righteous deeds, it remains important to get the good deeds in the heart into action, lest the heart loses its divine state as “the treasure of righteous deeds”. Because if the treasure is not used it becomes the same as the coin hidden in the earth (Lk 19:21-27), (the earth being the earthly flesh that sealed off the gift of the Spirit ‘faith’ and as a result did not produce a righteous work).
It behooves me to repeat over and over again to the reader that it is impossible and in no way can the heart without its righteous treasure, i.e. without the power of the Holy Spirit and its light, realize righteousness on its own: “All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one” (Rom 3:12), “for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13).
As soon as man accepts the Holy Spirit following its guidance, power and light, he becomes a person able to fulfill righteousness. This good action is counted to him righteous as if it were the person’s personal work emanating from the essence of his own will and faith. This is Christ’s humility and the Holy Spirit’s renouncement as each gives up His basic role in producing the righteous work out of man’s heart to be implemented and fulfilled so as to be completely counted as man’s, as if it were the result of his own personal effort, and his own will and faith alone. Man’s expression before God being: “For all things come from thee, and of thy own have we given thee” (1 Chron 29:14). According to the words of Mass: “The offerings we offer You are from Your own.”
The Holy Spirit and Self Denial
GOOD WORKS ARE DANGEROUS because they allow a weak soul to mistakenly believe that it is the source of the deed, and consequently the source of righteousness, while the deed is one thing and righteousness is something else. The good treasure that remains in the heart making it righteous, giving it the power of righteous work is God Himself, the Holy Spirit ‘the only treasure to righteousness’, “Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good” (Matt 19:17).
God is the cause of righteousness, the origin of holiness, and its primary and final reason, not man, no matter what.
The only assurance making man’s work truly righteous and making him holy is its total attribution to God; i.e. the deepest and strongest conviction that it is a gift from God with its fruits and all its results consequently attributed to God.
When we know that the main reason, the pure theological origin, behind every good deed is to glorify God, as the Lord says: “that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16). When we know that for sure, and have verified it, we realize why, on what basis, and under what conditions God gives us the power, insight, grace and spiritual action to pray, praise, serve, preach, sacrifice ourselves, and love! Then also the reason for which He takes it away from our hands leaving us completely empty, dry and cold, looking behind us and in-front of us as if He had suddenly deserted us all.
It is therefore the good work that stands to separate between the glorification of God and the glorification of the worldly ambitious self that seeks fame. The good work when defined completely for God’s sake is increased and its stature becomes greater, its sources augmented, its benefits and forces insured without limits. If it becomes deviated for the glory of self, it diminishes and declines with time, its color fading in the eyes of God and mankind, its fruits dwindling to be totally held in contempt and finally trod on.
The Holy Spirit is He who gives the righteous work ‘its true righteous taste’, as it creates within the effort carried out a true and honest feeling of this good effort’s source and of that of the righteous sacrifice. It makes man inhale from his work and effort the scent of God Himself filled with the fragrance of holiness, thus increasing man’s certainty that he is not the owner of that good work even though he is struggling according to his own free will. This consequently enflames him with the feeling of God’s nearness so that he burns with yearning for more struggles and greater sacrifices.
During the righteous struggle the Holy Spirit persuades the soul with unsurpassed conviction that all God’s righteousness, acquired through good works, is its own but does not emanate from it. True holiness does not reside in the work itself but in the great nearness to God during the work, then in acknowledging the owner’s merit of the work.
Absence in feeling God’s continuous glory and praising Him during the righteous work refutes the righteousness related to the work, meaning the Holy Spirit’s absence, nay the absence of faith in God; the ego alone being the owner of the work, self seeking honor and glory from it: “How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44)
Self denial is thus mainly the work of the Holy Spirit within the soul that ensures any good work and its permanence. The concrete and positive means to put self denial into practice here is to perseveringly glorify God whether by words, thoughts, ideas, faith or with every drop of sweat and every effort. The Holy Spirit stands as witness to God’s greater power over any of the ego’s wiles, cunning, and frivolity for honor and glory: “the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses” (John 15:26, 27). It is impossible for the Holy Spirit to bear witness by means of man’s works and words except through his self denial, as God finally can be is all in all.
If there exists ‘a prayer’ that can be called a good work, it is that which brings God’s glorification, praise and thanksgiving. Any service, preaching, or ministering that exists can be said to be a good work of the Holy Spirit’s witness; because they do not lead to a mere saving of souls but also lead to obedience of the truth, faith, and God’s rule over all souls. Also all honesty, justice, sacrifice, and love are counted as righteous works accomplished through the Holy Spirit if they are for increasing God’s glory, bearing concrete witness to His truth, justice, sacrifice and love.
The reader will notice here that the work of the Holy Spirit in self abnegation through good works is not a mere war against the self or a negative resistance to annul its existence or being, it is a completely positive action to control every good work for it to follow its basic and safe course: from God, and back to Him through man, with self being its own witness. The human soul finally becomes the good work’s greatest beneficiary if it follows its correct Divine path i.e. if the work begins by the soul’s admission of God’s grace and ends in praising God because the human soul becomes sanctified with God’s holiness.
“Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty; heaven and earth are filled with thy glory” (Is 6:3). That the heavens are filled with God’s glory is irrefutable because it exists through the angels’ service. The greatest need for us humans is for the earth to become filled with God’s glory. A good man’s work is that the Church should be filled with God’s glory through giving, bearing witness, and righteous service; every monastery filled with God’s glory through praise, penitence, and dedication to the Divine love, and every home filled with God’s glory through cooperation, obedience and setting a good example. This will not happen except through self denial in the church, monastery, and family, so as to open the way to bear absolute witness to God for the earth to be truly filled only with God’s glory.
Thank God that he who denies himself for God’s sake does not get lost nor remain alone in a void, but instantaneously enters the power of the sphere of Christ, the cross, and the mystery of emptying God Himself in the incarnation, which refers to the mystery of greatest existence “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt 16:24). Revealed here is the mystery of self denial as the basis of the good work tainted with pain and blood that qualifies for partnership with Christ ‘for God’s glorification’.
To follow the Holy Spirit and be lead by His first counsel in our struggle through self denial in every work and thought for God’s glorification is exactly the same as following Christ bearing the cross on the pathway of supreme obedience in God’s glory. The apostle thus says “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Rom 8:14).
It is said that Christ Himself, abnegated His self and was led through the Spirit “And Jesus …. was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness” (Luke 4:1). This emptying of self and extraordinary obedience to guidance led to submission to death, death on the cross. For that reason it is said God has “highly exalted Him” (Phil 2:9). It powerfully and positively validates that self denial, and the continual following through the Spirit in fulfilling every good work, is the mystic way that leads us to God’s glory in the highest, through the cross on earth, that ends within us by God becoming everything to us.
But is the denial of self as the basis to good works easy without the sacrifice of the most valuable and dearest human relationships: father, mother, brother, sister, wife and children? Or can it be without continuous violent conflicts against the self and its emotional and worldly ties, its honour, fame, comfort and delusive hopes?
Here the Holy Spirit is revealed to comfort man for every lost treasure, every forsaken dear one, and the ability to abandon every hope no matter its firmness, in the sake of completing every good work for God’s glory.
Without the Holy Spirit, and without its wonderful ever present comfort in man throughout the good struggle at every moment and everywhere, it is impossible for man to overcome his ego that was nurtured on false affection, fleeting sympathy and worldly glory, having been fed on pride, and the demand of more from the world endlessly and without wisdom.
The Holy Spirit and In-pouring Love
“Because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Rom 5:5).
WHEN SELF DENIAL REACHES THE BOUNDARY separating the desiring self from that of glorifying God, and when man casts off all his emotional relationships and worldly ties firmly fixing his face towards God with the courage of faith, obedience to sacrifice, and honor to serve, God’s love pours into the heart by means of the Holy Spirit through the inexpressible Divine mystery.
The Holy Spirit, other than working in the Mysteries, also works in righteous deeds such as prayer, for instance when reaching the degree of transparency in glorifying God.
The pouring of Divine love, by means of the Holy Spirit here, is an action of renewal in human nature; a completing of redemption and sanctification through the Divine blood. The Divine love offered to us is one of the fruits of the cross.
When Divine love burns within the heart, it is the first living, and warm sign of greater closeness to God preparing for unity, because “God is love” (1 John 4:8).
Divine love is something other than human or natural love. God’s love is closer to fire in its nature than to anything else we know of. It is not an attribute, but a Divine nature of deep effect and of great consequence, like fire, in man’s whole being. When it pours into him and lives in him it changes everything within him. It changes his own nature creating within him capabilities, forbearance, energy and new realizations, annulling all his weakness, failures and necessities that were hopeless. Because love is a correcting and disciplining force with unlimited power and purpose in man to make him more suited to life with God, and in tune with His Holy will in conformance to His purpose.
What love accomplishes in one is the same as in another, each according to his need till every person becomes closer to his human brother. Divine love is an incomparable agent of unity; it works through indescribable persuasion and power. It is the greatest treasure man can own in his life on earth, the link of partnership, a partnership with God and with the saints. There is no partnership without love, and no love without the Holy Spirit.
At the beginning love from God is poured into the heart through the mystery of the Holy Spirit when man reaches the degree of self denial, after which the partnership with God is fulfilled. Then, Divine love overflows from man to others through the action of the Holy Spirit, living in the heart, following the Holy Spirit’s success in destroying man’s pride and cleansing it from the filth.
The in-pour of Divine love into the heart cannot be accomplished except by the Holy Spirit. There does not exist a time barrier nor an existing partition that can separate or discriminate between love and the Holy Spirit. As soon as the Holy Spirit is there, Divine love pours into the heart thirsting for God. So long as the Holy Spirit inhabits the heart, then love overflows unrestrictedly, nay with great joy as if it were living water irrigating wherever it overflows.
We cannot separate between love and the Holy Spirit. But hindrance of in-pouring love in the heart does not mean the absence of the Holy Spirit; the reason being that the Holy Spirit is busy to begin by chastising and cleansing man from the dirt within him. The Holy Spirit is not tired nor annoyed from correcting and chastising, because He cannot suffer any sin no matter how small, as it hinders the in-pour of love and impedes it from residing in the heart. The Holy Spirit’s chastisement and continual rebuke to the heart is love at its deepest practicable degree.
Divine love does not pour into the heart from God except after the Holy Spirit succeeds in purifying the heart from any other love. The most difficult hindrances for the in-pour of Divine love is self love. It is a poisonous root in the earth of passions. All its fruits are bitter: greed, envy, hatred, standing, anger, enmity. The most dangerous is greed which the Apostle Paul designated as “idolatry” (Col 3:5). Because instead of the soul becoming an altar to the Holy Spirit by means of which are offered the sacrifices of love, covetousness becomes an altar to the spirit of malice with the victims of its passions sacrificed to the devil.
The sign of the Holy Spirit living in the heart is the presence of love. The sign of the Holy Spirit’s success and ownership of the heart is the overflow of love and its unlimited and unmindful out-pour on to others.
The overflow of love proves the Holy Spirit’s presence in the heart revealing His activity and joy. The Holy Spirit attains the maximum of His activeness and joy within man’s heart when He succeeds through love’s persuasion to gather together God’s children in a true union, i.e. the partnership of faith, worship, reconciliation, and peace; because thus is the body of Christ: “… forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit …” (Eph 4: 2, 3).
This means that God’s love pouring into the heart by means of the Holy Spirit is mainly and basically to form the body of Christ’s partnership, i.e. the Church of love and sacrifice, the inhabitants of God’s House, the flock of saints. The Holy Spirit is the maker of this union ‘the union of spirit’, the house of love. To protect the existence and permanence of this unity needs an effort from man as well as from the Holy Spirit that does not tire or become drained: the effort of forbearance ‘forbearing one another’, the effort to maintain peace “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” This is the sign of a truthful and extremely pure love as the Apostle Peter says: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brethren, love one another earnestly from the heart” (1 Pet 1:22). It has to be ‘the effort of forbearance’ that is continual and does not tire till death. Because love is stronger than death, as the effort of preserving the tie of peace with the brethren is there and is not severed no matter the cost.
The ceasing of love and ending of peace does not annul the presence of the Holy Spirit, but reveals the instability of His situation. He turns into a state of grief and His bright light becomes hidden as if it went out. This means that sin has resumed its strength and raised its horrible horns, succeeding with its voraciousness, though for a while, to penetrate man’s heart and spoil the Holy Spirit’s altar, extinguishing the movement of love. Thus the Beloved is wounded in the House of His loved ones, and instantaneously it seems as if ‘the Comforter’ were grieved and in need of comfort! The Holy Spirit and His light have become extinguished in the heart and all man’s world is darkness.
How delicate, kind, affectionate, and devoted towards man is the Holy Spirit! If He does not succeed at making Divine love the heart’s joy and the main concern of the mind, He shrinks within the soul and becomes sad and depressed, in heavy grief, as if remembering the Lord’s pain in the situations when faced by man’s ingratitude “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Matt 26:38), or faced with the loss of hope on the way to Lazarus’ grave “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).
The Apostle Paul also warns us: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph 4:30), for Christ is the light of the world. When they crucified Him His light became hidden and the whole world became dark. The Holy Spirit is also the light of the conscience and its kindling fire. If love is despised, holiness forsaken, or the mind disdained and serenity shamed, its light and fire become hidden from man. Because when obeying Him man moves daily within love’s warmth “from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18), but with his stubbornness and denial His light suddenly goes out and man is in the darkness, cold and enmity not knowing where he is going “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thess 5: 19).
(To be continued).
God’s Intervention in Human History
Introduced to it the Element of Life
The whole of the Old Testament is a living history that clearly and brilliantly tells the story of God’s constant condescension, and his communication with man to raise him above the passage of dead time. This he accomplished by intervening through his word, making of the succession of years and generations a sacred, living history, the history of God with man and of man with God.
This is to say that the whole Old Testament is both the history of the action of the word of God in man and a history of the acts of man, in accordance with God’s word, or against it. In both of these ways God was clearly revealed with all his attributes. It is as if the passage of time in the Old Testament led eventually to the revelation of God, with all his attributes, to man and in man, when the will of God was obeyed, but also when it was rejected; for man’s rejection of the will of God was a new factor through which could be revealed God’s ability to bring mankind into submission.
Man, any Man, is Part of Every Book of the Bible
When we read the books of the Bible, they appear outwardly to be purely a history of temporal events. But if we consider deeply their purpose and aim, and relate ourselves to what we read, we discover that they intend to reveal the living God himself in our own selves. We see ourselves as we are, and then we begin to see God as he is compared with us. Here arises the question: What is the value of God’s being revealed to man? In this in fact lies the whole secret of the Torah and the gospel, and the essence of the value of mankind, and in the last analysis the whole of history. “And this is eternal life, that they know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (Jn 17:3).+
“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,
in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
“Do not quench the Spirit” (Eph 4:30, 1 Thess 5:19).
CHRISTIAN is a fighter of the first degree. He takes up ‘the fiery Spirit’s sword’ from the first moment he emerges reborn out of the baptismal water, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matt 3:11).
A Christian carries out this fight with the sword ever present in his hand, and with an ever fiery heart and mind till the last moment in his life, at the hour in which the body deposited in the dust from which it was taken, is anointed in the priceless perfume of pure love. The spirit soars victoriously inflamed with love and enlightened wisdom to live for ever in the praise and presence of its Creator.
In times of the conscious struggle’s victory grace embraces man offering him the pleasure of the fruits of Divine love and the light of greater knowledge. Man thus feels he is the happiest creation on earth. He even challenges the angels in his joy and closeness to God. In these hours the Holy Spirit is very pleased with man.
Yet when the soul resists and is restricted within the folly of its natural passions agitated by insensitivity, man prostrate in the battlefield, bypassing the commandments of Divine love, the Holy Spirit shrinks in the heart and becomes extremely dejected. As a consequence His first and greatest mission, the message of Divine love, ceases and man’s salvation is endangered with the work of redemption impeded.
The greatest Friend of man here stops puzzled, worried, and grieved: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
In front of man’s ignorance and this great folly, when he throws away wisdom, shunning sedateness and dignity, demeaning himself to the degree of bestiality or worse, his mind acceptingly enters the region of darkness, giving in to the desires of degradation, becoming humiliated and scorned then the Holy Spirit shrinks in the background, His light goes out in the heart, and His fiery tongue ceases in the mind, so that no voice of virtue, movement of grace, nor action of burning and cleansing are ever heard “Do not quench the Spirit.”
Every sin against love is a sin against the Father, against the Son, and of the first degree against the Holy Spirit, because it is He who leads man to the bosom of the Father and of the Son. Consequently all enmity and hatred, every malice and envy, each calumny, judgment, contempt or disregard of others is itself a sin directed against the work and mission of the Holy Spirit. It is enough to make Him sad, miserable and downhearted even though He is in charge of comforting man. With the knowledge that the sadness of the Holy Spirit is the same that reverberates back to man with the feeling of despondency, bitterness, and great aridity whether in reading, prayer, or service, with a pained heart resembling death’s agony. If love and comfort die out from man what is there left for him?
Also every sin against wisdom, justice and respectability is a sin against the Holy Spirit and consequently every sin against virtue and piety, every lie or calumny, every servility and disregard in behavior or planning are sins directly aimed against the Holy Spirit; because He is in charge of teaching man “the whole truth” and they are enough to overcome His light, flame and burning in the heart till extinguished. If the Holy Spirit becomes extinguished in the heart, what is left to man except darkness and the cold; no inspiration, or understanding, no advice or wisdom, but fumbling about in ignorance, losing the aim of life, man groping around not knowing where he is to go.
When the Holy Spirit grieves from the deeds and works that are against love and is extinguished by the works and words that are against sedateness and truth, there remains no source of comfort or hope to man, nor any shelter to resort to, nor any helper to cry out to. The Lord therefore says that the sin against the Father is forgiven, and against the Son as well, but that against the Holy Spirit will not find a vent (escape) or forgiveness. Because it is the Holy Spirit that holds man’s hand leading him with love and truth to the bosom of the Son and then on to the bosom of the Father!
Now if we refer to the list of sins, the Apostle Paul mentions in his Epistle to the Ephesians and in his First Epistle to the Thessalonians, considered as the sins that grieve and extinguish the Holy Spirit, we find that they as a whole are clearly split into two evident divisions: sins against love, and sins against the truth; sins that grieve the Holy Spirit, and sins that extinguish His light and flame.
At this point we ask the reader to read with deliberation and scrutiny:
First: All the verses mentioned in Ephesians 4:14-32, 5:1-21
Second: All the verses mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 5:15-24
1. “So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.”
“Now this I affirm and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; they are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart; they have become callous and have given themselves up to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of uncleanness. You did not so learn Christ! — assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus. Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of you minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
“Therefore, putting away falsehood, let every one speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give not opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his hands, so that he may be able to give to those in need. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
“But fornication and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is fitting among saints. Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting; but instead let there be thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty works, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not associate with them, for once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take not part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is a shame even to speak of the things that they do in secret; but when anything is exposed by the light it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it is said, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.”
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father. Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
2. “See that none repays you evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesying, but test everything; hold fast what is good, abstain from every form of evil.
May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” (Eph 4: 14-32, 5: 1-21 and I Thess 5: 15-24)
We find that the Apostle Paul’s interest in mentioning the list of these sins with such precision, clearness and understanding must not be lightly overlooked by the reader. For these are the roots of perdition that have embedded themselves in the soul causing the death of many, aloofness and the rejection of prayer, of love of the Word, and of reading.
Every one of us should look for which of these roots his soul feeds on, because that will inevitably be the cause of his ailment, destruction to his conscience, and the immediate reason for the weakness of his will. Every sin of them is liable to grieve or extinguish the Holy Spirit in the heart, severing sooner or later from the heart the sources of love, light and truth.
That which is required of us as quick action or first aid is to stand for a long while before any of the sins that might have secretly nurtured and taken hold of the mind or body and with strong cries and pleading tears to the Holy Spirit plead for more sensitivity in our consciences against this sin, as it is but the least gratification for the Holy Spirit to become once more inflamed and inflame the heart with the heat of Divine love and with the light of truth. We will thus be able to stand against the power of sin we loved and had it take possession of the heart in-spite of the Holy Spirit’s presence.
Here we must fully understand that the Holy Spirit is a true friend in times of trouble, depression and oppression, the true friend being he who grieves at man’s downfall and debasement with disgraceful deeds. The Holy Spirit grieves the most over the loss of man’s salvation, but is not a friend who merely grieves but a very strong helper able to take hold of man’s hand and raise him from every fall and from the depths of death, cleansing him with the blood of Christ, removing the shame of the worst sins from him, presenting him to Christ as a son or burning coal snatched from the fire, as He creates and gives life.
As much as the Holy Spirit is grieved by the smallest sin grieves and is extinguished by the least inanity He can also be gratified by the least deed of repentance and the smallest kind of struggle if offered with total faith in Him, with honest intentions, a truthful conscience, and open courage to accept His work and His comfort.
The Holy Spirit is truly meek and of the greatest kindness, tolerating all man’s ignorance more than can be believed. He remains faithful, loving and friendly to man even though we cause Him to grieve seventy times seven every day. Because returning to Him repentant, with tears and an honest intention, greatly pleases Him. All along He does not collect for us the credit of violations but collects for us a credit of gratifications. He keeps all the acts of our remorse and repentance and does not keep any of those of our hardness of heart and of our ignorance when we return to Him, because He is truly mild and meek in heart taking what is Christ’s and declare it to us. (Cf John 16:14, 15).
[Excerpt from: “Christ in the Old and New Testaments”,
by Father Matta El-Meskeen, published in St Mark November 1997]
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