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THE ACQUISITION

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Word Magazine December 2000 Page 6-7

THE ACQUISITION

OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

By Rev. Fr. Josiah Trenham

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen. The goal of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. All of our Orthodox life is animated by the Holy Spirit, and without Him all is empty form and ritual, He is the One Who sanctifies. He is the One Who works in and with the priest in the Holy Sacraments. He is the goal and purpose of our spiritual disciplines. Christianity is not a moral code, or a set of ideas, or a social program. Christianity is the supernatural union of God and man together by the Holy Spirit. Christianity is the divinization of man by the Holy Spirit coming into him and changing him. Orthodoxy is man’s healing and his transformation into all that God is.

This week I was in the bookstore and came across a fascinating book entitled The Millionaire Mind, written by an economic statistician. The author researched the mentality of Americas millionaires, and then presented the results of his research under certain fixed categories: what millionaires drive, where millionaires live, how millionaires invest, what millionaires think about education, etc. A fascinating study indeed. The bottom line in the book is that millionaires have their minds and their lifestyles oriented around one thing: the preservation and increase of capital. America’s millionaires think and act in certain ways designed to maximize the preservation of the money they have, and to increase what they have.

We Christians have a book very similar to The Millionaire Mind. It is called the Synaxarion, and it consists of the official lives of the saints. In it we discover The Mind of the Saint. There we learn how saints live in this world, how they think, what they think about education, where they live, how they invest, etc. An even more fascinating study. The bottom line in the Synaxarion is that saints have their minds and lifestyles oriented around one thing: the presentation and increase of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Saints think and act in certain ways designed to maximize the preservation of the grace they have been given, and to increase the presence of the Holy Spirit within them.

The presence of the Holy Spirit within us varies. One thing we must understand is that all Christians possess and are filled with the Holy Spirit in differing degrees and measures. All are given the Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism. This is the testimony of St. Paul, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). We all begin the same in Holy Baptism. We are all given the grace of God and the gift of the Holy Spirit when we are baptized and chrismated. But from the moment following baptism and chrismation the presence of the Holy Spirit within each of us depends upon our cooperation with the Lord in our salvation. Spiritual growth is synergistic. Those who seek the Lord grow in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, and this manifests itself in a spiritual life: a life ruled by the Holy Spirit and evidencing His fruits such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22ff). Some come from the baptismal font less focused, less intent on working out their new-found salvation with fear and trembling, and so they do not grow in the Holy Spirit as they should. Some even forget God altogether and give themselves up to wanton lusts and immorality, and in so doing completely drive the Holy Spirit away from themselves.

This last type of person is truly most pitiful, for the last state of this man becomes worse than the first. Describing just this type of person our Savior says, “Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places, seeking rest, and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. Then it goes, and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first” (St. Matt. 12:43-45). Discern the tragedy. The person has been freed from the unclean spirit through baptism so that the Holy Spirit can take up residence within the newly baptized. The unclean spirit leaves but then later attempts reentry, and what is the tragedy? The tragedy is that the unclean spirit finds the Christian unoccupied. What a horrid state. The unoccupied Christian is the Christian who has driven away the Holy Spirit from his life by his indifference and sinfulness.

We are not called to be unoccupied Christians. We are called, rather, to be Christians filled with the Spirit of God. This is the word of St. Paul, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). Do you see the intended contrast? It is a matter of internal influence and control. We ought not be drunk because to become drunk is to put ourselves under the influence and control of alcohol. Instead we ought to be influenced and controlled by the Holy Spirit. There cannot be two captains at the wheel of the ships of our lives.

Everything depends on the free exercise of our will. One of the great dignities of being a human being is possessing a free will. We rejoice in this great reality, but this great privilege can also produce a great catastrophe. With that free will each of us can become saints. There is nothing holding us back from becoming such except our own wills. This is greatly encouraging. At the same time, with our free wills we can also become great sinners, and drive away the Holy Spirit of God completely from our lives.

King David expresses this dynamic relationship we have with the Holy Spirit in that most beautiful of Psalms, Psalm 50. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew in me an upright spirit. Do not cast me away from Thy presence and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me” (vv. 10-11). TAKE NOT THY HOLY SPIRIT FROM ME. This was something King David was very worried about because he had committed a very serious sin, and was writing this Psalm in repentance for that sin. He remembered what happened to his predecessor King Saul. The following is written in the 1st Book of Kings/1 Samuel 16:14, “Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord terrorized him.” Saul had been wavering in his fidelity and had lost his fear of God, and as a result the Holy Spirit left him, and Saul’s unoccupied space quickly became the lair of the demons.

Become a spiritual millionaire. The Lord is entreating each of you today to become millionaires. I am not speaking about money. The Lord is not interested in you joining the ranks of the Forbes 400, and if by the slight chance that He is interested in you doing that, it is so that you can become a conduit of His resources to the Church and to the poor and needy. The Lord is entreating each of us today to become millionaires in a currency that does not pass away, and cannot be stolen. We must become millionaires spiritually. We must become rich in the Holy Spirit.

But how do we become spiritual millionaires? How does one increase in the Holy Spirit? By asking for Him and by making decisions in your life that make the indwelling of the Spirit of God natural for you. St. Seraphim of Sarov gave this advice when he was asked what one must do to acquire the Holy Spirit increasingly: “So that our spirit will have freedom to uplift itself there and be nourished by sweetest conversation with the Lord, one must humble oneself with constant vigils, prayer and remembrance of the Lord. And I, humble Seraphim,” said the Starets, “for this reason go through the Gospel daily. On Monday I read St. Matthew, from beginning to end; on Tuesday, St. Mark; on Wednesday, St. Luke; on Thursday, St. John; the other days I divide between the Acts of the Apostles and Epistles of the Apostles. And I do not for a single day neglect to read the daily Epistle and Gospel, and also the readings to the saints. Through this not only my soul, but even my body rejoices and is vivified, because I converse with the Lord. I hold in my mind his Life and Suffering; and day and night I glorify and give thanks to my Redeemer for all His mercies that are shed upon mankind and upon me, the unworthy one” (Little Russian Philokalia, Vol. 1, St. Seraphim, p. 67).

Spiritual millionaires invariably fill their minds with the words of God and the lives of the saints, and are thereby transformed. It is impossible to become spiritually rich without giving ourselves to Scripture and loving the saints. How often must we confess, saying, “I haven’t been reading my Bible as I should.” Anyone who has ever read Scripture and the lives of the saints knows the immense life-changing power of the Word of God. The Holy Spirit inspired every word of Scripture, and, when we reach it in our desire to obtain Him, He works literal miracles inside of us. Reading Scripture is intended as a supernatural act. It changes us and drives away evil, for the demons cannot bear to hear Scripture. It is no wonder that St. John Chrysostom says, “The root of all of our evils is the ignorance of Holy Scripture.” This very point is something that our own beloved Bishop Joseph has often stressed, saying, “To maintain the pattern of the Biblical and Patristic teachings we have to be perpetual students of the Sacred Scriptures” (Address to the Clergy at the 1998 Clergy Symposium).

Become rich dear ones. To the Comforter Who dwells in us, and to the Father from Whom he proceeds, and to the Son through Whom He proceeds, be all glory and praise forever. Amen.

Fr. Josiah Trenham is pastor of St. Andrew Antiochian Orthodox Church, Riverside, CA.