The Illumined and the Perfected: Spiritual Gifts and Ministries

St. Peter, Tonsured David, the Wonderworker of Murom

St. Peter, Tonsured David, the Wonderworker of Murom

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

By Father Alexis (Trader), Monastery of Karakallou, Mount Athos, Greece

"And this we also wish, even your perfection." (2 Corinthians 13:9)

With the foundation in place, Saint Paul then notes that although there are differences among the various gifts, ministries, and activities in the Church, they all have the same source. "The grace of the Spirit is one and unchanging; but energizes each one of as He wills (1 Corinthians 12:11). When rain falls on the earth, it gives life to the quality inherent in each plant: sweetness to the sweet; astringency to the astringent. Similarly when grace falls upon the hearts of the faithful, it gives to each the energy appropriate to the different virtues without itself changing." Here, we encounter more openly the idea of synergy that Saint Paul already pointed to in speaking about "not being carried away by the dumb idols." Simultaneously, Saint Paul emphasizes the sovereignty of the Spirit "that bloweth where it listeth." At each stage in man's spiritual healing, man offers us his good will and honest effort, but the Spirit effects the change through purifying, illuminating, or deifying grace as He sees fit.

Having identified the Source of all true gifts, the holy Apostle Paul then speaks at length about the spiritual gifts describing their use, purpose, and relative importance in the life of the Church. The gifts themselves point to where the believer is found in the process of the healing of his personality. Among these gifts, Saint Paul numbers the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, healing, the working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, kinds of tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. The "word of wisdom" means to be wise and be able to make others wise. This is a gift that the Apostles possessed and is observed in the very epistles of Saint John the Theologian and Saint Paul. The word of knowledge, on the other hand, is the knowledge of and ability to recognize the Truth, but not necessarily the ability to express it. Following these teaching gifts, Saint Paul mentions faith that is able to move mountains, healing, and the working of miracles. Whereas healing refers only to the restoration of health, the working of miracles includes the grace to bind or punish as well. The latter gift Saint Paul employed when he blinded the sorcerer and Saint Peter did so when at his word Ananias collapsed and died. The gift of comprehensibility observed on Pentecost as a type of clairvoyance would seem to be a positive manifestation of the more general category of working miracles. Prophecy, whose source is a direct experience of revelation, the glory of Christ, refers mainly to the ability to express the will of God at every moment and place ("thus saith the Lord"), but also to the ability to interpret the Prophets (having seen the same vision of Christ as they did) and to see the past and future as present. Discerning the spirits refers to the ability to discern who is genuine and who is not, who is a prophet and who is not. Kinds of tongues refers to the ceaseless prayer of the heart in the Holy Spirit, whereas the interpretation of tongues to the translation of that prayer or hymn into audible prayer as expressed by the hymnology of the Church. Father John Romanides further notes that "the difference between those who prophesied and those who interpreted was that the first had direct eye-witness experience of the Truth of Scripture and knew exactly how he reached glorification and so could guide others unerringly in the same experience. Those who interpreted Scripture did so with the guidance of the Holy Spirit praying in the heart and under the guidance of the Prophets and Apostles."

This list of gifts, however, is not unique in Holy Scripture. Both Saint Gregory Palamas and Saint Peter of Damascus note that the Prophet Isaiah has another such list that includes the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of the fear of God. And these "spirits" known as the "seven gifts of the Holy Spirit" are the energies of the Holy Spirit that act in purified man. These gifts are not seen as "supernatural powers" that the believer can wield when he enters some semi-conscious "mystical state," but quite simply ministries or capabilities (diaconia or ministry) with which the believer is entrusted in order to serve and minister unto his neighbor. As Christ came "not to be ministered unto, but to minister," so the Christian who is purified of the passions and illumined by the grace of the Holy Spirit is able to employ the gifts he receives from Christ in like fashion, in a self-offering of love. If the gift received is not to used to edify, it in fact will be to the condemnation of the one who received it. For this reason, Saint Theognostos advises "do not even ask for spiritual gifts unless they contribute to your salvation and help you to remain humble." If the gifts are not "equal," this is due to the fact that "the vessels of the Spirit are not equal." Saint Macarius of Egypt expresses this insight in this way, "Just as many lamps may be lit from the same oil and from a single light, and yet often do not give out an equal radiance, so the gifts that come from different virtues reflect the Light of the Holy Spirit in different ways."

Having listed the gifts and likened the interdependence of the members of the Body of Christ with the same physiological interdependence of the human body, Saint Paul lists the members of the Church that correspond to the previous list of gifts. "And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues" (12:28).  Commenting on this passage, Saint Nikitas writes",

"No one baptized into Christ and believing in Him is left without a share in the grace of the Spirit, so long as he has not succumbed to any diabolic influence and defiled his faith with evil actions or does not live slothfully and dissolutely...He may after worthily engaging in the spiritual combat be blessed through the plenitude of the Spirit with the consciousness of God's wisdom and so become a teacher in the Church or he may through the same Spirit be given knowledge of God's mysteries or come to understand the mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven; or from the same Spirit he may acquire deep-rooted faith in God's promises, as Abraham did. He may receive the gift of healing, so that he can cure diseases, or of spiritual power, so that he can expel demons and perform miracles; or of prophecy, so that he can foresee and predict things of the  future; or of the ability to distinguish between spirits, so that he can discern who is speaking in the Spirit of God and who is not, or of interpretation of various tongues, or of helping the weary, or of governing God's flocks and His people, or of love for all men and the gifts of grace that go with it, long-suffering kindness and the rest. If you are bereft of all these qualities there is no way in which I could call you a believer or number you among those who have 'clothed themselves in Christ' through divine baptism."

Briefly put, the gifts of the Holy Spirit indicate that the receiver is indeed a temple of the Holy Spirit and a member of the Body of Christ. Thus, Saint Paul writes, as "one star differeth from another star in glory," so the members of the Church differ according to the stage of spiritual healing through which they are passing. Saint Nikitas puts it in this way, "Of those granted the grace of the Holy Spirit in the form of various gifts, some are still immature and imperfect with regard to these gifts, while others are mature and perfect enjoying them in their fullness." According to Father John Romanides, "St. Paul lists 'kinds of tongues' as the bottom of the line of membership. This is why all the members have this gift of the Spirit in addition, a fact which puts them at a higher level." The gift of ceaseless prayer (tongues) is, in fact, so taken for granted by Saint Paul that when he lists the various ministries corresponding to the gifts in Ephesians and Romans, he does not even mention that gift in particular, although he clearly instructs both the Thessalonians (5:17) and the Ephesians (5:19) to cultivate it. (Source: In Peace Let Us Pray to the Lord: An Orthodox Interpretation of the Gifts of the Spirit by Father Alexis (Trader).


A blessed week to all of you, and to those travelling, may the Almighty God keep you safe.


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom


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

+Father George