The Holy Spirit and the Church

The Holy Spirit and the Church

No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit…For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.

-1 Corinthians 12:3, 13

 by Fr. David Fisher

I.      Introduction

It would be a mistake to think that the Holy Spirit is not present throughout salvation history and does not enter our world until the great day of Pentecost. Following the teachings of the Apostolic Father, Saint Irenaeus of Lyon (c.130 -c. 202), the Father is never present without his two hands, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Against Heresies, book IV, chapter 20). Indeed, the beginning of the Book of Genesis proclaims to us the presence of the Holy Spirit, “In the beginning God made heaven and earth. The earth was invisible and unfinished; and darkness was over the deep. The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the water.” (Genesis 1:1-2)   

On the great day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is gifted to the Church, so that the faithful can profess, “Jesus is Lord.” Saint Isaac the Syrian (c. 613 - c. 700) expressed the event of Pentecost in these words, “… the Savior commanded them not to leave Jerusalem until they should receive power from on high, that is to say, the Paraclete, which, being interpreted, is the Spirit of consolation.” (Ascetical Homily 77) What is our consolation?  That Jesus is the Lord of life, that he has destroyed death, and that our faith in him is the consolation of knowing that  by sharing in his death, we share in his Resurrection.   

II. The Creed

The distinguished 20th century liturgy scholar Alexander Schmemann remarked that: “The Church is not a library of doctrines that have been neatly catalogued into individual classifications, neither is it in the strict sense of the word a teacher of religious truths, rather it is an ‘epiphany’ of God’s final and total revelation to humanity.” (The Eucharist - Sacrament of the Kingdom)

According to the ecumenical councils of the first Christian millennium, this ‘epiphany’ of God’s final and total revelation, experienced first and foremost in the celebration of The Holy Mysteries/Sacraments, are expressed as articles of faith.     

It is from the first two ecumenical councils of the “unbroken Church,” that what is commonly referred to as The Nicene Creed was articulated. The proper name of the profession of faith is, however, The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Symbol of Faith; taken from the cities in which the Councils were held. The First Ecumenical Council was called by the Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great, in 325, and was held in Nicaea to combat the Arian Heresy. In doing so, it affirmed the divinity of Jesus Christ, true God from true God, (consubstantial)one-in-beingwith the Father. The Second Ecumenical Council was called by the Roman Emperor Theodosius I the Great, in 381, and responding to the heresy of Macedonius, it affirmed the divinity of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life

In the English translation of The Creed, it states that the Holy Spirit proceedsfrom the Father. This translation is from the Latin word procedere, yet in the original Greek text the dynamic term ἐκπορευόμενονis used. The meaning intended here is a proclamation of faith in the Holy Spirit’s dynamic, energetic, spiration, from the Father; and the transformation, grace-filled return to the Father of all that is sanctified. This is why we can profess we believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. What is unified and made holy is the universal Apostolic Church, sanctified (made Christ-like) by the same power of the Father by which the Word became flesh in the womb of the Holy Mother of God, and by which the Savior of the world opened the gates of the abode of the dead, and rose triumphant on the day of Resurrection; that being the power of the Holy Spirit.

Saint Ephrem the Syrian uses King David as an example of those who longed to receive the grace that is given to the Church. He writes: “The Spirit dwelt in him and made song in him. Your anointing which you have is greater, for Father and Son and Holy Spirit, have moved and come down to dwell in you.” (Hymns for the Feast of Epiphany, Hymn Three)

III. The Holy Mysteries

“Hear us, O Lord.  Hear us, O Lord.  Hear us, O Lord. And may your living Holy Spirit come and rest upon us and upon this offering. Kyrie eleison. Kyrie eleison. Kyrie eleison.”
–  The Epiclesis from the Maronite Divine Liturgy    

The Church is made by the celebration of the Holy Mysteries/Sacraments, especially The Divine Liturgy of theHoly Eucharistand therefore, the Church we can say is brought about by the Invocation of the Holy Spirit. As Saint Irenaeus remarked, “Our teaching is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist, in turn, confirms our teaching.” (Against Heresies, book IV, chapter 18

In the early and Patristic periods of the Church, there was no “distance” between the liturgical celebration of the Holy Mysteries and the dogmatic beliefs of the Church.  The words and actions of the Holy Mysteries, especially the Eucharist, were a living catechism of belief. With the Medieval Scholastic period in Western Christianity and the rise of Aristotle’s logic and metaphysics as paramount in the Medieval Universities, what arose was a separation between worship and dogma. While the shift to rationalism had a much greater impact on Western Christianity and society (eventually leading to the Reformation, Enlightenment, and Secularism) than it did on Eastern Christianity, its impact was felt throughout all of Christianity. 

Schmemann points out that the unity of belief and worship became lost in non-eucharistic theology; the fracturing between dogma, ecclesiology, and the Eucharist. Theology was left standing in a paradox, because it had destroyed that which was its gift, that being unity. The gift of the Holy Spirit which is ‘communion’ on the level of real and true being; a being constituted by the members of the Church and the Church united with the triune God; this ‘mystery of faith’ suffers when its theological expression becomes handicapped by the creation of ‘divisions’ within it.

We need look no further than the first document of the Second Vatican Council, the Document on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium), to see how the Latin Church came to a realization of what had been lost. This document called for the insertion of an explicit “epiclesis” in the New Order of the Roman Mass (Novus Ordo), which had been absent or as some said “ambiguous” in the Tridentine Mass.    

The celebration of the Holy Mysteries are ecclesial events, they constitute the being (ontological reality) of the Church, because the invocation of the Holy Spirit unites the Church with the Holy Trinity. In a sense the Epiclesis of the Holy Spirit, draws the Church into the Perechoresis (interpenetrating rotation of the Three Persons of the Trinity) of the triune GodIn other words, we are brought into the very life of God, which means for us the Kingdom of God/Heaven.          

IV. Conclusion

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul goes to the heart of the Christian life and by extension the life of the Church: “Though I speak with tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I have become a sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. …And now abide faith, hope, love, these three, but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:1, 13)

Jesus Christ reveals by his Death and Resurrection that God is Love, and that we who are graced by the Holy Spirit, who ‘groans” within us, is forming us to be Christ-like, that is beings constituted by ‘love.’ Our faith teaches us that love never exists in isolation; we are brothers and sisters in the Church. Our faith teaches us that love never dies and that the Church is terrestrial and heavenly; we are united with the living and the faithful departed. 

As God is a perfect communion, the Holy Trinity; the Church is a perfect community, One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. In this time where we are faced with assaults upon the Church, we must remember that the Church is Holy, formed by the Invocation of the Holy Spirit.


Father Fisher is a Maronite priest of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles and Adjunct Professor of Theology, Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Sts. Cyril & Methodius