Saturday, April 11, 2015

Have we received the Holy Spirit?*

   Christ is Risen! It is such a joy to be with you today. Holy Week, the celebration of which we have just completed, is surely the most beautiful time in the entire ecclesiastical year. Who could deny the splendor and magnificence of our feasts?. They are God's own feasts, and make our hearts rejoice in Jesus Christ. Although Holy Week has now come and gone, the hymns of the Passion continue to resound within our ears, mingling with the cries of our heart, which we offer up to the Risen Lord.

   Each of us, to a greater or lesser extent, celebrated those feasts and took something from them. What did we take?. To this question, each of us will have a different answer, because even though the Church is a unity, it is a unity of distinct personalities. It is an assembly of persons, each one of them whole and complete, standing before God, and not an anonymous, undifferentiated mass. Thus it is entirely possible for all of us to be gathered together in church, to be standing next to each other and chanting in unison, but for each of us to get something different out of the experience. And what each of us receives is known only to that person, only to the spirit of the man, which is in him, as well as to God the Spirit, Who searches the depths of our own spirit (cf. 1 Cor 2.10-11).

   What, then, did we receive?. In the first place, we received what we prepared ourselves to receive. Whatever food you've prepared, that's what you'll eat. Whatever bed you've made, that's the one you're going to lie on. Whatever you've sown in your field, that's what you'll reap. Throughout the liturgical year, then, we receive what we have prepared ourselves to receive. God will not bring something to fruition that we have not had a hand in cultivating; and what we cultivate, that which we expect to bear fruit, grows directly from the seeds we've sown within ourselves. Consequently, we'll get whatever our heart has prepared for itself. One per­son will get God; another will be moved by the chanting; another will gain a few insights; someone else the kingdom of heaven. Each will receive whatever it is he desired.

   In each instance, the preparation of the heart is fundamental.

   And this is not an activity that we engage in only on the eve of great feasts. It is an unceasing activity, which the soul accomplishes within itself, making it holy, chosen, and able to receive God, or whatever God chooses to give it. God is as infinitely rich as we are poor, and thus we have need of Him (cf. 2 Cor 8.9). But what we find depends on the way we seek for it. The way we see God, in other words, determines what we shall see in God. This is why I say: what you've prepared yourself for is exactly what you'll receive. One person cultivates the wind, and reaps nothing. Another prepares to receive the Holy Spirit. It all depends.

   We also receive, not simply what we've prepared ourselves to receive, but what we're capable of receiving: what we're able to contain within ourselves. He who receives is the one who is able to contain what he receives within himself (Mt 19.12). We receive, then, whatever we're capable of understanding; in proportion to the idea of God that we have. For example, I receive Holy Communion, and so do you, and so does somebody else. But each of us perceives the sacred gifts differently; each of us has a greater or lesser un­derstanding of them, and thus we receive them in a manner that is distinctive to each. Our understanding of something is part of the way we experience it, and cannot be separated from it, so much so that the experience of God and His kingdom is a form of un­derstanding, for it is the experience of true knowledge (cf. Jn 8.32; Lk 1.77; 1 Cor 1.5).

   God, of course, is not like an object within our ordinary hori­zon of understanding. But He can nevertheless be received by us, interact with us, according to our capacity for knowledge and our power of perception. This is why He says: I am the Truth (Jn 14.6), and teaches us that He is the Light (cf. In 8.12). This is why the more you learn to cultivate within yourself the knowledge of God, the more you can receive Him in the fullness of His truth and perfec­tion. As we said, each of us receives Him according to the capaci­ties of our heart, mind, and will. We are all drawing from the same well, but we drink different water, depending on our thirst.

   Our capacity for God depends very much on the simplicity of our hearts, on the purity of our nights, on our spiritual reading and meditation, and on the degree to which we empty ourselves. It depends on our self-emptying; a kenosis of our substance and being (cf. Phil 2.7). And this is the great mystery of human freedom, which God never violates. We are filled to the degree that we are empty, to the degree that we voluntarily make room within ourselves for God. This is why we say: "You receive as much as you can contain."

   Moreover, with respect to the holy days of Christ's Passion, we can also say that we received according to the measure that we suffered. Those feasts mark the sufferings of God in the flesh, and it is only by suffering that we can understand, participate in, and complete the sufferings of the Lord (2 Cor 1.5-7), Who left us an example (1 Pet 2.21) in the form of His Passion, which He Himself experienced.

   If we suffered, if we knelt in prayer, if our life became a real cry, if - to put it in human terms - our life was really a terrible trial, a martyrdom so extreme as to be a rejection of life itself, an abandonment and annihilation of the self, then we would so much more be able to receive God.

Resurrection Fresco - Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God 
 Saint John the Baptist Monastery -  Douma

   We also receive according to the measure that we have loved.

   Such love is closely linked to the depths of our being, to our experience of pain and suffering, which reveal the depths of our love. If we are unwilling to suffer, we will not be able to love. Such love is also linked to the flight of the soul, to the distance it keeps from the world, which is also a kind of suffering, because it wants to ascend to God, since it has no peace apart from God's love, by which it is crowned and united to God.

   It follows, then, that the closer you are to God, the more you love Him. And our desire for God knows no satiety; it is something that can never be completed or exhausted. Love finds its perfection, not in this life, but in the next, and this means that perfect love should always be a perfect dissatisfaction. "To love" means to find no final satisfaction in the things of the world, and thus it expresses both our movement toward, and the distance which still remains, between us and God. The extent of our love, then, can be measured by the duration of our weeping. It can be measured by the extent to which we've been reduced to nothing in the infinity of God, and by our attempts to make God our own and to comprehend Him. And this measure can be grasped, not by any intellectual calculation, but only through the experience of suffering and love.

   Our love for God is union with God, because it results from a certain kind of knowledge. And knowledge of God is acquired by participation in God, by making our existence an eating and drinking of God, an active communion in His life. The more our existence has been leavened by God, the more we love Him. And the more we love Him, the more we receive from Him.

   So, the more we've prepared, the more room we've made, the more we've suffered, the more we've loved, the more we've cried aloud - wept and lamented without restraint - the more we'll have received God Himself. Needless to say, all of this remains hidden behind a cheerful countenance, beneath a smile, beneath the depths of true joy, beneath an entire life that witnesses to God by its tranquility, love, and truth, because we know that, no matter what happens, God for us is everything.

* This homily was delivered at the Sacred Monastery of Simonos Petras, 8 April, 1977 by Archimandrite Aimilianos.

   m. Maximos Simonopetrites (2009), The Way of the Reflections on Life in God, “Indiktos” Publishing Company S.A., Athens, Greece.