The Holy Spirit Changes Our Heart
The Holy Spirit Changes Our Mind
With a sad heart we celebrate today this great Feast of Pentecost. As many of you have heard, our hierarch and father, bishop and Metropolitan Iakovos of Chicago passed away on Friday. Our spiritual father for the last 38 years has departed unto the Lord. We offer our prayers on his behalf for the forgiveness of his sins, for his eternal repose in heaven, that God remembers his holy archpriesthood in His kingdom forevermore, amen!
On this great day of Holy Pentecost we are about to read the Kneeling prayers, which technically belong to the Vespers service that we’ll be celebrating this afternoon at St. Mary Greek Orthodox Church as a Pan-Orthodox community. But, often in parish practice these prayers are read at the end of the Divine Liturgy because many people do not attend the Vespers service of Pentecost. So, I encourage you to join us for the MEOCCA Pan-Orthodox Vespers of Pentecost later this afternoon.
I would like to offer as a reflection today a meditation that was written by St. Nikodemos the Hagorite (+1809). Many of you may know a little bit about St. Nikodemos, who lived in the 18th century. He was a prolific churchman having translated many works not long after the printing press was invented. He took full advantage of that opportunity to publish tracts and sermons with many other writings to grow the Faith, to spread the Faith. In terms of renewal, St. Nikodemos was known as one of the “Kolyviades” a very controversial group. They were mindful about the renewal of Orthodoxy around that time coming out from under the yoke of Ottoman-Muslim occupation and persecution. They understood that after 400 years of oppression, most Orthodox had lost the knowledge about their Faith and Tradition. He and others like him faced opposition even from within the Church for trying to bring about renewal. But, as you will see, St. Nikodemos is quite and amazing person for his time because he not only wrote about the traditions and the theology, but he also helped people to apply them to their own daily life.
This particular meditation was specifically related to Pentecost. He talked about three changes that can/should occur by the power of the Holy Spirit. This of course is what we celebrate on Pentecost, we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirt upon the holy apostles and disciples some 2,000 years ago. However, it’s not just a historical remembrance. Rather, we are participating once again, we are inviting once again upon us fifty days after the Resurrection of our Lord, God an Savior Jesus Christ. Those three changes that St. Nicodemos wrote about were: a change of mind, a change of heart, and a change of tongue. I am only going to share one of them today and that is the change of the mind:
Meditation on Pentecost (Part 1 of 3) By St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite
1) a change of mind, 2) a change of heart, and 3) a change of tongue.
1. Consider, my beloved, how the All-holy Spirit filled the entire house where the divine Apostles were sitting and praying when the Holy Spirit descended into the upper room in the form of fiery tongues like a violent wind and thunder: "And It filled all the house where they were sitting" (Acts 2:2); and how the Holy Spirit made the house into something like a baptismal font, as Gregory of Thessaloniki says, in order to baptize the Apostles with His divine grace, concerning which baptism the Lord foretold them: "Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence" (Acts 1:5). "It filled the house where they were sitting, making it a spiritual font, and accomplishing the promise which the Saviour made them when He ascended, saying, ‘For John truly baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ Even the name which He gave them proved to be true, for through this noise from heaven the Apostles actually became sons of Thunder."2 At that very time the All-holy Spirit Himself wrought three changes in the Apostles. The first was a change in the mind of the Apostles, such that their previous ideas concerning the things of this world were altered so that they began to understand clearly the lowliness and vanity of present good things, and on the other hand to understand the greatness and eternalness of the future good things. Therefore, those same Apostles who just a short while ago disputed among themselves who among them would be the first and greatest: "And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest" (Lk. 22:24), after receiving the Holy Spirit considered it a great blessing to be lesser than everyone, to be despised by everyone on account of Christ, and to be looked upon as weaklings, fools, disgraces, with contempt, and as the trash and refuse of the world and men: "We are fools for Christ's sake, we are weak, we are despised... we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day‛ (1 Cor. 4:10-13).
Now, my brother, think about whether this change of mind has also occurred in you through reading this spiritual exercise and what spiritual degree you have reached. For if up to now you have thought it a great thing to be honored and esteemed by men, to be in the heart of everyone and loved by all, to always be seeking out new pleasures (wasting the time on these things that was given to you in order that you might gain the eternal good things), and to live with taxes and among worldly controversies, it is apparent that up until now your mind has been directed by the spirit of the world and not by the Spirit of God. For this you should lament and repent, because Christ died, resurrected, and ascended into the heavens, not to give you the spirit of the world, but to give you His own Spirit, and you, by the evil life you have been living, have not become a recipient of His Divine Spirit: "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God" (1 Cor. 2:12). However, from now on you must be resolved to change your ways completely, namely, to be guided by the teachings of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit, not to reckon any other honor but that which magnifies you before God, and not to choose any other good except that which will bring you Paradise. If you do these things it is a good sign that the grace of the Holy Spirit has begun to illumine your mind and to change you from the person you were into another person, just as it is written about Saul: "The Spirit of the Lord will come upon thee, and thou shalt be turned into another man" (1 Kg. [1 Sam.] 10:6). On account of this you should rejoice and thank the Lord Who illumined you with His Holy Spirit so that you might not walk any longer as an infant, but as a perfect man: "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things" (1 Cor. 13:11), and so that you might not follow any longer the mindset of the flesh, which is death, but the mindset of the Spirit, which is life: "To be carnally minded is death; but to have the mind of the Spirit is life and peace‛ (Rom. 8:6).
Be ashamed, then, of your past life, when you lived, not as a family member of Christ, but as an alien and foreigner, because you did not possess the Spirit of Christ, for according to the Apostle: "Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His" (Rom. 8:9). Humbly ask the Holy Spirit to completely reorient your mind toward His divine will, enlightening it with His grace, and not superficially, but penetratingly to the depths, so that you might not be deprived of His enlightenment and grace like David, and say with him: "The light of mine eyes, even this is not with me" (Ps. 37:10). And to a dim enlightenment you should add a purer and brighter enlightenment, saying: "In Thy light shall we see light" (Ps. 35:10). But how can you retain this enlightenment of the Holy Spirit in your mind and not let it be extinguished? Listen to what the divine Chrysostom has to say to you: Just as the light of a lamp is ignited and continues to shine because of the oil in it, but when the oil is consumed the light too is extinguished, so the grace of the Holy Spirit is ignited and illumines us when we have good works and almsgiving in our souls. But when we lack good works and almsgiving the light of the Holy Spirit departs from us. "For just as the light of a lantern is fueled by oil, and when the oil burns off the light is extinguished as well; in like manner, the grace of the Spirit ignites and illumines us when we have good works and have much almsgiving and compassion for the poor in our soul. When these are absent, however, then does grace also disappear and depart."3 Accordingly the Spirit of the Lord which was given to Saul departed from him because he did not have a good will and virtuous deeds: "The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul" (1 Kg. [1 Sam.] 16:14). For this reason Paul commands us by writing: "Quench not the Spirit" (1 Th. 5:19).
Basil the Great says that just as a fever permanently remains in some bodies for a long time, but in others temporarily and only for a short while, so it is with the Holy Spirit, for He remains in some people permanently on account of the firmness of their good will, as it was for Eldad and Medad (concerning whom it is written in
Numbers 11:26 that they always prophesied); while in others the Holy Spirit is found only temporarily and quickly departs on account of the instability of their will, as was the case for Saul and the seventy elders who only once prophesied and then lost the charisma of prophecy: "As in our bodies is health, or heat, or, generally, their
variable conditions, so, very frequently is the Spirit in the soul; since He does not abide with those who, on account of the instability of their will, easily reject the grace which they have received. An instance of this is seen in Saul and the seventy elders of the children of Israel, except Eldad and Medad, with whom alone the Spirit appears to
have remained, and, generally, any one similar to these in character."4
1 Translated by Fr. George Dokos, ThD. This is the Thirty-Third Meditation from St. Nikodemos’ book Pneumatika Gymnasmata [Spiritual Exercises] ([Thessaloniki: Regopoulos, 1999], 286-293).
2 St. Gregory Palamas, Homily Twenty-Four: On how the Holy Spirit was manifested and shared out at Pentecost, PG 151, 312B; The Homilies of Saint Gregory Palamas, Volume Two ([South Canaan: St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 2004], 25-26).
3 St. John Chrysostom, De Verbis Apostoli, Habentes Eumdem Spiritum 6, PG 51, 277. 4 St. Basil the Great, De Spiritu Sancto 26.61, PG 32, 180D-181A; NPNF (V2-08), 38.