Grace of the Holy Spirit

Grace of the Holy Spirit

The Grace of the Holy Spirit

by Bishop Alexander (Mileant)


1. Introduction. | The Martyr Nikiphor.
2. A Force not of this World.
3. Particular blessed gifts.
4. Real gifts and their surrogates.
5. The Holy Scriptures on the Grace of the Holy Spirit.

1. Introduction | The Martyr Nikiphor.

In the days of the Roman emperor Valerian (253-259 A.D.), there lived in Antioch two inseparable friends, Nikiphor and the priest Sapricius. They loved each other to such an extent that people considered them brothers by blood.

But the enemy of humanity, the devil, managed to have them quarrel, so that they began to hate each other.

Several years after their falling out, there broke out an overall persecution of Christians, and the priest Sapricius, as a servant of the Church, was one of the first to be arrested. The executioners tried using tortures to make the priest renounce Christ, but he courageously endured all torments.

Upon hearing that his former friend had been arrested and would soon be put to death, Nikiphor felt sorry for having quarrelled with him.

He rushed to the place of punishment, in order to make amends with the future martyr in Christ. But the priest Sapricius ignored all pleas for forgiveness.

In distress, Nikiphor fell on his knees. He began to beg Father Sapricius to forgive him, even if only in Christ’s name.

Instead of answering, the priest haughtily turned away from him. Even the executioners were surprised at his stubbornness, and advised Nikiphor to stop demeaning himself before the proud man.

Sapricius was led to the block with the sword raised above his head, when something unexpected occurred:

he was overcome by panic and fear, and, leaping up, began to wave his arms and cry:
Do not kill me! I will bring an offering to the gods immediately!

The executioners were stunned into immobility.

Nikiphor, seeing his former friend, a priest, so basely renounce his faith, cried out for all to hear: “I am a Christian and I scorn your loathsome gods!

The commander who was overseeing the proceedings ordered the priest to be released, and Nikiphor to be put to death in his place.

Thus the crown of martyrdom, prepared for Sapricius, passed to the head of Nikiphor, whose memory is celebrated by the Church on February 9/22.

How can one explain the sudden fear of Sapricius, who had courageously suffered all torments up to that moment? — Very simply: the Lord Himself had fortified the priest.

But when Sapricius wilfully plunged into the darkness of malice and hatred, God removed His Grace from him. As most people before the face of forcible death, Sapricius was found to be helpless and pitiful.

In this work, we will discuss that spiritual force, the like of which cannot be found in Nature, which is the Grace of God. We will try to unfold its meaning in the life of a Christian and the methods of its actions, so as to mark the ways to obtain it.

2. A Force Not of This World.

The Grace of God is that mysterious, spiritual strength or energy, emanating from God, which brings to life, strengthens, and enlightens all rationally moral beings.

It is not necessary to prove to the modern person the necessity of normal physical energy:

Let us hypothetically cease, say, the source of oil. Everything stops — all forms of transportation and production (such as factories), various means of communication.

Cities and towns are left without electricity and there is no water in the faucets. Food begins to decay in refrigerators — in a word, catastrophe strikes.

And what would happen to us, if, let us say, the Sun suddenly stopped shining?

The earth would be completely dark and begin to freeze. The process of photosynthesis would cease; all living things would begin to die from cold and hunger.

In a short while, our marvellous planet, overflowing with life, would become a vast cemetery!

Truly, the Grace of God enlightens the thoughts of people so that they see the truth and begin to love it:

It heals spiritual illnesses by cleansing the conscience and releasing people from the tyranny of the passions. It changes feelings of grief and anger to feelings of happiness and peace.

It stills fleeting thoughts, so that a person sees the aim of his earthly sojourn.

It enables a person to see for himself the triviality and waste of earthly pleasures, and the great value of heavenly life.

It makes flighty and thoughtless people serious and wise; the fearful, courageous; the stingy, generous; the spiteful, peace-loving.

It encourages a person to love God and others, even his enemies, and instils in him the strength and thirst to live for good.

In a word, the Grace of God extends to all parts of the internal life of a person and appears as the source of powerful spiritual-moral forces.

From Biblical and church history we can see to what extent the Grace of God works in the rebirth of a soul.

Although the Laws of God were known to people before the coming of the Saviour (through the voice of conscience and through the Holy Writings), people were unable to grow morally and come to perfection because “that which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6).

According to the witness of a whole line of writers in the pre-Christian epoch,

the heathen world was becoming more and more depraved morally, immersing itself further and further in materialism and vice,

while “grace,” even among the best representatives of the chosen people of God, mainly came down to the scrupulous observance of religious rituals.

Observing this pathetic state of society, the Old Testament prophets bitterly compared it to a waterless desert unable to grow anything except short bitter grasses.

Notwithstanding, with their spiritual vision, the prophets penetrated into that bright future when God would show mercy to sinful humanity and send it His spiritual strength:

“The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them,” exclaimed the prophet Isaiah, “and the desert shall rejoice even with joy and singing...

Then (in the times of the Messiah) the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.

Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing:

for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water” (Is. 35:1-7).

The moral rebirth of people — their reception of the Holy Spirit — yet awaited the remission of their sins, as explained by the evangelist John the Theologian:

“For the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John. 7:39).

And so the merciful Lord, the embodied Son of God, brought the great expiatory sacrifice for the sins of the human race on the Cross. Then, on the 50th day after His glorious Resurrection, the long-awaited Comforter Spirit descended upon the apostles.

This miracle manifested itself in the voice of the stormy wind and in tongues of flame:

Descending on the heads of the apostles, He vested them with power from on high (Luke 24:49) and lit spiritual fire in their hearts (Luke 12:49).

Then was fulfilled that which God promised through the prophet Joel, saying:

“I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions”
(Joel 2:28-32, Acts 2).

The Holy Spirit, descending upon the disciples of Christ, immediately expressed His Divine power through the significant inner changes which He produced in them, and those who in turn were converted by the words of the Apostles (Acts 2).

The Apostles, as we know, were people of plain heritage — unlearned, entirely unable to speak, shy.

When the Holy Spirit enriched their spiritual strengths, they were so filled with wisdom and the gift of inspirational speech, that they began successfully to convert to the faith thousands, tens of thousands of people

— not only simple people, but those of noble descent, as well as the scholarly.

The Apostle Paul (although he had received a multi-faceted education and spoke extremely well) assigned his success not to his eloquence, but namely to the action of the Holy Spirit, which kindled the faith of people:

“And my speech and my preaching,the apostle writes, “was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. 2:4).

The description of the life of the first Christian community in Jerusalem shows how powerful the spiritual changes produced by the Grace of the Holy Spirit were:

And they that believed,” witnesses the Apostle Luke, “were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.

And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people...

And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul; neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common...Neither was there any among them that lacked
(Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35).

It is wondrous that this inspired, burning love of the first Christians for God and man could be extinguished neither by persecution, confinement, nor death. Instead of becoming discouraged or mean, faithful Judeans were glad to suffer for Christ (Heb. 10:34.

About spiritual happiness produced by the Holy Spirit, see also Is. 12:3; Eze. 36:26-27; Matt. 11:28; John 8:36; John 16:22; Rom. 5:1-5; Rom. 8:37; 2 Cor. 1:4-5; Phil. 4:7; 1 Thes. 1:6; Col. 1:13.)

Besides the bright feelings of faith and happiness, the other distinguishing mark of the Grace of the Holy Spirit is the decisiveness and courage which He bestows upon the faithful (2 Tim. 1:7).

The Apostle Peter, for example, feared the servant who accused him at the arrest of the Saviour and with an oath denounced Christ.

But he became so courageous after receiving the Holy Spirit that, at the meeting of the Sanhedrin,

he accused the Jewish leaders of killing the Messiah to their face, and bravely declared that, no matter what the danger, he would spread the Christian faith everywhere (Acts 4:1-22).

It is noteworthy that many years later, when the Apostle Peter was sentenced to hang on the Cross in the Roman Coliseum, he was not afraid of the prospect of dying a torturous death before a gleeful mob.

Rather, his concern was that he was unworthy to die as the Saviour of the world had died. For this reason he asked that he be crucified head down, which was accomplished.

For several centuries, an enormous number of Christian martyrs died in that Roman Coliseum. According to witnesses living at that time, many of them received death with happiness and hymns of praise on their lips:

Here is the strength of the Grace of God, raising people over their usual weaknesses!

3. Particular blessed gifts.

Besides the gifts of the Holy Spirit called the general gifts, with which He enriches every believer for his moral rebirth, there exist also those gifts called the extraordinary gifts. These He grants to some so that they may serve the Church.

We read about these extraordinary gifts in an epistle of the Apostle Paul:

But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man for profit for all.
For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom;
to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
to another faith by the same Spirit;
to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy;
to another discerning of spirits; to another diverse kinds of tongues;
to another the interpretation of tongues:

but all these works that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will...

And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues...”
(1 Cor. 12:7-11, 12:28)

With time there has been less need for several extraordinary gifts (for example, the gift of tongues and prophecies).

Since the times of the apostles, extraordinary gifts began to be given, for the most part, during the sacrament of ordination, when the servants of the Church — bishops, priests and deacons — are allotted blessed gifts and responsibilities corresponding to their service.

Without doubt, every one wishing to work for the general good receives what help and guidance from God is necessary.

And here the abundance of grace in one or another person depends not only on the Giver, “for God gives not the Spirit by measure unto him” (John 3:34), but by the purity of heart and “receptivity” of the receiver.

Extraordinary gifts are listed most completely by the prophet Isaiah, who prophesied about the coming Messiah:

“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 of the fear of the Lord” (Is. 11:2).

In total, there are 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit, which, according to the fathers of Church, comprise the fullness of spiritual gifts.

Christ, as the God-person, combining in Himself the threefold service of prophesy, high priesthood and regality, has the complete fullness of grace.

The rest of the servants of God, doing what is in their power to help Him in His work of creating the Kingdom of God among people, are also given the gifts of the Holy Spirit — according to their service.

The 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit listed by the prophet are arranged in the order of the greatest to the most fundamental:

7) The Spirit of the Lord — this is the all-encompassing, highest (7th) gift, consisting of the most intimate living in God.

5-6) The Spirit of Wisdom and Understanding — (6th and 5th gifts) are disseminated on the intellectual capacity of the servants of God.

They consist of a deep comprehension of the essence of questions of faith and morals, the true assessment of the spiritual condition of people and the foreseeing of the coming destiny of societies.

(On this subject see also: Luke 12:12, Acts 6:10; 1 Cor. 2:4-13, 1 Cor. 4:20, 1 Cor. 8:3, 1 Cor. 12:7-11; Eph. 1:17-18; 3 (1) Kings 3rd chapter; Dan. 1:17).

3-4) The Spirit of Counsel (Reasoning) and Might — (4th and 3rd gifts) are disseminated to the functioning abilities of the servants of God and consist of the ability to make true decisions, and in the strength of will to realize them.

1-2) The Spirit of Knowledge and of the Fear of the Lord (Piety) — (2nd and 1st gifts) encompass the religious-moral base of the servants of God:

These gifts are manifested in the knowledge of the truths of faith, and in the pious religious attitude which hungers to do all to the glory of God.

4. Real Gifts and Their Surrogates.

Among modern Christian groups, much is said about the necessity to revive and reveal in oneself the different gifts of the Spirit. Such groups have even developed a distinctive “method” for gaining extraordinary gifts:

In all this the sense of dissatisfaction with the dryness of merely learning biblical texts, and the spiritlessness of sectarian prayer meetings is clear.

The absence of spirituality in Protestantism results mainly from the fact that it thoughtlessly rejected all the guides of the grace of God established by God —

the apostolic succession, the priesthood, the blessed sacraments of the Church and the treasury of the centuries of spiritual life.

- All was sacrificed to the slogans of a free learning of the Bible and the sufficiency of the justification of faith.

Efforts to revive this lost grace were poured into the practice of the now-popular “charismatic” movement, which arose in the beginning of the 20th century thanks to the Pentecostalists.

While in the ancient Church, the grace of God was perceived as a spiritually-enlivening force, necessary for moral growth, the modern charismatics see in the “gifts of the Spirit” a source of acute sensations and visible signs.

At their meetings it has become routine for Pentecostalists and charismatics like them, to interrupt each other, shout incomprehensible sounds, and mutter senselessly, while others lose consciousness, go into a frenzy or trance, or begin to laugh uncontrollably.

In this chaos some kinds of healing occur, some kinds of prophecies are uttered — of a very suspect content.

Defenders of this movement declare that these are “proofs” that the Holy Spirit is acting among them, and which “verify” their movement. In fact, all these heathen and medium-like exercises are a terrible slander of the Holy Spirit!

Let us take for example the gift of tongues:

We know that on the day of Pentecost the apostles received from God the ability to preach in real human tongues, which they previously did not know.

They gave an informative sermon, which taught and brought to the faith people who did not understand the Hebrew tongue.

The sounds which are blurted out by the sectarians cannot teach anything; they are, in sum, senseless and impossible to interpret. The experience is the result of pathological nervous overstimulation, which is long familiar to mediums and shamans.

This “gift of tongues” can be achieved by any person through well-known exercises — regardless of whatever “god” he may be praying to.

One charismatic “miracle-worker” shared his experience in a private conversation:

Convincing one person of a miracle eye-to-eye — is very difficult, even impossible. Convincing a crowd — is very easy!

In other words, what is performed in meetings of the charismatics is mass hypnosis and hysteria — conditions favourable for the fallen spirit!

5. The Holy Scriptures on the Grace of the Holy Spirit.

Considering the sorrowful example of the charismatic movement,

a son of the Orthodox Church of Christ must be wary of any artificial methods of receiving extraordinary states and acute sensations as he would be of the most potent poison.

The New Testament writings teach quite in depth what particular gifts should be asked of God. In his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul writes:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Gal. 5:22).

As we see, all these gifts refer to the spiritual-moral category.

Like the prophet Isaiah, the Apostle Paul begins by naming the higher gifts, moving gradually to name those which serve as the ground for the others.

It should be noted that the gifts of the Holy Spirit presented here are parallel to the virtues which the Saviour names in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5). It is therefore instructive to compare the one to the other.

Following the order of the Apostle Paul, “the fruit of the Spirit is:..”

1) Love, happiness. Love is the “bond of perfection” (Col. 3:14).

In those who achieve perfection, love is so strong that they are ready to sacrifice everything for the Lord and loved ones — even their own life.

Added to this, the happiness given to them by the Holy Spirit sometimes makes them unfeeling to grief

(Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad...8th and 9th beatitudes. See also 1 Thes. 3:12; 2 Tim. 1:7).

2) Peace, long-suffering, gentleness.

The pacification of the forces of the soul, purity of heart and spiritual wisdom make a person capable of helping others come to peace with God:

(Blessed are the pure in heart...Blessed are the peacemakers...6th and 7th beatitudes).

3) Goodness (mercy). The ability to feel compassion and the desire to help others:

(Blessed are the merciful...5th beatitude).

4) Faith. The spiritual sensitivity and intuition to see and accept religious truths, and the desire to live with spiritual values

(Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness...4th beatitude).

5) Meekness. The calming of temperament: the indicator of moral health

(Blessed are the meek...3rd beatitude).

6) Temperance. Meekness, repentance and temperance: this is the threefold basis on which the house of virtues is constructed

(Blessed are the poor in spirit...Blessed are they that mourn...the 1-2nd beatitudes).

Besides these, the Holy Scriptures mentions other blessed gifts, which contribute to the spiritual growth of a person. We will mention some of them:

The first effect of the Holy Spirit is to lead people to Christ, instilling faith in Him and in the truth of everything which He taught (John 6:44; Gal. 1:15-16; Eph. 2:8; Neh. 9:20-30; Ez. 36:26-27; John 16:13; 1 John 2:20-27; 1 Cor. 12:3; 2 Cor. 3:3; Eph. 2:18).

The gift of faith, in turn, opens up the attainability of the rest of the blessed gifts (Rom. 5:2).

Although the Holy Spirit may influence a person to believe in Christ, he does not force anyone's will. Therefore a person is free to accept or reject what the Holy Spirit would instil in him. Nevertheless, he is responsible for his decision before God (John 12:48; Acts 7:51).

Implanting in a person the seeds of faith, the Holy Spirit inclines a person to repentance and correction, softening his hardened heart (Zac. 12:10-13:1; John 19:37; Acts 2:37; Rom. 2:4). He assists prayer (Rom. 8:26) and purifies the conscience of the penitent (1 John 1:7; Heb. 9:9. Acts 2:22-41).

In Baptism, the Holy Spirit engenders a person for a spiritual form of life. He completely regenerates him, changing within him the gradation of values.

The Scriptures compare this inner re-birth to the resurrection from the dead, in which the faithful become the new creation of God (John 3:3-6, 8:34; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; Col. 2:13; Eph. 2:15).

Upon awakening in a person his spiritual abilities, the Holy Spirit leads him to a spiritual form of life and achievement (Luke 4:1; Gal. 2:20; Tit. 2:11-14).

The result of these efforts of repentance and feats of temperance are that the “outer person” (body) “decays,” but the “inner person” is renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16).

The Holy Spirit gives a warm feeling of filiality and nearness to God to people living for spiritual interests (1 John 3:1-2; Rom. 8:13-16, 23; Gal. 4:6).

He kindles in them a spiritual burning and inclination toward God (Luke 12:49; Phil. 2:13).

Along with this He gives them strength, vigour, fortitude and indefatigability (Is. 40:29-31; 1 Cor 15:10; Eph. 6:10; Phillip. 4:13; Eph. 3:20; Rom. 8:26, 37; Gal. 2:20).

The Holy Spirit literally directs every step of the believer’s life on Earth to salvation and good (Ps. 143:10; Is. 63:10-14; John 4:13-14; 1 Pet. 1:5),

giving him everything necessary for life and piety. (James 1:17; 2 Pet. 1:3-5; 2 Cor. 3:5, 2 Cor. 12:9-10).

Thus, throughout the entire life of a person the Holy Spirit transfigures him, adorns him with moral perfections and likens him to Christ. He sanctifies believers, making them living churches of God (Gal. 3:27; 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 1 Thes. 5:23).

Despite all the power and effectiveness of the blessed gifts, the actual processes of moral rebirth occur gradually, often unnoticed by the person himself (as the Saviour explained in His parable of the unseen growth of the seed, Mark 4:26-29; 2 Pet. 3:18).