The end of the 38th year of the St. Symeon the New Theologian Ministry is not too far off. It is a good time to pause not only to survey the historical experience of 38 years (in itself richly instructive and gripping), but also to bring into sharper focus what makes this renewal ministry different and distinctive from any other renewal endeavors either contemporary or of the past.
The spiritual benefit that results from the familiar Lenten retreats and Bible studies that are conducted in many parishes must be gratefully acknowledged. However, St. Symeon's renewal ministry goes farther than ordinary retreats and Bible studies.
Such a clarification will serve a practical need. Firstly, it will remind those already part of our renewal ministry why it has a special calling from God for the whole Body of Christ, the Orthodox Church. Secondly, it will serve to help those who are newcomers to St. Symeon's Ministry to grasp with precision the true scope, as well as the basic dimensions and facets that make the calling the Lord has placed on this ministry distinctive.
Often those who are new to St. Symeon's Brotherhood thankfully are fired up for the Lord. But they are driven to become active and to take initiatives prematurely without first having an adequate grasp of the fundamentals of renewal. Some are eager to fill leadership roles. This is admirable and such persons should be encouraged. This is evident particularly at the time of our Renewal Conferences.
It is, however, of vital importance that the one who is new to St. Symeon's Renewal be a learner first and a disciple. A teachable spirit is a requirement. Learning comes before teaching. Allowing ourselves to be trained comes before leading others. A disciple's heart attitude is basic to spiritual growth. It is a sign of humility, and, only the humble are endowed with the grace of the Holy Spirit for ministry. "The Lord giveth grace to the humble" (James 4:6).
In this regard St. Symeon the New Theologian states: "We seek to exercise leadership over the royal flock as shepherds without first becoming lambs" (Catecheses 28).
1. Renewal and the Sacraments
The first principle to be considered is the fact that renewal should be viewed within an Orthodox framework. After all, we are dealing with renewal in the Orthodox Church and not in the Roman Catholic or Protestant Churches. This means renewal is to relate to the familiar forms of worship and the sacraments of our Church.
The sacraments aim at spiritual renewal. Indeed, they look to sanctifying the heart and life of the believer. The one sacrament that is probably most relevant and significant in this regard is the Holy Eucharist, commonly known as the Divine Liturgy.
Each Liturgy we conduct is, in effect, a Renewal Conference. Consequently, we can infer that any renewal activity or renewal movement is unnecessary. Can anything improve on the renewing power in the Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ? Perish the thought!
On the other hand, the fact remains unmistakable, but at the same time puzzling, that somehow the frequent Communions and the sacraments in general don't seem to have a life-changing effect on the communicant as a whole. This is not to deny the efficacy of the sacraments. It's not the fault of the sacraments. The cause of this situation must lie in the communicant's lack of an adequate relationship with God. Sacraments certainly do not work on one's life like religious magic.
Consequently, renewal activities, and specifically renewal conferences, serve to prepare the communicant to maximize the spiritual benefit that comes with receiving the sacraments. There is more than ample evidence to show that Church members who through the years have been active in parish activities as, for example, singing in the choir, serving in the altar, the parish council, the philoptochos society, the youth group, etc. end up with a spiritual void and emptiness in their lives. It is very likely they were living a religion of barren forms.
In one sense, renewal activities as those of St. Symeon's Ministry help the Orthodox believer to find in the sacramental forms and structures a release of life-changing power. As one person put it, "Now I don't have to go to church. I want to go. I don't have to receive Communion. I want to receive it eagerly!"
2. Renewal and Infant Baptism
What makes the difference is a threshold experience of rebirth, often called "regeneration" or a state of being "born again". This is a distinctive dimension in the renewal that St. Symeon's Ministry represents. It centers on Christ's mandate for every believer¾that he or she experience a radical personal transformation. What makes it fundamental to the Orthodox Christian life is affirmed by Christ when He teaches: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6).
While an infant child can be considered regenerated at the time of its water baptism, Chrismation and first Communion, an adult believer cannot content himself with his infant baptism. He cannot rely on his baptismal certificate any longer. What the Lord worked in that infant, apart from its choice and awareness, must become at maturity a personal inner perception.
"He that lacks awareness of his baptism," teaches St. Symeon the New Theologian, "accepting it only by faith and having effaced it by sins, but refuses the second one, I mean the baptism of the Spirit, given by God in His love to those who seek it in repentance, how can he possibly be saved? Not in the least" (Catecheses 32).
Such spiritual consciousness results in a noticeable change of character. The rebirth now moves from the stage of mere doctrine and theology to the stage of a life-changing experience. What releases that force is normally the word of God which intrinsically does such a work on the believer. Both James and Peter clearly speak of the regenerative power of God's word:
"Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, who liveth and abideth for ever" (1 Peter 1:23). "Receive with meekness the engrafted word which is able to save your souls" (James 1:21).
Empirical rebirth does not result from our efforts and exertion nor by someone else's persuasion. It is a supernatural occurrence. It originates "from above" (Gk. anothen) (John 3:3,7). Rebirth is God's free gift received just for the asking, as the believer claims the Lord's promise revealed in His word.
Jesus in unmistakable language declared: "If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water" (John 7:37f).
3. Rebirth: A Threshold Experience
The Lord is not looking for those who are perfect to bestow upon them the rebirth in the Holy Spirit. He is looking for those who confess their thirst for the living water He alone can give. They are the ones who are ready for rebirth, and not those who go to Jesus with a sense of already being filled. The ones who are self-righteous and feel they already have everything they need from God end up having nothing. "He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away" (Luke 1:53).
Rebirth is a work of grace, namely the unmerited favor of God. We do not earn it by our good works nor because of our virtuous living. It is a supernatural bestowal of God's good pleasure. But it is necessary to spell out our need (deep thirst) to the Lord for His free gift. God never pushes His blessings on us. He waits for us to express to Him what we need: "You have not, for you ask not."
That the work of the Holy Spirit is a supernatural gift (charisma) is clearly evident by the Lord's promise: "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?" (Luke 11:13)
The Holy Spirit is yours, dear reader, just for the asking when we meet His conditions. What a truly loving Savior and Lord we have!
Jesus promised, "Ask, and it shall be given you. Seek and ye shall find" (Matthew. 7:7). When the moment comes to seek from the Lord, our priorities must be His priorities. The believer does not place his physical nor financial needs first on his prayer list. Jesus made crystal clear what we should seek first: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew. 6:33).
To secure your answer to prayer, dear reader, first pray for a broken and contrite heart, and a spirit of repentance. Confess your sinfulness before the Lord, seek His forgiveness and thank Him that He "has saved you from the wages of sin which is death, and has given you the free gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord."
After this kind of introductory prayer, you can rest assured that the Lord "will supply all your material needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Philippians. 4:19).
Nothing could be more frustrating to the priest than instructing Church members before they have been "born from above". A believer can grow into the "image and likeness of God" only after his second birth. Can an infant be nurtured on its mother's milk before it comes out of the womb?
No man or woman can move in the direction of spiritual maturity and perfection unless that threshold event has been experienced, rebirth in the Holy Spirit. Can anyone grow before he is born? And, yet, too many priests try to feed their Church members before they are born spiritually.
It is an exercise in futility to try to feed spiritually someone who is not out of the spiritual womb yet. You cannot teach and instruct "flesh". "That which is born of the flesh is flesh" was already quoted above, but "that which is born of the Spirit is spirit", Jesus clearly declared.
Rebirth is not a process. It does not come with spiritual growth and maturity. It is not a reward for our progress in righteousness or our perfection. Too many in the Church mistake growth for rebirth.
Birth can ordinarily be viewed as an instant event, like a mother's delivery of her infant. It can be described further as a spiritual relocation. Everyone by nature is born of the flesh as a "child of wrath", since fallen man is under the curse of Adam.
But since Jesus "became curse for us" and exhausted the Adamic curse upon the Cross of Calvary the believer is translated "from the power of darkness into the kingdom of His dear Son" (Colossians. 1:13). He or she receives the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry, "Abba, Father".
Consequently, rebirth is a transfer not from imperfection to perfection, but one from the place of "children of wrath" to the place of coheirs of Christ and children of God.
Spiritual growth requires passing through the initial stage of rebirth. Generally speaking, the principle cause why the Church-going people never appear to make visible spiritual strides in their lives is the fact they have never come into the threshold experience of rebirth. This explains why their relationship with Christ does not deepen with the passing of time, but rather remains static and lacking life-changing power.
The one who is born again can be compared to a newborn baby. It is innocent, sinless, but not fully-grown morally and spiritually. A newborn child of God is forgiven and in a state of righteousness in Christ, and now ready to be tested in the crucible of afflictions, and thus to grow up and develop in the direction of the "image and likeness of God".
4. Renewal and Holy Spirit Baptism
Closely related to the teaching on rebirth, is the doctrine on the Holy Spirit baptism. It, too, gives a distinctive character to the St. Symeon's renewal ministry. What makes it stand out as different from any other Orthodox renewal movement is the prominence given to the baptism in the Holy Spirit. It is a personal experience each and every Orthodox believer is expected to go through if he or she wants to possess the fullness of the spiritual inheritance made available by the Lord.
Everyone baptized in the Church already has this spiritual inheritance, since the Church teaches that Chrismation which follows water baptism is the Holy Spirit baptism. Most Church members have it legally, but not experientially. It remains as an intellectual awareness, not as a life-changing experience. It is good theology and sound doctrine, but it is accepted as a teaching of the Church. An intellectual assent to Church doctrine, however, is not a substitute for a heart-perception of the Holy Spirit baptism.
The Holy Spirit baptizes us into Christ and into His Body the Church. "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one Body" (1 Corinthians.12:13). Then Jesus promises to His disciples: "For John truly baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence" (Acts 1:5).
Prior to this time, John the Baptizer foretold that Jesus baptizes in the Holy Spirit: "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He that cometh after me shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Matthew. 3:11).
It is true that the expression "baptized in the Holy Spirit" is not familiar lingo to the average Orthodox. But that it is scriptural language we have already been convinced from the above quoted scriptures. So whatever is unmistakably scriptural has to be Orthodox. Of course, there are always those around who try to be more Orthodox than John the Baptist and even Jesus Himself!
It is in this particular dimension that St. Symeon's Ministry functions. Apart from it, any renewal endeavor cannot be complete and adequate to achieve its ultimate objective. Our patron saint and illustrious Church Father St. Symeon the New Theologian testifies to the vital importance of the Holy Spirit baptism:
"Unless a man is baptized in the Holy Spirit, he becomes neither a child of God nor a coheir of Christ..…How are some people expected to understand the transformation of those baptized in the Holy Spirit without having themselves been baptized in the Holy Spirit?" (Catecheses 33, 125; 24, 105)
5. Pentecost Makes All the Difference
The Holy Spirit baptism is basically the release of Pentecost power into the heart and life of the believer. It is an Upper Room experience. Pentecost is not merely an event that occurred sometime in the past. Pentecost is an experience to which each believer is called by the Lord to receive. It is the power (dynamis) Jesus, just prior to His ascension, promised His disciples they would receive:
"But ye shall receive power after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you, and ye shall be witnesses unto me…(Acts 1:8).
If the purpose of renewal is to put Jesus back in His place of lordship and "preeminence in all things", it requires Pentecost power, namely the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. The third person of the Trinity gives us the capacity to glorify Jesus and to exalt Him in everything we say and do.
Pentecost makes all the difference. It replaces fear and insecurity with courage and holy boldness. Remember the transformation the one-hundred-twenty experienced in the Upper Room. The first indication that truly they were encountering an extraordinary visitation of Heaven's power was their extolling the marvels of God in other languages. Praise of God is the primary function of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer. The first evidence of the Holy Spirit baptism was the speaking in other tongues. The Holy Spirit works in us a passion to praise and exalt Jesus. The Holy Spirit overflows out of the mouth spontaneously in a verbal outburst of praise. The Lord said: "The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life" (John 4:14).
It appears that the disciples were very likely staggering, hardly able to stand on their feet. They were drunk undoubtedly, but not with the new wine the onlookers had in mind. They were drunk on Heaven's New Wine, that is, with the inebriation of the Holy Spirit.
St. Paul said, "Be not drunk with wine, but filled with the Spirit" (Ephsiana. 5:18). It is not rare for some Spirit-filled believers, even in the renewal, to become intoxicated with the Holy Spirit and very often fall to the floor under that divine power.
Christians of all churches and denominations always seem to look aback to the marvelous day of the descent of the Holy Spirit when the Church was born in supernatural power. They long for the experience of Pentecost in all its fullness. They feel that it is missing from the Church today and needs to be recovered.
Any discussion on the subject of spiritual renewal seems to look back to Pentecost. That unique event connected with the origin of the Church normally provides the pattern and the ideal in any authentic renewal movement.
How much more true is this for Orthodoxy that stands for the Church of the apostles, martyrs and Fathers. Pentecost teaches every generation of Orthodox believers that Holy Spirit power is the source of spiritual renewal. We cannot have Pentecostal results without Pentecostal power.
Pentecost marks the first renewal, and, as such, serves as the permanent standard and pattern divinely revealed for every renewal initiative. This holds true especially for the Orthodox Church since she claims to be the true Church of Pentecost, the Church that traces her origin back to Pentecost in an uninterrupted continuity.
To the distinguishing characteristics of authentic renewal already mentioned, I now add its apocalyptic nature. If the renewal is to be viewed as truly urgent and of critical importance, and not simply as some religious pastime, then it must be connected to the Second Coming of Christ in glory. It must be understood in its eschatological dimension. Then, and only then, does the renewal become relevant and truly effective. Simply put, it must be accepted as an apocalyptic phenomenon.
The first renewal, in one sense, occurred at the River Jordan with John the Baptist publicly announcing the arrival of the Lamb of God. He challenged the multitudes that had gathered from Jerusalem and all of Judaea with "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
The eschaton is proclaimed. The appearance (epiphania) of the Messiah at the Jordan marks the beginning of the last days. Today, renewal is basically the preparation for the appearance of Christ again, this time in glory to finally usher in the kingdom, no longer only in the hearts of believers, but visibly in the physical world. He will then restore the fallen natural world back to its initial state when God will exercise dominion; and man through the God-man, the last Adam, will reclaim his dominion over the physical world.
When Jesus embarked on His earthly ministry, He thundered the identical message of John the Baptist: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew. 4:17).
In the Great Commission delivered to His disciples the Lord began with: "Preach, saying the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew. 10:7).
The inference to such a proclamation is that time is running out. The message is in effect prophetic. There is coming a day when there will be no opportunity to repent. It means that the day of the Lord is fast approaching, the day and the hour unknown. There is an element of warning in such a message. It is urgent for men to repent now. There is a deadline ahead to meet. Repentance after the day of the Lord is of no avail. That is what makes Hell Hell: the futility of repenting when you pass the deadline, the return of Jesus in glory to execute judgment upon those who rejected the gospel and His call to repentance.
Today's Renewal, an Apocalyptic Phenomenon
What makes renewal an apocalyptic phenomenon in our day and age is the fact that it originates from heaven. Renewal cannot come with man's initiative and effort. It has been tried in the past with little, if any, success.
An individual and collective acknowledgement of God's direct involvement in renewal is a necessary condition for authentic renewal. Renewal requires spiritual power that comes from above. It is the Holy Spirit that assures us of authentic renewal. It does not come with mere human effort. Renewal Committees are useful, but without direct divine life-changing power, they are doomed to failure.
Renewal is an apocalyptic phenomenon not only because it is God's work of sovereign intervention, but because of the timing of such renewal. It not only comes "in the last days", but it was foretold by the Prophet Joel before Christ that the Father would sovereignly intervene in divine grace and favor to restore the people called by His name. We are assured in prophecy that God would visit His people in a very special way at the end of the age. He would step into the affairs of the Church and deliver it out of its state of desolation into a state of restoration.
The Church has reached an impasse. Like natural Israel, it has lost its vibrancy and power to impact the world around it. The salt has lost its savor. The Church has had "the form of religion, denying the power thereof" (2 Timothy. 3:5). St. Paul cautions us that "in the last days perilous times shall come", and one of them is religious formalism that banishes any concern for the power of the Holy Spirit. He is referring to religious routine that excludes spiritual life-changing power. It is going through the motions of religion and never experiencing the supernatural power of God. It is a caricature of true Orthodoxy. Sometimes it is referred to as religious legalism or pharisaism. Remember the warning of Jesus: "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees" (Matthew. 16:6). They represent those believers who are more interested in religious externals rather than in a heart relationship with God.
It is in the background of such spiritual decline in the Church that the apocalyptic character of the renewal is to be understood. In the word of God it is predicted that in the last days the increase of evil and godlessness will flood the world and even infiltrate the Church. Jesus foretold, "as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man" (Luke 17:26).
In Genesis 6:5 we have a description of the decadence that filled the earth in the days of Noah: "And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually."
As the day of the Lord's return draws closer, rebellion and ungodliness will be on the increase. Jesus Himself predicted, "Iniquity shall multiply for the love of many shall wax cold" (Matthew. 24:12).
Confronting Satan's Masterplan
Before we can fully understand the apocalyptic dimension of renewal in this end time, it is needful to be aware of the apocalyptic meaning of sin and disobedience reaching their culmination, as the day of the Lord draws near. God is faced with a world and a Church in a state of desolation. It will peak with the emergence of two global leaders, one political, the Antichrist, and the other religious, the False Prophet.
St. Paul explicitly points to Satan's program to ultimately gain dominion over the entire world, including the Church, as this age draws to a close. He speaks of it as the "mystery of iniquity" that Satan put into motion from the moment of the fall of Adam and which has sped up since the time of Christ's atoning death upon the Cross.
St. Paul makes it clear that "the mystery of iniquity doth already work" (2 Thessalonians 2:7). It takes a little imagination to grasp how far it has come after two thousand years, and how far Satan has come in his master plan to control the world and to gain the universal worship of mankind. The fury of Satan has peaked in our day, "for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time" (Revelation 12:12).
The Jews heard Jesus verify their tragic condition, as a covenant people of God, when He declared, "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate" (Matthew. 23:38). This corresponds to the Lord's indictment on the apostate Church which was to come soon after Pentecost: "Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead" (Revelation 3:1)
Desolation Foretold by the Prophet Joel
The picture of the end time desolation would not be complete without a serious study of the prophecy of Joel. This prophet of God very graphically portrays His people and household of faith in both conditions. Firstly, he dramatically describes in detail their dismal state of desolation. Then follows a joyful description of their restoration. We can safely affirm that the prophecy has a two-fold application. It refers to both natural Israel and the Church.
In chapter one Joel paints a picture of the Church as being systematically invaded in the last days by demons. These are represented by insects:
"That which the palmer worm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpillar eaten" (v. 4).
Demonic powers have stripped God's people leaving them barren and arid. This is the end result of "the mystery of iniquity." The invading army of demons is the instrument of desolation. The Church in this last hour is being plundered by an invasion of demons, released by Satan to thwart the purposes of God. The prophet Joel gives us a bleak picture of desolation:
"He hath laid my vine waste and barked my fig tree. He hath made it clean fare, and cast it away. The branches thereof are made white" (v. 7).
"The field is wasted, the land mourneth, for the corn is wasted. The new wine is dried up, the oil languisheth"(v. 10).
The desolation is eschatological. It forebodes the dreadful day of the mighty move of God. Joel declares this state of His people as a sign that the Lord is ready to step in and do a new work. He now looks with mercy and grace upon His desolate people. He is ready to act on their behalf. "Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come" (v. 15).
Divine Intervention and Restoration
It is the hour of God's intervention. The response to the desolate agenda of Satan comes from heaven. Man is incapable of handling it. It is too formidable, too cosmic. God comforts His besieged people. It is His appointed hour to bring restoration to His defeated people related to Him by covenant. Joel trumpets the word of hope and encouragement. "Fear not, O land. Be glad and rejoice, for the Lord will do great things" (2:21). The prophet provides us with an exciting picture of restoration in terms of abundance and prosperity.
"The thief cometh not but to steal,". and he has stripped God's covenant people of their inheritance. However, now, the Lord assures them that everything Satan robbed them of will be restored.
"And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm…". (2:25). The insects represent the invading demons, as was stated above. The ultimate purpose of God's intervention of mercy is to demonstrate His lordship in the midst of His people.
Then finally Joel spells out in clear-cut language the Lord's supreme visitation:
"And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions" (2:28).
As St. Peter verifies for us, Joel's prophecy was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. His only explanation to the multitudes of the supernatural happenings in the Upper Room was to refer directly to this prophecy. "But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel" (Acts 2:16). Then he follows with the prophecy in its entirety, including the cosmic signs that will appear in the sky and on earth, very likely alluding to the natural disasters that are to come at the close of the age.
Pentecost marks the Father's outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Most of us are familiar with this event, which we associate with the birthing of the Church. The apostles and the others among the one hundred twenty were filled with the Holy Spirit and manifested supernatural signs. Fear and timidity were replaced with fearlessness and an inner drive to proclaim the Gospel, as well as miracles. The Apostolic Church operated in the supernatural dimension.
That which needs to be made clear at this point is that the cosmic signs linked with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, included in Joel's prophecy, were not in evidence. His prophecy was not fulfilled in its entirety.
This leads us to believe that there will be a time in the future when the prophecy will be totally fulfilled. At Pentecost it was partially fulfilled for reasons already explained.
The "last days" spoken of by Joel the prophet began with the coming of Christ (Hebrews 1:2). In other words, the period of the last two thousand years can be called a period of the "last days".
However, and this needs to be emphasized, there are the "last days" of the "last days". As the return of Christ draws closer, what could be called the eve of the Second Coming, many Christian believers view as the "last days" in the strict sense of the words. This means that while Pentecost is the partial fulfillment of Joel 2:28, the end time outpouring of the Holy Spirit will signal the complete fulfillment of this prophecy.
A New Pentecost
As a matter of fact, the Holy Spirit is currently being poured out literally "upon all flesh", that is, upon all the continents of the world in contrast to only the one hundred twenty who experienced Pentecost in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. The Pentecostal movement is spreading like wildfire to many nations and igniting fires of renewal in the mainline Churches.
It is a new Pentecost that will be followed by the Rapture and the period of the Great Tribulation. Then God will "show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood…" (Joel 2:30, 31).
I am under no illusion that belief in an end time Pentecost is familiar Orthodox eschatology. My critics will rush to plead the fact that the early Church Fathers spoke nothing of a second outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the close of the age. They will write it off as sheer heresy originating with the Pentecostal Church. But is everything the non-Orthodox teach a heresy? If you go by this standard, then the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is a heresy, since most Protestants and Roman Catholics confess it. Besides, the Holy Spirit was not removed from the Church after the age of the Church Fathers. The Lord assured us the Holy Spirit would continue to reveal, teach and guide into all truth throughout all generations of believers. His promise is unmistakable: "He will show you things to come" (John 16:13). The Lord sheds more abundant light on questions dealing with His Second Coming according to His sovereign timetable. Is the Orthodox Church listening to the Spirit?
I am not in the habit of quoting Roman Catholic writers to reinforce my teaching. However, it is instructive to know that an authoritarian Church, as the Roman Church, has confessed the need of a "new Pentecost." Pope Paul VI followed up on the prayer of John XXIII and asked the Lord "to grant us a 'new Pentecost'." The late Leon Joseph Cardinal Suenens gave bold expression to the need for a radical renewal in his Church by authoring his book A New Pentecost? Where are our Orthodox visionaries and initiates of the Holy Spirit? Are our Church leaders ready to take courageous action in response to the extraordinary move of the Holy Spirit in this last hour?
The Former and the Latter Rain
The scriptures use the imagery of the "former and latter rain" to help us understand the two outpourings of the Holy Spirit. The day of Pentecost is referred to as the "former rain", while the "latter rain" denotes the end time outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
The prophet Joel, whom St. Peter quotes in his proclamation to the Jewish multitudes on the day of Pentecost, foretells explicitly the coming of the two outpourings of the Holy Spirit:
"Be glad then ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God, for he hath given you the former rain moderately, and he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month" (2:23).
The prophet Zechariah also declares in this regard: "Ask ye of the Lord rain in the time of the latter rain, so the Lord shall make bright clouds, and give them showers of rain, to every one grass in the field" (10:1).
"And the Lord shall come unto us," the prophet Hosea foretells, "as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth" (6:3).
.In James 5:7 we read: "Be patient unto the coming of the Lord. Behold the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain."
The baptism of the Holy Spirit is a common experience of Pentecost claimed by members in most mainline Churches. It is an extraordinary provision coming directly from Heaven that the Father bestows upon those who confess their thirst in humility and contrition of heart.
Renewal is an apocalyptic sign because it makes possible the special measure of Pentecostal power provided to believers who earnestly seek complete victory over the forces of darkness unleashed by Satan in this last hour. It is available to those in the Church who have become aware of religious formalism as a sign "that in the last days perilous times shall come" (2 Timothy 3:1,5). They have discovered that they will not overcome the intensity of rebellion and apostasy both in society and in the Church simply with religious routine, that is, the conventional methods.
It is obvious, therefore, that authentic renewal in our day must necessarily be understood and accepted in an eschatological dimension. If it does not originate in heaven, it can only be a counterfeit and imitation renewal amounting to merely structural and administrative reform. Renewals that are not energized by the Holy Spirit fizzle out. They end up as religious deliberations and instruction and discussion sessions. But God's word is clear: "The kingdom of heaven is not in word, but in power" (1 Corinthians. 4:20).
"Power" in the New Testament usually denotes supernatural power, that is, the power of the Holy Spirit, the renewing agent of the
Genuine renewal is possible only when it is connected to the new Pentecost, that is the end time outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Joel is the key to any true renewal that is lasting and in harmony with the Word of God. Only when Joel's prophecy is taken into account can renewal truly be part of God's end time program for the Church, the Body and Bride of Christ.
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