Moving from Theory to Experience

What would our faith be without experience? Imagine what our Christianity would be like if we were not constantly having the experience of God?
Fr. Gabriel Bilas | 16 June 2019

Blessed Feast Day of Pentecost Dearest Brothers and Sisters!

We have reached the epilogue of the journey that we have been through, beginning with Great and Holy Lent, and concluding today with the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  We have spent these last months watching, listening, and learning about the incredible Love that our Father has for us.  On that first day of Lent, we read and remembered the agony of mankind through the Church given words of Adam.  Like Him, we sat outside of the gates of paradise, looking at the life that we ourselves had lost through our own foolishness and pride.  With tears flowing down our faces, we began this great journey by asking our Loving God for that chance to get back to Eden.

Throughout Great and Holy Lent, we watched as that path back to our inheritance manifested itself through the saving work of the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ.  We wept on Good Friday as we realized, that despite denying our Creator in so many ways, He still loved us enough to send His Only Begotten Son as a sheep to be slaughtered for our foolishness and weakness.

A few days later, we gathered once again to witness the Resurrection at Holy Pascha.  We rejoiced at watching the path back to paradise being opened up to us once again.  We shouted gleefully that Christ had Indeed Destroyed Death, trampling down death by His Own Death, bestowing life upon the entire world. And finally, last week, we watched the risen Christ ascend into heaven, and promise the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Disciples, and to the rest of the world.

What a blessed journey these past few months have been, dearest brothers and sisters in Christ!  We have witnessed, seen, and comprehended so much these past 4 months…but there has been something in this entire narrative that has desperately been missing for us…something that the Apostles needed in order to take what they had learned from Christ, and allow it to penetrate their hearts, so that they could spread it to the entire world.  What was lacking…was  an ”experience” of God.

Many of the apostles left their families and jobs to follow after Jesus.  They listened to His teaching.  They broke bread with Him.  They watched as He was led to the cross.  They witnessed His Resurrection.  They had 40 joyous days with Him, continuing to learn from Him about what He had come to do for the world.  And yet, when He left them and ascended into heaven, they did not immediately go into the cities and start to preach Christ to the masses.  None of them had the faith that was necessary to go and be martyred for His name. Something was missing…and that something is manifested today to us as we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Disciples at Pentecost.

There is no Christianity without the coming of the Holy Spirit! The experience of God given to us at Holy Pentecost, is the glue which holds all of the works that we have celebrated these past few months, together.

What would our faith be without experience?  Imagine what our Christianity would be like if we were not constantly having the experience of God?  We would read scripture, we would come to Church, we would learn about our Lord’s birth, His crucifixion, His resurrection, and we would chalk it up to an inspirational story about Love…not truly understanding or comprehending in our hearts what God means to mankind.

Try to explain to me what love is without personal experience.  Can we truly fathom what love is by reading it in a book?  Can we learn about love by watching a chick flick on the Hall Mark Channel?  No!  We learn about love in this life by experiencing it from other people.  And in the same manner, we learn about the love that God has for mankind by experiencing it through the Holy Spirit.

The events of Pentecost gave mankind the ability to not just read about God in scriptures, but to personally experience Him in our own lives, (and here is the key) if we allow Him to be experienced.  One of our biggest faults as human beings is a denial of our ability to experience God in a very real way, each and every moment of our lives.  We think that because we don’t always get our prayers answered right away, or can’t hear a deep voice responding to us in a physical sense, that it is impossible to have communion with our creator.  And yet, despite our doubts, we see examples of so many men and women throughout the centuries that truly knew God PERSONALLY. St. Paul is a wonderful example of this. He would say often in scriptures: “I know Him in whom I believed.” “I know from experience…”  He rarely, if ever, said “I think or I believe” when speaking about Christ. He said with conviction “I know Him”

How do we experience God in this same way…with this type of conviction?  St. Simeon tells us that it is not enough for Christians to simply believe that Holy Spirit lives within us.  We have to get to the point and open our minds and hearts to actually feeling the movement and the operation of the Holy Spirit within us, just like a pregnant woman becomes aware that a new life stirs within her.  This is our task, brothers and sisters in Christ.  As we begin our journey from Pentecost into the rest of the Liturgical year, we have to strengthen our resolve to move from theory to experience and life.  A God filled life is one that is powerful…and personal.  And just as God promised that the Holy Spirit would come upon us, let us now make a solemn vow to Him this morning.  Through our prayer life, through a denial of our denial of passions, and with an increased attentiveness to ourselves, let us spend these coming months opening our minds and our hearts to the Holy Spirit which is within each and every one of us…waiting to penetrate and mold us into living the life of an Orthodox Christian.

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