Coptic Icon Pentecost

The Holy Spirit and His work in us

“What is greater than to possess the Holy Spirit?”
(St. Pachomius’s disciple Theodore: First Greek life of Pachomius).

…He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father “which” He said ‘you have heard from Me, for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit, not many days from now” (Acts 1:4-5).

The disciples waited in Jerusalem as the Lord had told them awaiting the “Promise of the Father”. So ten days after their Lord had ascended into Heaven, as was their habit, they were together praying in the upper room, where they had celebrated the meal which the Lord had said to them was them participating in eating His Body and Blood.

And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John and Andrew, Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alpheus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and in supplication” (Acts 1:13-14).

Here at this time, the Promised Holy Spirit of God descended on them as tongues of fire. On this feast day of the Jews for harvest – Shavot – and for their remembrance of receiving the Torah from God through Moses. Each farmer would journey to the temple in Jerusalem and offer the first fruits of their harvest. God chose this day of harvest and blessing of a new covenant to be the birth of His Church to empower his “first fruits” of this new birth.

The disciples emerge from the upper room now full of the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit of God whose Grace now upon them empowered them to explode on the world map!

Within a few tens of years this newly born church would have spread to many of the cities and towns of the ‘civilized’ Roman empire and within three hundred years Christianity would be the state religion of the empire of Rome. The calendar for all to follow would be recalculated to the birth of the Christ – history would be henceforth accounted as before or after His glorious birth – Before Christ – BC and Anno Domini – AD – meaning “in the year of the Lord”. What caused this explosive growth – the promised Holy Spirit of God!

The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

Let’s go on a little journey in order to get to know This Holy Spirit. In order to learn more about Him we need to look at how He has been working throughout history. Let’s first look at The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament.

In Exodus 13:21-22 we read, “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night.  He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people”. This beautiful verse helps us to realise that God’s Holy Spirit can lead us practically on a day by day basis, protecting and warming us.

The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament descended upon the prophets, upon some kings making them prophesy and praise God, like with David. To some He gave gifts like Samson’s strength or Solomon’s wisdom. The prophets spoke through the Holy Spirit, “for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2Pet 1:21).

We read that when the Spirit of the Lord descended on David, the young small shepherd’s heart was inflamed. So, when he heard Goliath defying the very armies of the living God, the Holy Spirit moved within him. All the others heard the reproach and stood silent, but David could not; he decided to interfere and relieve the people from Goliath’s reproach. David did not calm down till he stopped the voice of that reproacher. His Zeal was a fire that he could not bear. O that the Holy Spirit of God would be a fire in us too so that we would burn with zeal for God in this manner.

However, in the Old Testament these descents were not for all the believers and were temporary, like with King Saul, whereas in the New Testament we became temples of the Holy Spirit and He dwells in us.

The more we realise who the Holy Spirit really is the more we wake up to our urgent need of Him.

His Divinity

He is The “Spirit of God” as it is stated in (Gen 1:2).

He is The Third Person of the Holy Trinity, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 28:19)

“God’s Spirit” is mentioned throughout the Old Testament. His distinction from the Father is made clear in some passages below:

  • Genesis 1:1-2: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” [The Holy Spirit is Eternal]
  • Psalm 139:7-8: “Where can I go from Your Spirit?
    Or where can I flee from Your presence?
    If I ascend to heaven, You are there;”
    If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. [The Holy Spirit is Omnipresent]
  • Isaiah 40:13 “Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord,
    Or as His counselor has informed Him?”
    [The Holy Spirit knows all things and is all wise]
  • Zechariah 4:6 “Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts.” [The Holy Spirit is all Powerful]
  • Isaiah 61:1: “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners” [The Holy Spirit is compassionate]
  • Isaiah 48:16: “Come near me and listen to this: ‘From the first announcement I have not spoken in secret; at the time it happens, I am there.’ And now the Sovereign LORD has sent me, with his Spirit.” [The Holy Spirit of God]
  • Nehemiah 9:20: “You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst.” [The Holy Spirit teaches us]

He is not a force or energy but a person

All of the above reveal what the Church knows that The Holy Spirit is a person not a thing, or a force like gravity, or an energy like electricity, this also clearly means we can come to a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit who is our Paraclete.

The Holy Spirit in the New Testament

The most important work of the Holy Spirit was His work in the Divine Incarnation, “And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.”

The descent of The Holy Spirit on the Apostles marked the birth of the Church. Without the Holy Spirit the Apostles would not have been able to work, their words would have been empty and of little effect. That is the difference the Holy Spirit makes, and that is why they were told to wait, “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).

In the New Testament after Pentecost The Holy Spirit orchestrates everything, this is seen by how He decides on His servants, “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” (Acts 13:2). Also The Holy Spirit determines the movement of the ministers, this is seen in Acts 8:28-29, “Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.’”.

St. Peter the Apostle also, when the Holy Spirit descended upon him, the fear he had before was removed replaced with a fiery zeal. Thus he filled the world with preaching and could not stop but said, “We cannot but speak..” (Acts 4:20).

What we need to realise is that God’s Holy Spirit wants to use us now in this powerful fiery way. He wants to tell us where to serve, with whom, how and when, but often He finds us concerned with our own problems. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to use us as He used the apostles and disciples.

The Paraclete or Comforter or Advocate – The One who walks alongside us and defends us (the Council for the defence):

Our Lord Jesus was so eager to lavish on us His Spirit that was promised by The Father as a Gift for us! This gift would be known to us as he is The Spirit of Jesus. He is gentle with us as Jesus was with the children bidding them to come to Him. He is loving and forgiving such that the sinners flocked to be with Him and were transformed. He grieves over us His children as our lord grieved over Jerusalem like a mother Hen.

Our Lord Jesus says of His Spirit:

He is “to be with you forever” (Jn 14:16).

“He abides with you and he will be in you” (Jn 14:17).

He speaks, “for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you” (Mt 10:20)

He teaches, reminds, guides, tells and convicts, this is seen in “He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all the things that I said to you” (Jn 14:26), and “When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth… and he will tell you things to come” (Jn 16:13), and also “He will convict the world of sin (Jn 16:8).

And not only that at times He will inform you of what is to come as a loving caring parent, John 16:13 “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.”

His presence with us would mean He would communicate his deepest feelings with us! 1 Corinthians 2:10-11 “For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.

Not only this but so much more, even our own thoughts and inner feelings that at times we bury from ourselves and find difficult to express to God, His Spirit will be able to communicate that to God! Romans 8:26 “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession [g]for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.”

The Holy Spirit in the Apostolic Church

We know that in the early church of the apostles, that the Holy Spirit was given by the laying on of the hands of the apostles. But as Christianity spread the Apostles could not be everywhere and only the Apostles and the Bishops they appointed were given this gift of giving the Holy Spirit. So how were they to sort out this issue?

In the Old Testament one of the Symbols of the Holy Spirit was Oil, we see this in Exodus 30:22, “Moreover the Lord spoke to Moses, saying:  23  “Also take for yourself quality spices–five hundred [shekels] of liquid myrrh, half as much sweet-smelling cinnamon (two hundred and fifty [shekels]), two hundred and fifty [shekels] of sweet-smelling cane,  24  “five hundred [shekels] of cassia, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and a hin of olive oil.  25 “And you shall make from these a holy anointing oil, an ointment compounded according to the art of the perfumer. It shall be a holy anointing oil.  26 “With it you shall anoint the tabernacle of meeting and the ark of the Testimony.

The Oil was used to anoint not only the Altar and the utensils but also Aaron and his Sons, “And you shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that [they] may minister to Me as priests.” Exodus 30:31

The believers grew in number and the apostles could not be everywhere to place their hands on the new believers to receive the Holy Spirit so they prayed on Oil together as a substitute for the laying on of their hands. Having appointed overseers and later priests they would ask the descent of the Holy Spirit using the Oil passed down from the Apostles.

For this reason, it is significant that our line of Bishops goes back through a continuous link of laying on of hands through the Holy Chrism or Myron all the way back to the Apostles. This is called apostolic succession.

“Jesus tells us that His holy Disciples will be more courageous and more understanding when they would be, as the Scripture says, Endowed with power from on high (Luke 24:49), and that when their minds would be illuminated by the torch of the Spirit they would be able to see into all things, even though no longer able to question Him bodily present among them. The Saviour does not say that they would no longer as before need the light of His guidance, but that when they received His Spirit, when He was dwelling in their hearts, they would not be wanting in any good thing, and their minds would be filled with most perfect knowledge.”
St. Cyril of Alexandria

The Work of the Holy Spirit through the Church

Through the Sacraments

The sacraments of the Church have no power or effect without the work of the Holy Spirit in them.

In every sacramental act of the Church, and most notably at the climax of the Eucharistic Prayer, the Holy Spirit is solemnly invoked, in the Epiclesis, as a rule this is prayed secretly by the celebrant, but sometimes in full hearing of the congregation:

“and we ask You, O Lord, our God, we, Your sinful and unworthy servants. We worship you by the pleasure of Your goodness, that Your Holy Spirit descend upon us and upon these gifts set forth, and purify them, change them, and manifest them as a sanctification of Your saints.”[The Epiclesis]

In Baptism the Holy Spirit is called upon to transform the water into life giving water:

“O God, sanctify this water and this oil that they may be used for the baptism of the new birth. Amen. Eternal life. Amen. Incorruptible vestment. Amen. The grace of filiation. Amen. Renewal of the Holy Spirit Amen…. Send Your thunder, O Almighty Gd. Over this water, so that through it and by the power of Your Holy Spirit, Your servants, who have come to You may be reborn by Your Divine Power.

It is the Holy Spirit that unites husband and wife and makes them one flesh, sanctifying, uniting and protecting their marriage.

In Confession it is the Holy Spirit that cleanses us and purifies us of the sins we repent of, this is expressed in Psalm 51: 11-12, “Do not cast me away from Your presence,  And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and uphold me [by] [Your] generous Spirit.” Do we feel the power of The Holy Spirit taking us back to the loving arms of Our Father after confession, do we feel we have been freed from the bonds of sin, I’m sure we do.

The Work of the Holy Spirit in our Lives

The Holy Spirit is our daily companion who is vitally important for our life and ministry. The Church recognises this and has asked us daily to ask the Holy Spirit saying,

“O Heavenly King, the Spirit of Truth, the comforter, who is everywhere and fills everybody. You are the treasure of goodness and giver of life, we ask you to graciously come and dwell within us, purify us from iniquity and save our souls.”

This same prayer is prayed at the beginning of most liturgical services.

In this prayer we are reminded that the Holy Spirit is the source of our life, our very being, it is He that holds all the matter of the universe together and sustains all life.

The Spirit and Fire

H.H. Pope Shenouda writes: “The apostle wants us to be “fervent in Spirit” (Rom 12:11), because when God’s Spirit dwells within a person, He kindles him with fervence….Fire is a symbol of the Spirit, of the work of the Spirit, and of those whom the Spirit works… A person who has God’s Spirit working in him is characterized with spiritual fervence as the apostle asked us to be ‘fervent in spirit’”.

How the Spirit communicates with our spirit

The Holy Spirit throughout our lives has given us many gifts, among which through baptism are renewal, righteousness, and new birth. But we are free to accept these gifts and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives or not, to be united to Him or not. This is what separates saints from sinners.

It is not sufficient for us to have received the Holy Spirit, but that we should have communion with Him. This is called the communion of the Holy Spirit. At the end of every Church meeting, the priest blesses the people by saying, “The love of God the Father, the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor 13:13).

We need to feed the Fire of The Holy Spirit in our daily lives, daily placing on that furnace our wills, our desires, our energy asking for our very being to be consumed as a burnt offering by The Fire of the Spirit.

As we daily consecrate our lives in this manner The Holy Spirit burns away the Old Man and builds in us the character of our Lord Jesus Christ, the new man. He begins to grow in us from small seedlings his fruits. These are mentioned in Galatians 5:22-25: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.  24 And those [who] [are] Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit”

The more of our old self we offer on the altar of fire the more is consumed, purified and transformed.

It is when we have the fruits of The Holy Spirit in their fullness that we truly mirror Christ finishing the work of The Holy Spirit in us. I saw this happening in ‘fast-forward’ through the life of a dear friend who was being purified. She was suffering for many years in the body with cancer, and yet her spirit was being renewed. She was fiery, aflame with the fire of The Holy Spirit, in her latter days she was so infectious that nurses and cleaning staff would come and pray with her and be blessed.

“All of these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He gives them to each one, just as He determines.” 1 Corinthians 12:11

Romans 12:4-6 “4 For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. 6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; 7 or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; 8 he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”

Our Church richly manifests all of these gifts even today.

The work of the Holy Spirit in uniting us with God in prayer is shown in the lives of Sts, Maximus and Domadius

“They lived in this manner for three full years, never meeting anyone; they only    went to Church   on Sundays to   partake of   the Holy Communion silently.  Saint Macarius marvelled that they did not go to him all these years to seek his advice. After praying for God to reveal their secret for a whole week, he went to visit them in their   cell where he also spent the night. When  he woke up  at midnight, as was his  custom to pray, he saw the two Saints praying and a ray of light like fire, going  from their mouths to heaven, and the devils were all around them like flies, and the angel of the Lord standing with a sword of fire  protecting them. At dawn, they pretended they were asleep, and they all got up. Saint Macarius put on them the holy garb of the monks and asked them to pray for him. They bowed to the ground before him and they were silent.”

Author – Ehab Roufail