I had the opportunity to speak with the youth and a few others this week in a church that is being constructed in a small Alaskan village off the Kuskokwim River. I’ll be in Alaska for the remainder of this month.
Today we stand in a special place – a church that is being built. Churches are where we go to meet with God, to worship him together in community, and to receive his precious Body and Blood.
In the times before our Lord Jesus came, the period called the Old Testament, people went to the temple in order to meet God. That is where his presence was known to be. However, something extraordinary happened after Jesus ascended: Pentecost.
Pentecost is the beautiful celebration of the Holy Spirit. Some people speak of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)in this manner: God above me, God beside me, and God inside me.
In the Old Testament times, God was thought to be above us, watching over us. When Jesus came, God was beside us, walking with the Apostles and teaching us how to live a divine life. After Jesus ascended, he did not leave us as orphans, but sent to us the Holy Spirit – the Spirit is God dwelling inside of us.
In order for everything in the entire cosmos to exist, it has to be continuously held in existence by God. Nothing can exist on its own. All of us are borrowing our existence from God. It is like the light that comes from a lamp that you plug it into a socket. It turns on while it is connected to the source and only when connected to the plug. But if you unplug it, the light will cease.
All of us have this spiritual light inside of us because we are all being held by the Holy Spirit. There are times that we feel God is distant from us, as if he cannot hear us crying out to him nor feel our pain. But God is never far from us. St. Anthony the Great teaches, If a blind man cannot see the sun, then is it because the sun is hiding from him? No, the sun hides from nobody. Whether or not we can see the sun depends on the purity of our own hearts.
For that reason, we should strive to live in purity, to live as the Bible and the Church teach us to live. Our heart has a spiritual eye that the Fathers of the Church call a nous. This eye has to be kept clean, just as a window must be kept clean in order to see out of it. If the only window in a house is covered in mud, then nobody will be able to see outside. Likewise, when our soul is covered with the mud of sin, it is blind to God and to the Holy Spirit, even though God is close to us at all times.
St. Seraphim of Sarov frequently taught that we must make the entire aim of our life the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. What he meant by that was not that God was hiding from anyone, but that we must make every effort to orient our entire lives toward the purpose of communing with the Holy Spirit.
It is a wonderful thing to come to a church and meet God in communal worship, to receive the grace that comes from receiving Christ’s precious Body and Blood. However, that is only part of the journey. We must do more than that if we are to “acquire the Holy Spirit,” or as another saint said, to be a “precious vessel of the Holy Spirit.”
To be a vessel of the Holy Spirit means that we carry a special presence of God inside of us everywhere we go. Many people nowadays talk about wanting to change the world. St. Seraphim of Sarov tells us how to do that. He says, “Acquire the Holy Spirit, and a thousand around you will be saved.” In other words, work on purifying your own heart, becoming a vessel of God’s presence, and then God will overflow out of you and onto everyone around you.
Our whole world would change for the better if each one of us made this effort. Many saints here in Alaska did just that. Your local saint, Olga, went about her life quietly, living a fairly normal village life in Kwethluk just a few miles from here. But she made a positive impact on everyone she met because she acquired the Holy Spirit.
As I have mentioned, such an acquisition of the Holy Spirit does not come magically as some people seem to think. It comes through a purposeful attempt to have faith in God, to live by the commandments of Christ, and through the grace that our Church offers us.
“God is with us,” as we often sing in church. God wants to be with us. He greatly desires to lavish his love upon us. The thing separating us from feeling God’s love all of the time is our sin and our lack of attention that we give to God and spiritual matters.
So, my friends, “let us commend each other and our whole lives unto Christ our God,” who died for us, rose from the dead to give us hope in our own resurrection, and who sent his Holy Spirit to us to be a comforter and life-giving presence within us and around us. Amen.