The All-Holy and Life-Creating Spirit Our God

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee.

O Heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art in all places and fillest all things; Treasury of good things and Giver of life: Come and dwell in us and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O Gracious Lord.

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal: have mercy on us. (Thrice)

Glory to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

All-Holy Trinity, have mercy on us. Lord, cleanse us from our sins. Master, pardon our iniquities, Holy God, visit and heal our infirmities for Thy Name's sake.

Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy). (Thrice)

Glory to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Our Father, Who, art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name...


Apolytikion of Pentecost. Plagal of Fourth Tone

Blessed art Thou, O Christ our God, Who hast shown forth the fishermen as supremely wise by sending down upon them, the Holy Spirit, and through them didst draw the world into Thy net. O Befriender of man, glory be to Thee.

Kontakion. Plagal of Fourth Tone

Once, when He descended and confounded the tongues, the Most High divided the nations; and when He divided the tongues of fire, He called all men into unity; and with one accord we glorify the All-Holy Spirit.



The Orthodox view of Grace is quite distinct from that of the West, especially as developed by the Scholastics from seeds in the theology of the Blessed Augustine. As the Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky explains:

[The] theology of the Eastern Church distinguishes in God the three hypostases, the nature or essence, and the energies. The Son and the Holy Spirit are, so to say, personal processions, the energies, natural processions. The energies are inseparable from the nature, and the nature is inseparable from the three Persons. These distinctions are of great importance for the Eastern Church's conception of mystical life...

The distinction between the essence and the energies, which is fundamental for the Orthodox doctrine of grace, makes it possible to preserve the real meaning of Saint Peter's words "partakers of the divine nature" [2 Peter 1:4]. The union of which we are called is neither hypostatic-as in the case of the human nature of Christ--nor substantial, as in that of the three Divine Persons: it is union with God in His energies, or union by grace making us participate in the divine nature, without our essence becoming thereby the essence of God. In deification [theosis] we are by grace (that is to say, in the divine energies), all that God is by nature, save only identity of nature...according to the teaching of Saint Maximus. We remain creatures while becoming God by grace, as Christ remained God in becoming man by the Incarnation. (Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church).

In short, the Orthodox understanding of the nature of Grace is that it is the very energies of God Himself. Through the Trinitarian ministry of the Holy Spirit--a ministry involving both general and special activities--these energies are mediated to mankind. This stands in contrast to the Latin view flowing mainly from the anti-Pelagian writings of St. Augustine. For Roman Catholics, Grace is a created intermediary between God and man.

The General Ministry of the Holy Spirit

Although a Protestant work, Thomas Oden's systematic theology accurately and succinctly captures the Orthodox position on the general activity of the Holy Spirit:

"The work of the Spirit does not begin belatedly at Pentecost, but is found profusely in all creation and its continuing providences, and especially in the entire history of salvation."

General and Special Operations of the Sprit

As the Son is said to be co-working with the Father in creation and with the Spirit in consummation, so the Spirit co-works with the Father in creation operations shared in the divine triad.

In this sense it is celebrated that God's Spirit creates (Gen. 1:2; Ps. 104:30; Job 33:4), redeems (Isa. 44:3, 23), and offers gifts to creatures (Gen. 2:7; 41:38; Exod. 28:3; 31:3). The Spirit illumines reason, enables political order, and restrains the capacity for humanity to destroy itself. Among these "general operations" of the Spirit shared with the Father and the Son are the offering of life, supporting of life newly given, nurturing continuing life, strengthening life nurtured, and guiding life strengthened. This applies to all forms of life, whether plant, animal, or human.

The Spirit convinces the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. The Spirit penetrates the self-deceptions, evasions, defensive ploys, and indifference of the world. The Spirit works to change the lowered awareness of sin into heightened awareness, making the unrighteous hungry for righteousness, as if already facing the final judgment (An Ancient Homily by an Unknown Author [Second Clement].

We see, here, the wide range of the Spirit's ministry in creation. In this regard, Saint Athanasius the Great, in his On the Incarnation of the Word of God, states:

"The Savior is working mightily among men, every day He is invisibly persuading numbers of people all over the world, both within and beyond the Greek-speaking world, to accept His faith and be obedient to His teaching".

Saint John Cassian makes similar remarks in his Conference XIII, On the Protection of God:

"The grace of Christ then is at hand every day, which, while it 'willeth all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,' calleth all without any exception, saying: 'Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you' .

Saint Seraphim of Sarov's famous conversation with Nicholas Motovilov affords us further insight into the Orthodox teaching regarding Grace:

"However, that [i.e., the fact that 'the Spirit of God was not yet in the world'--St. John 7:39] 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 was manifested only externally; yet the signs of His presence in the world were known to mankind...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 of Angels, and to distinguish the operations of the Holy Spirit from the ordinary natural phenomena of our graceless earthly life. Simeon who held God in his arms, Christ's grandparents Joakim 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...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. Romans 2:14)."

In any attempt to elucidate an Orthodox position on dogmatic issues, it is also important to consult the texts of the Divine Services. A brief look at some frequently used prayers will help to illustrate the concept of the Holy Spirit's general ministry. The first example introduces the Trisagion and is recited at almost every Orthodox service:

"O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, the Treasury of good things and Giver of life..."

Here one can see an affirmation of the Holy Spirit's general ministry towards all of creation in which He fills all things with the energies of God in His role as the Divine Agent of Him by Whom 'all things consist' (Col. 1:17). The second example is the prayer which concludes the First Hour. Based on Saint John 1:9, it is a good example of the Orthodox understanding of the Economy of God towards His creation:

"O Christ the True Light, Who enlightenest and sanctifies every man that cometh into the world: Let the Light of Thy Countenance be signed upon us, that in it we may see the Unapproachable Light..."

Concerning the verse in Saint John's Gospel which inspired this prayer, Saint John Chrysostom comments:

"If He 'lighteth every man that cometh into the world,' how is it that so many continue unenlightened? For not all have known the Majesty of Christ. How then doth He 'light every man'? He lighteth all as far as in Him lies. But if some, willfully closing the eyes of their mind, would not receive the rays of that Light, their darkness arises not from the nature of the Light, but from their own wickedness, who willfully deprive themselves of the gift. For the same Grace is shed forth upon all, turning itself back neither from Jew, nor old, nor young, but admitting all alike, and inviting with an equal regard. And those who are not willing to enjoy this gift, ought in justice to impute their blindness to themselves; for if when the gate is opened to all, and there is none to hinder, any being willfully evil remain without, they perish through none other, but only through their own wickedness.

In short, everyone born into this world is a recipient of the general ministry of God in His Redemptive Economy. Moreover, in this prayer one can see God's involvement both in the beginning of man's salvation--the general 'enlightenment' of man (which is, as will soon be shown, distinct from the illumination given only in Holy Baptism), such that his reason-endowed soul is rendered accountable to God (cf. Romans 1:19-20)--and in the bullness of man's salvation: union with God in the Unapproachable Light (theosis).

[Source: This is a chapter from the Non-Orthodox: The Orthodox Teaching on Christians Outside of the Church.]

(To be continued)

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George