AS THE TIME FOR THE Lord’s passion neared, Jesus tried to prepare His followers for what was to happen. He warned them about His impending arrest, their flight, and about His ultimate death. He also made a promise: “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Paraclete, that He may abide with you forever — the Spirit of truth…” (John 14:16).
The word Paraclete comes from the world of civil law. In the Roman system, a Paraclete was an advocate, a counselor who advised and encouraged people in the courts. It was the Paraclete who would provide the first Christians with their defense when they were brought before a worldly judge.
Jesus identified this Paraclete as the Holy Spirit, advising His disciples, “Now when they bring you to the synagogues and magistrates and authorities, do not worry about how or what you should answer, or what you should say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:11, 12). The Holy Spirit would be their advocate when any authority challenged their preaching.
After His resurrection, the Lord Jesus repeated His promise, this time with an additional dimension. Prior to His Ascension He told His followers: “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49) “…for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5). The Paraclete, the promised Holy Spirit, would come, bestowing heavenly power on those who received Him.
The Promise is Kept
This bestowal of the Holy Spirit would come a few days later, on the day of Pentecost. This term, from the Greek word for fifty, referred to the Jewish feast of Shavuot or “Weeks,” when the first-fruits of the grain harvest in Israel were to be offered in the temple. Shavuot was observed fifty days after Passover as one of Judaism’s pilgrimage feasts, when men were supposed to go to Jerusalem to make their offerings.
What took place during that feast is described in the Acts of the Apostles: “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
“And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4).
Peter, the senior apostle, interpreted what had happened as the outpouring of the Spirit prophesied in Joel 2:28-32 for the start of the messianic age (the “last days”). He proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah and called on his hearers, attracted by the commotion, to repent and be baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit… Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers (Acts 2:38, 41, 42). This outpouring of the Spirit thus marked the beginning of a new community built around the apostolic faith, common prayer and the “breaking of bread” (communal meal/Eucharist).
The Spirit as a Sign of Authenticity
For most of human history communication was by writing, delivered by a messenger. You knew the message was authentic because it was sealed. The message was sealed with hot wax into which the writer’s seal or signet was then stamped. The seal was the stamp guaranteeing the authenticity of the message.
Other seals were identifying marks branded on animals or even slaves. All Jewish men were sealed by circumcision, to demonstrate that they were members of God’s people, Israel.
When the Lord Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, the Father’s voice bore witness to Him, calling Him beloved Son. “And the Sprit, in the form of a dove, confirmed the truth of this word” (troparion). The Spirit was the seal on Christ, demonstrating that He was the Son of God.
The same Spirit, who descended on the disciples of Christ, confirmed the truth of their words, the Gospel message. His presence, at work among them and in the Church of every age, is the seal demonstrating the divine origin and truth of the Christian faith.
St Paul affirms that every Christian has been sealed with the Holy Spirit. Writing to the Corinthians, he teaches that the Holy Spirit is within us: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). He expresses this mystery of the indwelling Spirit as an anointing and a sealing: “Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 1:21, 22). We are, in fact, called Christians (anointed ones) because this sealing has confirmed our union to the Anointed One, the Lord Jesus.
In our Church this anointing is given to each newly baptized Christian in the mystery of Chrismation. As the priest anoints the newly-baptized, he announces “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The visible seal of the Chrism signifies the inner sealing of our hearts.
The Spirit marks each Christian as being in Christ, the eternal High Priest and, therefore members of the royal priesthood (see 1 Pt 2:9). Thus, when we join in the worship of the Church, we are acting in union with Christ the High Priest. We also are gifted by the Spirit in particular ways to help build up the Church. Thus every Christian has an individual gift, meant to be used for the good of all.
At Pentecost the Spirit energized the apostles in a remarkable way. The same Spirit works that way today as well, but only in some, generally those whom we call saints. Although not every saint is a wonderworker, each of them reflects the presence of God is some discernible way. Each saint is the “face of the Holy Spirit,” making visible the presence of the Spirit within.
The Spirit as a Promise of Eternity
In his Epistle to the Ephesians, St Paul teaches that we are confirmed in the assurance of our union with Christ through our faith in Him and by being sealed with the Holy Spirit. “In Him [Christ] we have redemption through His blood… In Him also we have obtained an inheritance… In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth…in Him also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,
who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:9-14).
St Paul calls the Spirit “the Spirit of promise,” who assures us of our inheritance to come. If we have been given the Spirit to dwell within us now, how great a gift will be ours in the age to come.
St Cyril of Jerusalem on Chrismation
“With this unction, your forehead and sense organs are mystically anointed in such a way that, while your body is refreshed with the visible oil, your soul is enlivened by the holy life-giving Spirit.” (Catechesis 21, 3)