Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Quench not the Spirit

Our Friend Michael Chuck Hann was recntly made a Subdeacon in the United States. May the Lord continue to bless his way and studies for the service of the Church.

'Quench not the Spirit . . . ' (1 Thess. 5:19). Man usually lives careless and unconcerned about the worship of the Church and his own salvation. Then grace awakes the sleeping sinner and calls him to salvation. Listening to this call with a sense of repentance, he resolves to devote the rest of his life to works that are pleasing to God, and by so doing to achieve salvation. This resolution shows itself in eagerness and zeal: and these in their turn become effective when strengthened by divine grace through the holy sacraments. From this moment the Christian begins to burn in spirit—that is, he begins to be unremittingly zealous to fulfil all that his conscience shows him to be the will of God.

It is possible either to sustain and strengthen this burning of the spirit, or to quench it. It is warmed above all by acts of love towards God and our neighbor--this, indeed, is the essence of the spiritual life—by a general fidelity to all God's commandments, with a quiet conscience, by deeds that are pitiless to our own soul and body, and by prayer and thoughts of God. The spirit is quenched by distraction of the attention from God and God's works, by excessive anxiety about worldly matters, by indulgence in sensual pleasure, by pandering to carnal desires, and by infatuation with material things. If this spirit is quenched, then the Christian life will be quenched too.

St. John Chrysostom discusses this burning of the spirit at some length. Here in brief is what he says. 'A thick mist, darkness and clouds are spread over the earth. Referring to this the Apostle said: "For ye were sometimes darkness" (Eph. 5:8). We are surrounded by night, with no moonlight to help us, and it is through this night that we must walk. But God gave us a bright lamp when He kindled the grace of the Holy Spirit in our souls. But of those who have received this light, some have made it brighter and clearer, such as Paul, Peter, and all the saints; but others have quenched it, such as the five foolish virgins or those who suffered shipwreck in the faith, the Corinthian fornicator or the fallen Galatians. And so Paul says, "Quench not the Spirit", that is the gift, for he usually speaks of the "gift" of the Holy Spirit. And what quenches it is an impure life. For if anyone pours water or throws earth upon the light of a lamp, it goes out, and this also happens if they simply pour the oil out of it: in the same manner the gift of grace is extinguished. If you have filled your mind with earthly things, if you have given yourself up to the cares of daily business, you have already quenched the Spirit. The flame also goes out when there is not enough oil, that is, when we do not show charity. The Spirit came to you by God's mercy; and so if it does not find corresponding fruits of mercy in you, it will flee away from you. For the Spirit does not make its dwelling in the unmerciful soul.

'Let us, then, take care not to quench the Spirit. All evil actions extinguish this light: slander, offenses and the like. The nature of fire is such that everything foreign to it destroys it, and everything akin to it gives it further strength. This light of the Spirit reacts in the same manner.'

This is the way in which the spirit of grace manifests itself in Christians. Through repentance and faith it descends into the soul of each man in the sacrament of baptism, or else is restored to him in the sacrament of repentance. The fire of zeal is its essence. But it can take different directions according to the individual. The spirit of grace leads one man to concentrate entirely on his own sanctification by severe ascetic feats, another it guides pre-eminently to works of charity, another it inspires to devote his life to the good organization of Christian society, and again another it directs to spread the Gospel by preaching: as for example Apollos, who, burning in spirit, spoke and taught about our Lord (Acts 18: 2 c).

--St Theophan the Recluse

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