To the Clergy and Faithful of the Melkite Eparchy in USA
May 26, 2004
My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
On Pentecost Sunday the Church celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and the early Church. It is considered as the birthday of the Church. Pentecost is a feast of unity. The Kondakion sung in the Divine Liturgy of the Feast Day emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit and unity.
Without the Holy Spirit we would not be able to know God. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the world assures our knowing both God the Father and Jesus, the Word made flesh. The Incarnation took place by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1:35) Jesus was commissioned to begin His public ministry after the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Him at His Baptism. (Luke 3:21-22) He read from the prophet Isaiah in the temple, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” (Luke 4:18) The Holy Spirit has an important role in both the crucifixion (Hebrews 9:13-14) and the resurrection (Romans 8:11) of our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
We know God through His sacred Word. The Word of God is inspired (breathed into) by the Holy Spirit. We know God through Baptism. Baptism makes us children of God and temples of the Holy Spirit. The Baptismal waters are blessed and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. We experience God and receive Jesus in the Eucharist. The bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus at the Epiclesis, which invokes the descent of the Holy Spirit.
We experience God through His Church. As I stated above, the birth of the Church is considered to be Pentecost Sunday. God is present to us through one another in the Church as well as in the teaching authority of the Church. God is present in us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. God’s powerful forgiving presence is another way we ‘know’ God and experience His love. Forgiveness comes through the Holy Spirit. (John 20:21-23) We are touched by God through His unconditional love. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5)
The deepest desire of God’s heart is our salvation. This is seen both in His sacred Word as well as in the teaching of the Fathers of the Church. God’s will for us is that we be holy. We read in Saint Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (4:3) We are challenged by the Lord many times both in the Old Testament and the New to be holy. Saint Peter exhorts the early Christians to be holy. “Therefore gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but 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.’ ” (I Pet 1:13-16) In Leviticus, we are commanded by the Lord, “Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy; for I am the LORD your God. Keep my statutes, and do them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you.” (20:7-8) In Deuteronomy we learn what God requires of us – “to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD.” (10:12-13)
Notice, my brothers and sisters in the Lord, that although God requires us to be holy, He also tells us that it is He Who makes us holy. “I am the LORD who sanctifies you.” The Holy Spirit living within us is the source of our power to be holy. The Holy Spirit is our strength to overcome sin and evil in our lives. Saint Basil taught, “Nothing is made holy except by the presence of the Spirit. (On the Holy Spirit)
In the Prophet Isaiah we hear about the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives us so that we can overcome sin and be holy. “And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.” (Isaiah 11:2) By tapping into the wisdom and understanding of the Holy Spirit we can do great things in our spiritual lives. Too often we conform our thinking to this world and hold on to our grudges, fears, and passions, rather than being transformed by the renewal of our minds. (cf. Romans 12:2)
The Holy Spirit is about transformation – transformation of our lives though transformation of our minds and hearts. The call to this transformation is the Spirit’s. The power is His as well. We can not achieve this transformation by our own will power. Rather we must surrender our will to God and rely on His power to transform us. In the Book of Zechariah we hear the LORD speak. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts. (4:6) God’s might, God’s power, and God’s strength that the Holy Spirit gives us is often called fortitude. With fortitude we come to a deep love of God, a deep surrender to His will, and the fear of the Lord that the Fathers and Mothers of the Desert speak of so often and so eloquently.
Saint Paul challenges the Christian Community in Galatia to put their commitment to God and life in the Holy Spirit into action. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.” (Galatians 5:16,18) Then Saint Paul reminds them of the sign of living in the Holy Spirit – a life of virtue with beautiful and lasting fruits. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control … Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another.” (Galatians 5:22-25)
Saint Cyril of Alexandria, in commenting on the Gospel of Saint John, sums up well this life in the Holy Spirit. “If we have given up our worldly way of life and submitted once for all to the laws of the Spirit, it must surely be obvious to everyone that … our nature is transformed so that we are no longer merely men, but also sons of God, spiritual men, by reason of the share we have received in the divine nature.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ told Nicodemus: “I solemnly assure you, no one can enter into God’s kingdom without being begotten of water and the Spirit. Flesh begets flesh. Spirit begets spirit.” (John 3:5-6-) May the Holy Spirit, the gift of Jesus to us at Pentecost, and through Whom we are born again into God’s kingdom, instruct us through “wisdom and understanding, through counsel and might and through knowledge and fear of God.” May He guarantee and strengthen our unity with God, with His Church and with each other. Being the Spirit of Truth, promised to us by Our Lord Jesus, He will guide us to all truth. (Cf. John 16:13) To Him in the Unity with the Father and the Son is all power and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Most Rev. John A. Elya
Eparch of Newton