It is that time of year again when the good folks over at the Preacher’s Institute are encouraging Orthodox Christian priests to blog for 30(40) days during the Nativity Fast. I have endeavored to participate the last two years and have found the exercise to be quite productive, even if the audience is small. I have also been grossly negligent of this particular corner of the blogosphere, so this is an opportunity for me to correct that failure.
Recently, I participated in an interfaith spiritual retreat on the campus of Milliken University. I was asked to be on a panel with representatives from a wide variety of faith backgrounds to discuss the question: What is Spirituality? As an Orthodox Christian, I cannot answer this question without first answering the question: Who is God?
The Orthodox Church has long had a tradition of answering this latter question with dogma — brief summary statements about what God has revealed about Himself to us. One such statement that all Orthodox Christians are quite familiar with is the Nicene Creed. For the purposes of defining spirituality, I wish to concentrate on another famous dogmatic statement: God is one in essence and in three persons (hypostasis).
The characteristics that differentiates these three persons are that God the Father is Unbegotten, God the Son is Begotten and God the Spirit Proceeds. In His procession, the Holy Spirit is the contact point for humanity with God — He is the source of our communion with God.
When God created humanity:
The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being (Gen. 2:7).
The word spirit also means breath, or wind. Thus, we were created by God breathing His Spirit in us.
It is the Holy Spirit that inspired the men and women that wrote, translated and redacted the OT. It was the Holy Spirit that descended upon the Virgin Mary at the conception of Christ. It was the Holy Spirit that descended upon Christ at His baptism. It was the Holy Spirit that led Christ into the desert for forty day in preparation for His earthly ministry. It was the Holy Spirit that descended upon the Apostles as tongues of fire at Pentecost. It is the Holy Spirit Himself with which every Orthodox Christian is sealed with at their chrismation. It is the Holy Spirit that descends upon the gifts to make them the Body and Blood of Christ.
Therefore, spirituality — given its root in the word spirit — is living a life participating with and in the Holy Spirit. This, of course, is most fully accomplished in context of the life of the Church.
This might seem a strange approach to begin a series of blog posts in preparation for the Nativity; however, we must remember that without the Holy Spirit there is no Incarnation. In addition, I believe that the Holy Spirit is the most misunderstood and neglected person of the Trinity in modern Christendom (particularly here in the United States). Therefore, I would like to explore the person of the Holy Spirit, especially in context of the Incarnation.
To that end, as I have done the last two years, I will be spending time with one of the Fathers of the Church. When it comes to treatises on the Holy Spirit, there are several famous examples to choose from — On the Holy Spirit by St. Basil, for example. As is my want, however, I have used this time to get to know St. Leo the Great and St. Gregory Palamas — not exactly the first guys that come to mind when one starts to list famous fathers of the Church. As such, I will be reading and writing about the Three Books On the Holy Spirit by St. Ambrose of Milan. I pray that this path proves as edifying for you as I hope it is for me. Amen.