"You see, your Godliness! Great is the power of prayer, and it brings most of all the Spirit of God, and is most easily practiced by everyone. We shall be blessed if the Lord God finds us watchful and filled with the gifts of His Holy Spirit.”
This is a quote from the conversation of St. Seraphim of Sarov and his disciple Nicholas Motovilov. St. Seraphim was attempting to teach him that the whole of the Christian life is about acquiring the Holy Spirit. Motovilov, like many of us, simply didn’t understand until St. Seraphim revealed the practical path and absolute necessity of having a purposeful and Spirit-led life.
As we continue our journey through the season of Lent, the Church in Her love and care for us, invites us to enter more deeply into the Christian life and prepare ourselves to celebrate the Lord’s Pascha! In light of the modern pressures on our families, we must practice the time-tested wisdom of the spiritual disciplines if we ever hope to stem the tide of the sad statistics of our children leaving the Church, and if we ever hope to regain that which strengthens our marriages and our Orthodox homes.
The Ministry of the Holy Spirit
So, what is it about acquiring the Holy Spirit that heals these maladies in our families and our homes? First, it is important to remember how our Orthodox faith embraces the dogma of the Holy Trinity. This cornerstone of Orthodox theology has very practical applications in our families: If God knows Himself as Three Persons in eternal communion, and we are created in the image of God, then being in communion with Him and with each other is at the very center of our life together as a family, and as a community.
Second, let us take a look at the present ministry that the Holy Spirit accomplished in His Church. In John 16: 5-11, Jesus, before He goes to the cross for our salvation, tells His disciples of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Church after our Lord ascends to heaven. He “will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” This three-fold ministry of the Holy Spirit gives us powerful insights into how our Christian lives are to be forever changed and practiced every day in our homes!
Notice, the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin. For we Orthodox, sin isn’t so much the breaking of a rule as it is “missing the mark.” So, our Lord tells us that the first ministry the Holy Spirit will do for us is to show us what harms us. Isn’t that important information? As parents we are constantly telling our children that this or that act or behavior is harmful to them. “Don’t touch that stove, sweetie! You’ll burn yourself.” The Holy Spirit, if we are paying attention to His ministry in our daily lives, will warn us when we are about to live in a way that actually harms us! What a powerful and important gift!
Next, our Lord tells us that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of righteousness. So, the Holy Spirit, the Helper, won’t just warn us when we are approaching a danger zone in our lives, He will also show us the path that helps us. Our Orthodox faith isn’t just about do’s and don’ts! No, our faith is filled with practical practices that lead to a way of life governed by wisdom and beauty. Our homes can be places of peace and our children can be given a very solid foundation in Orthodoxy that keeps them connected to the faith their whole lives. The Holy Spirit guides us into the good and helpful Christian path and practice that makes our lives as they were intended to be!
Finally, our Lord tells His disciples that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of judgment, because the “the ruler of this world is judged.” This means that all the excuses we come up with for why we don’t practice the faith, as we should are all empty. Our Lord came and destroyed every enemy of humanity; sin, death, and Satan. So, when we make excuses, we really are living below the freedom Christ has purchased for us. The work of the Holy Spirit in our lives is to continually remind us that all our true enemies are defeated and we can, by God’s grace, live our lives as faithful Christians. We can, so the only question is “will we?”
Putting the Holy Spirit into practice in our homes
Now the question is how do we put into practice this wonderful ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives? Remember what St. Seraphim told Motovilov at the start of our article? Prayer is the very first and vital step to making our faith more than simply a small decoration in our lives. If we ever hope to allow the Holy Spirit to bring His vital ministry to our homes and our families and our children, we will have to practice prayer. And the Church, in Her love and care for us, gives us literally volumes of teaching on how to pray.
First prayer invites the Holy Spirit to enter our hearts and homes. The prayer we Orthodox pray every morning to the Holy Spirit reveals so much: “Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth. Who is everywhere present and fills all things. Treasury of Good Gifts, Giver of Life. COME and abide in us. Cleanse us from all sin, and save our souls, O Good one. Amen.”
Next, prayer invokes the Spirit’s activity in our lives. Most of the time my biggest problem in my Christian life isn’t that I’m doing bad things as much as I neglect good things. When I have an active prayer rule, when my children see me praying, when my wife prays with me at our family icon corner, I am greatly assisted in staying awake to my constant need for God and I am reminded of His love and grace in my home. This provides me with the depth and spiritual strength I need to keep pushing back against a world where it is easy to forget God.
Finally, prayer produces intimacy. Remember the old ‘50’s song; “To know him is to Love him.” This is especially true of God. You simply cannot get to know someone you never spend any time with. But regular prayer every day, creates a sense of intimacy with God that will give us the spiritual sensitivity to hear His voice warning us when we are approaching danger, leading us to deeper goodness, and reminding us that every spiritual enemy we will ever have has been dealt with by our Lord Jesus. This intimacy is the never-disappointing ingredient that will strengthen our families, train our children, and shine the light of our faith to the world.
Fr. Barnabas Powell is the parish priest at Sts. Raphael, Nicholas, and Irene Greek Orthodox Church. He is a 2010 graduate of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. After several years as a Protestant pastor he, and twenty families in his former church, converted to Orthodoxy in 2001 after a ten year journey to the fullness of the faith. He and Presvytera Connie have two daughters, Alexandra and Katherine.