On Being Spirit-Born(e), the Cost of Discipleship — Grace is free but it is not cheap! — and Two Questions
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.
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)
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)
Why would St. Anthony never speak of this Spirit-borne quality among men?
Why today these miraculous gifts seem less evident in the Church?