Spirit-Born(e)

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On Being Spirit-Born(e), the Cost of Discipleship  — Grace is free but it is not cheap! — and Two Questions

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Acts of the Apostles 19:1-8

In those days, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.

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Some say of Saint Antony that he was “Spirit-borne”, that is, carried along by the Holy Spirit, but he would never speak of this to men. Such men see what is happening in the world, as well as knowing what is going to happen. (Desert Fathers or Gerontikon, Sayings Of Anthony of Egypt, XXX)

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The presence of the All Holy Spirit in and behind the Acts of the Apostles and within the life of the Early Church is all pervasive and an impelling force. It is apparent that Christians in the Apostolic era were Spirit-borne and full of power to heal the sick and preach the Gospel within the living tradition. St. Paul in his missionary travels encounters at Ephesus some disciples of John the Baptist (Chapter 19:2) who had never heard of the Holy Spirit. He asks them directly: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered: “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit!”

Archpriest Michael Harper of blessed memory observes: “Why is that somewhat brusque question Paul’s first remark to them? There can surely be only one answer. They did not look as if they had! (received the Holy Spirit) Something was missing that ought to have been there, something that men were beginning to look for as  a distinctive mark of those who had had the characteristic vitalising experience of becoming Christians.” (Revd. Fr. Jonathan Hemmings, Fountains in the Desert, 85-6)

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Why would St. Anthony never speak of this Spirit-borne quality among men? 

Why today these miraculous gifts seem less evident in the Church?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meditation on Epiphany

Epiphany, Easter and Pentecost

Or Meditation on Light(s), Baptism(s) and Conversions in our inner life

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Epiphany is not only the feast of the waters. Ancient Greek tradition calls it ‘the feast of lights’. This feast brings us, not only the grace of purification, but also the grace of illumination (in fact baptism itself was formerly called ‘illumination’). The light of Christ at Christmas was but a star in the dark night; at Epiphany it appears to us as the rising sun; it will grow and, after the eclipse of Holy Friday, burst forth yet more splendid, on the morning of Easter; and finally, at Pentecost, it will reach its full zenith. It is not only the divine light, manifested objectively in the person of Jesus Christ and in the pentecostal flame that we are concerned with; it is also the inner light, for, without absolute faithfulness to this, spiritual life wold be nothing but illusion and falsehood.

God, who had sent the Precursor to baptise with water, had said to him: “Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptiseth with the Holy Ghost”. The baptism by water is but one aspect of total baptism. Jesus himself says to Nicodemus: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God”. The baptism of the Spirit is superior to the baptism by water. It constitutes an objective gift and a different inner experience. …

 

One could say that Epiphany — the first public manifestation of Jesus to men — corresponds in our inner life to the ‘first conversion‘ (or ‘purification’). This must be understood as the first conscious meeting of the human soul with its Saviour, the moment when we accept Jesus as Master and as friend, and at which we take the decision to follow him. Easter (both the death and the resurrection of the Lord) corresponds to a ‘second conversion‘ (or ‘illumination‘) in which, confronted with the mystery of the cross, we discover what kind of death and what kind of new life this implies, and we consecrate ourselves more more deeply to Jesus Christ, through a radical change in ourselves. Pentecost is the time of the ‘third conversion‘ (or ‘union‘), which is the baptism and fire of the Spirit, the entry into a life of transforming union with God. It is not given to every Christian to follow this itinerary. Nonetheless, these are the stages which the liturgical year sets out for our endeavour.

 

By a Monk of the Eastern Church

The Year of Grace of the Lord

Columba Sails East

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You say you are Orthodox? And what did you say your baptismal name was? I am a Northern Irish convert to Orthodoxy who regularly finds himself working and going to church in places which are much closer to the traditional heartland of eastern Christianity. So I am often asked, by gingerly Greeks or sceptical Serbs, about my path to Orthodoxy and in particular my patronal saint. When I give the answer, the scepticism sometimes deepens. And so – if the conversation is worth pursuing at all – I find myself attempting to explain the Christian heritage of the place where I grew up, and my own relationship to that place. Sometimes people are interested; sometimes I can watch their eyes glaze over. But since my story is the story of many western Orthodox Christians, I shall try telling it in print.

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St Columba’s Bay, Iona

When I had the joy of being received into the Orthodox Church just over seven years ago, I took the name of Columba, the saint of Ireland andenlightener of Scotland. The process whereby priest and catechumen settle on a name is always a mysterious one; but in my case the decision to accept the name and seek the protecting guidance of Columba seemed to accord well with my own cultural origins; and also with the calling I had felt, however dimly, to another Kingdom, in which all national and cultural differences are set aside.  …

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Columba and the other great saints of the early Christian West are part of the common heritage of the undivided Church, and so they have a well-deserved place among the treasures of Orthodoxy. But for good reason, people from the old Orthodox world are reluctant to be taught new tricks by upstart converts from strange countries; so more than once I found myself put down rather sharply. The other difficulty I encountered was with western Christians: “We know the Roman Catholics have an interest in the early Celtic Church,” they would say, “and so do the Scottish Presbyterians and the Anglicans – but what possible connection can there be between Gaelic saints like Columba and the eastern Orthodox?”

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… But is Orthodoxy simply one among many competitors for a slice of the Columba heritage? Reading the ecclesiastical history of the British Isles in the 19th century, you can trace the almost comical way in which one Christian denomination after another tried to lay claim to the saintly enlightener of Scotland. Roman Catholics tried to proclaim Columba as a loyal servant of the Pope, while the non-conformists stressed the differences of practice between Rome and the early Celtic Church, making the saint into an early anti-Papist hero. In the 20th century, a charismatic Presbyterian churchman, George McLeod, founded a community on Columba’s island which modelled itself on the saint’s gritty practicality: it was supposed to combine religious practice with engagement with the problems of the world at its most sordid and grimy.

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 Since then, the Iona community has become inter denominational and, from an Orthodox perspective, far more political than spiritual. There is also an Anglican retreat house on the island and as of quite recently, a Roman Catholic one. So are the Orthodox, who have been organizing pilgrimages to Iona since 1997, simply johnniescome-lately who want to plant their own flag on Columba’s Iona, along with all the others? And where do the Orthodox stand in the contest between many different constituencies (by no means all religious) to claim a piece of Columba’s heritage? Ecologists call him an early green, Scottish nationalists call him a proto-patriot, feminists see him and the Celtic Church as pioneers of gender equality. So does it make sense, then, for an Orthodox Christian to ask: which is “our bit” of Saint Columba?

In the end, it is only the saint himself who can answer that question. …
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For the whole article  by Columba Bruce Clark, secretary of the Friends of Orthodoxy on Iona, and a senior journalist for The Economist, go to http://www.roadtoemmaus.net/back_issue_articles/RTE_17/Columba_Sails_East.pdf

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For Celtic Orthodoxy the real ‘authority’ is Father Seraphim and his monastery blog at http://www.mullmonastery.com/page/1/?s=St+Columba  Follow his struggles to found Mull Monastery, the first Orthodox monastery in the Hebrides in over a millennium.