While still in the season of the resurrection, which lasts forty days, the Church begins to focus our attention on the Feast of Pentecost. This feast, which means «fiftieth», commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the holy apostles and disciples of our Lord. It is entitled «fiftieth» to signify that it happened fifty days after Pascha; it was the fiftieth day since our Lord’s resurrection. Once the apostles received the Holy Spirit, they were transformed from “fishermen into theologians”. They immediately began to preach the gospel in many different languages. They performed miracles and taught with authority. They boldly went out wherever the Spirit led them and quickly expanded the Church throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. The same men who locked themselves in the upper room for fear of the Jews were transformed into great martyrs, confessors and powerful missionaries. One might ask what made the difference? The simple but accurate answer is the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives and in the life of the Church.
This was the difference then, and it is still the difference now. From generation to generation, the Saints and Holy Fathers of the Church have summed up the goal of the Christian life as the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. When a person submits to God and allows God to fill him with the Holy Spirit, this person gains the peace of God and the mind of God, and a thousand souls around him are saved. Growing in the Holy Spirit is the key to everything in the Christian life and in the life of the Church. Nearly every challenge and problem in our personal lives and in our parish life that has a bearing on salvation can be overcome by living our personal and corporate lives in greater and greater submission to the Holy Spirit.
If one were to attempt to try and cover every means of acquiring and preserving the Holy Spirit in a human heart, we would end up writing a library of books. Fortunately, most of these books already exist in the collections of classical works written by the Holy Fathers, Saints and Elders of our Church, and many of these are carried in our own Logos Bookstore. For the purposes of this humble Newsletter, however, I would like to focus on just one important way for us to grow in the Holy Spirit. This is known as the humble path of self-accusation. St. Dorotheos of Gaza dedicates an entire chapter of his work entitled Practical Teaching on the Christian Life to this way of blaming and reproaching ourselves in a healthy and God-pleasing way. He says, “Truly, if a person searches himself with fear of God, he will find that he has always given cause for his own difficulty or for upsetting another either through deed, word or gesture, directly or indirectly.” This way of self-accusation will help each person to eventually see their passions, their mistakes and their sins and to repent of them and begin to purify themselves and make progress. Both Abba Poemen and St. Anthony the Great, highly respected Luminaries of the Church, taught that self-accusation is one of the great and necessary works and virtues if one is to grow in the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, it is good for us to blame ourselves and no one else for what happens to us. It eventually brings much comfort and joy. It helps us to understand and trust in God’s providence, that nothing happens to us which is not under the care of God. To trust in God’s providence is essential if one is going to learn how to blame himself in a God-pleasing way. Abba Sisoes, one of the great Desert Fathers, taught his disciples to say, “Whatever temptation may come upon you, say, ‘This is happening because of my sins,’ and if something good happens, ‘It is God’s providence.’” The humble saints would say the holy suffer for God’s name or to demonstrate virtue for the benefit of many or to gain greater reward from God, but we suffer because of our sins. St. Dorotheos shows the opposite of this way when he says, “Each one of us follows the wrong path when we try on every occasion to accuse our brother and throw the burden of responsibility upon him. Each one of us is negligent and keeps nothing, but demands that our neighbor keeps the commandments.” We have not found the royal path Christ set for His followers as long as we blame our neighbor instead of accusing ourselves. As long as we are busy justifying ourselves and captivated by accusatory thoughts against our neighbors we will neither progress nor benefit from anything.
Our Lord taught in His famous Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Mt.5:8) To see God requires that one be filled with the Holy Spirit. This is the fulfillment of Pentecost! Purity of heart requires a focused and sustained effort to repent, but repentance is impossible if we are blaming others instead of trying to see within ourselves the root cause of the problem. Even as you read this article, you can surely examine your day and find situations which can be improved by humbly recognizing your shortcomings. Self-accusation is the path to repentance. It is the path to purity of heart and the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, which is the purpose of the Christian life. May we each take a step closer to actualizing the event of Pentecost and the descent of the Holy Spirit in our lives by trying to practice this essential spiritual virtue of Self-accusation.