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The Presence of the Holy Spirit in History

By St. Seraphim of Sarov

(From: “The Acquisition of The Holy Spirit” in The Little Russian Philokalia)


 “FATHER,” said I, “you speak all the time of the acquisition of the grace of the Holy Spirit as the aim of the Christian life, but how and where can I see It? Good deeds are visible, but can the Holy Spirit be seen? How am I to know whether He is with me or not?”

  “At the present time,” the Elder replied, “owing to our almost universal coldness to of our holy faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and to our inattention to the working of His Divine Providence in us, and the communion of man with God, we have gone so far that, one may say, we have almost abandoned the true Christian life. The testimonies of Holy Scripture now seem strange to us when, for instance, by the lips of Moses the Holy Spirit says: ‘And Adam saw the Lord walking in paradise’ (cf. Gen. 3:10), or when we read the words of the Apostle Paul: ‘We went to Achaia, and the Spirit of God went not with us; we returned to Macedonia, and the Spirit of God came with us.’* More than once in other passages of Holy Scripture the appearance of God to men is mentioned.

  “That is why some people say: ‘These passages are incomprehensible. Is really possible for people to see God so openly?’ But there is nothing incomprehensible here. This failure to understand has come about because we have departed from the simplicity of the original Christian knowledge.


(* In the Acts of the Apostles (16:6-7) this text reads: When they had gone throughout Phrygia. and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia, after they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not).



Under the pretext of education, we have reached such a darkness of ignorance that what the ancients understood’ so clearly seems to us almost inconceivable. Even in ordinary conversation, the idea of God’s appearance among men did not seem strange to them. Thus, when his friends rebuked him for blaspheming God, Job answered them: ‘How can that be when I feel the Spirit of God in my nostrils?’ (cf. Job 27:3). That is, how can I blaspheme God when the Holy Spirit abides with me? If I had blasphemed God, the Holy Spirit would have withdrawn from me; but lo, I feel His breath in my nostrils.

  “In exactly the same way it is said of Abraham and Jacob that they saw the Lord and conversed with Him and that Jacob even wrestled with Him. Moses and all the people with him saw God when he was granted to receive from God the tables of the law on Mount Sinai. A pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire, or in other words, the evident grace of the Holy Spirit, served as guides to the people of God in the desert. People saw God and the grace of His Holy Spirit not in sleep or in dreams, or in the excitement of a disordered imagina­tion, but truly and openly.

  “We have become so inattentive to the work of salvation that we misin­terpret many other words in Holy Scripture as well, all because we do not seek the grace of God and in the pride of our minds do not allow It to dwell m our souls. That is why we are without true enlightenment from the Lord, which He sends into the hearts of men who hunger and thirst wholeheartedly for God’s righteousness.

  “Many explain that when it says in the Bible: ‘God breathed the breath of life into the face of Adam the first-created, who was created by Him from the dust of the ground’ (cf. Gen. 2:7), it must mean that until then there was neither human soul nor spirit in Adam, but only the flesh created from the dust of the ground. This interpretation is wrong, for the Lord created .Adam from the dust of the ground with the constitution which the holy Batiushka Apostle Paul describes: May your spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (I Thess. 5:23). And all these three parts of our nature were created from the dust of the ground; Adam was not cre­ated dead, but an active living being like all the other animate creatures of God living on earth. The point is that if the Lord God had not then breathed into his face this breath of life (that is, the grace of our Lord God the Holy Spirit, Who proceeds from the Father and rests in the Son and it sent into the world for the Son’s sake), Adam, however perfect he had been created and superior to all the other creatures of God as the crown of creation on earth, nev­ertheless would have been without the Holy Spirit within himself, like unto the other creatures, although he possessed flesh, soul and spirit. But when the Lord God breathed into Adam’s face the breath of life, then, according to Moses’ expression, Adam became a living soul (Gen. 2:7), that is, completely and in every way like God, and, like Him, forever immortal. Adam was im­mune to the action of the elements to such a degree that water could not drown him, fire could not burn him, the earth could not swallow him in its abysses, and the air could not harm him by any kind of action whatever. Ev­erything was subject to him as the beloved of God, as the king and lord of cre­ation; and everything looked up to him, as the perfect crown of God’s creatures. Adam was made so wise by this breath of life which was breathed into his face from the creative lips of God, the Creator and Ruler of all, that there never has been a man on earth wiser or more intelligent than he, and it is hardly likely that there ever will be. When the Lord commanded him to give names to all the creatures, he gave every creature a name which com­pletely expressed all the qualities, powers and properties given it by God at its creation.

  “Owing to this very gift of the supernatural grace of God which was in­fused into him by the breath of life, Adam could see and understand the Lord walking in paradise and comprehend His words, and the conversation of the holy angels, and the language of all the beasts, birds and reptiles and all that is now hidden from us fallen and sinful creatures, but was so clear to Adam bef­ore his fall. To Eve also the Lord God gave the same wisdom, strength and unlimited power, and all the other good and holy qualities. And He created her not from the dust of the ground, but from Adam’s rib in the Eden of de­light, in the Paradise which He had planted in the midst of the earth.

  “In order that they might always easily maintain within themselves the immortal, divine* and perfect properties of this breath of life, God planted in the midst of the garden the tree of life and endowed its fruits with all the essence and fullness of His divine breath. If they had not sinned, Adam and Eve themselves, as well as all their posterity, could have always eaten of the fruit of the tree of life and so would have eternally maintained the quickening power of divine grace.

  “They also could have maintained to all eternity the full powers of their body, soul and spirit in a state of immortality and everlasting youth, and they could have continued in this immortal and blessed state of theirs forever. At the present time, however, it is difficult for us even to imagine such grace.

  “But when through the tasting of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil-which was premature and contrary to the commandment of God-they learned the difference between good and evil and were subjected to all the afflictions which followed the transgression of the commandment of God; then they lost this priceless gift of the grace of the Spirit of God, so that until the actual coming into the world of the God-Man Jesus Christ, The Spirit of God was not yet in the world because Jesus was not yet glorified (John 7:39).

  “However, that does not mean that the Spirit of God was not in the world at all, but His presence was not so apparent* as in Adam or in us Or­thodox Christians. It manifested only externally; yet the signs of His presence in the world were known to mankind. Thus, for instance, many mysteries in connection with the future salvation of the human race were revealed to Adam as well as to Eve after the fall. And for Cain, in spite of his impiety and his transgression, it was easy to understand the voice which held gracious and divine though convicting converse with him. Noah conversed with God. Abraham saw God and His days and was glad (cf. John 8:56). The grace of the Holy Spirit acting externally was also reflected in all the Old Testament prophets and saints of Israel. The Hebrews afterwards established special pro­phetic schools where the sons of the prophets were taught to discern the signs of the manifestation of God or angels, and to distinguish the operations of the Holy Spirit from the ordinary natural phenomena of our graceless earthly life. Symeon who held God in his arms, Christ’s grandparents, Joachim and Anna, and countless other servants of God continually had quite openly vari­ous divine apparitions, voices and revelations which were justified by evident miraculous events. Though not with the same power as in the people of God, nevertheless the presence of the Spirit of God also acted in the pagans who did not know the true God, because even among them God found for Himself chosen people. Such, for instance, were the virgin-prophetesse­s called Sibyls who vowed virginity to an unknown God, but still to God the Creator of the universe, the all-powerful ruler of the world, as He was con­ceived of by the pagans. Though the pagan philosophers also wandered in the darkness of ignorance of God, yet they sought the truth which is beloved by God; and on account of this God-pleasing seeking, they could partake of the Spirit of God, for it is said that the nations who do not know God practice by nature the demands of the law and do what is pleasing to God (cf. Rom. 2: 14). The Lord so praises truth that He says of it Himself by the Holy Spirit:

Truth is sprung up out of the earth, and righteousness hath looked down from heaven (Ps. 84:11).

  “So you see, your Godliness, both in the holy Hebrew people, a people beloved by God, and in the pagans who did not know God, there was pre­served a knowledge of God-that is, my dear, a clear and rational compre­hension of how our Lord God the Holy Spirit acts in man, and by means of what inner and outer feelings one can be sure that this is really the action of our Lord God the Holy Spirit and not a delusion of the enemy. That is how it was from Adam’s fall until the coming in the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ into the world.

  “Without this perceptible realization of the actions of the Holy Spirit, your godliness, which had always been preserved in human nature, men could not have possibly known for certain whether the fruit of the seed of the woman who had been promised to Adam and Eve had come into the world to bruise the serpent’s head (c£ Gen. 3:15).

  “At last the Holy Spirit foretold to St. Symeon, who was then in his 65th year, the mystery of the virginal conception and birth of Christ from the Most Pure Ever-Virgin Mary. Afterwards, having lived by the grace of the All-Holy Spirit of God for three hundred years, in the 365th year of his life he said openly in the temple of the Lord that he knew for certain* through the gift of the Holy Spirit that this was that very Christ, the Savior of the world, Whose supernatural conception and birth from the Holy Spirit had been foretold to him by an angel three hundred years previously.

  “And there was also St. Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, who from her widowhood had served the Lord God in the temple of God for eighty years and who was known to be a righteous widow, a chaste servant of God, from the special gifts of grace which she had received. She too an­nounced that He was actually the Messiah Who had been promised to the world, the true Christ, God and Man, the King of Israel, Who had come to save Adam and mankind.

  “But when our Lord Jesus Christ condescended to accomplish the whole work of salvation, after His resurrection He breathed on the Apostles, restored the breath of life lost by Adam, and gave them the same grace of the All-Holy Spirit of God as Adam had enjoyed. But that was not all. He also told them that it was expedient for them that He should go to the Father, for if He did not go, the Spirit of God would not come into the world. But if He, the Christ, went to the Father, He would send Him into the world, and He, the Comforter, would guide them and all who followed their teaching into all truth and would remind them of all that He had said to them when He was still in the world. What was then promised was grace upon grace 00hn 1: 16).

  “Then on the day of Pentecost He solemnly sent down to them in a tempestuous wind the Holy Spirit in the form of tongues of fire which alighted on each of them and entered within them and filled them with the fiery strength of divine grace which breathes bedewingly and acts gladden­ingly in souls which partake of its power and operations (cf. Acts 2: 1-4). And this same fire-infusing grace of the Holy Spirit which was given to us all, the faithful of Christ, in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, is sealed by the Sacra­ment of Chrismation on the chief parts of our body as appointed by the Holy Church, the eternal keeper of this grace. It is said: ‘The seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit.’ On what do we put our seal, your Godliness, if not on vessels containing some very precious treasure? But what on earth can be higher and what can be more precious than the gifts of the Holy Spirit which are sent down to us from above in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism? This baptismal grace is so great and so indispensable, so vital for man, that even a heretic is not deprived of it until his very death; that is, until the end of the period ap­pointed on high by the Providence of God as a lifelong test of man on earth, in order to see what he will be able to achieve (during this period given to him by God) by means of the power of grace granted him from on high.

  “And if we were never to sin after our baptism, we should remain for­ever saints of God-holy, blameless, and free from all impurity of body and spirit. But the trouble is that we increase in stature, but do not increase in grace and in the knowledge of God, as our Lord Jesus Christ increased; but on the contrary, we gradually become more and more depraved and lose the grace of the AlI-Holy Spirit of God and become sinful in various degrees, and most sinful people. But if a man is stirred by the wisdom of God, which seeks our salvation and embraces everything, and he is resolved for its sake to de­vote the early hours to God and to watch in order to find His eternal salva­tion,* then, in obedience to its voice, he must hasten to offer true repentance for all his sins and must practice the virtues which are opposite to the sins committed. Then through the virtues practiced for Christ’s sake, he will ac­quire the Holy Spirit, Who acts within us and establishes in us the Kingdom of God. The word of God does not say in vain: The Kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21), and it suffers violence, and the violent take it by force** (Matt. 11: 12). This means the people who, in spite of the bonds of sin which fetter them and hinder them (by constraint and by inciting them to new sins), come to Him, our Savior, with perfect repentance for tormenting Him, who despise all the strength of the fetters of sin and force themselves to break their bonds-such people at last actually appear before the face of God made whiter than snow by His grace. Come, says the Lord: Though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them whiter than snow (Is. 1: 18).

* Cf. Wisdom 7:27; 6:14-20.

** Lit. “The Kingdom of Heaven is forced, and the forceful seize it.” Cf. Luke 16: 16:

“Everyone forces himself into it.” _______________________________________________________

  “Such people were once seen by the holy seer of mysteries John the Theologian clothed in white robes (that is, in robes of justification) and palms in their hands (as a sign of victory), and they were singing to God a wonder­ful song: Alleluia. And no one could imitate the beauty of their song. Of them an angel of God said: These are they who have come out of great tribula­tion and have washed their robes, and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:9-14). They were washed with their sufferings and made white in the Communion of the immaculate and life-giving Mysteries of the Body and Blood of the most pure spotless Lamb-Christ-Who was slain before all ages by His own will for the salvation of the world, and Who is continually being slain and divided until now, but is never exhausted. Through the Holy Mysteries we are granted our eternal and unfailing salva­tion as a viaticum to eternal life, as an acceptable answer at His dread judg­ment and a precious substitute beyond our comprehension for that fruit of the tree of life, of which the enemy of mankind, Lucifer, who fell from heaven, would have liked to deprive our human race. Though the enemy and devil seduced Eve, and Adam fell with her, yet the Lord not only granted them in the fruit of the seed of a woman a Redeemer Who tram­pled down death by death; but also granted us all in the woman, the Ever-Virgin Mary Mother of God-who crushes the head of the serpent in herself and in all the human race-a constant mediatress with her Son and our God, and a blameless, invincible intercessor even for the most desperate sinners. That is why the Mother of God is called the ‘Scourge of Demons,’ for it is not possible for a devil to destroy a man so long as the man himself does not refrain from running to the help of the Mother of God.

Please see also: On the Speaking in and Interpretation of Tongues




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