68. The Last 2 of 6 Thoughts about Pentecost

5. The Holy Spirit is Water. 

Why are there no icons showing the Holy Spirit as water?

Epiphany icons show the Holy Spirit as a dove descending on our Lord Jesus in visible form.

In some unfortunate icons of the Holy Trinity, God the Father is depicted as an old man and Christ as a young man, suggesting Arianism? with the dove hovering over both of them, suggesting I don’t know what.

A few Pentecost icons show the Holy Spirit as tiny flames of fire (look closely), setting the Apostles afire with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

So far as I know we have no icons showing the Holy Spirit as the mighty rushing wind of Pentecost – which is understandable for the simple reason that air is hard to depict.

But why ever do we have no icons of the Holy Spirit as water? Water is visible, and this was the image our Lord Jesus used for the Holy Spirit.

The Samaritan woman came to draw water at Jacob’s well, and the Lord said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14       

We know that he was speaking to her of the Spirit, because in the Church’s Pentecost Gospel, Jesus said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me… out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” Here John explains: “He said this concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in him would receive…” John 7:37-52, 8:12,

When we are Baptized and Chrismated, we receive that same Holy Spirit. The priest breathes over the person to be baptized, and again over the water – the “breath” of the Holy Spirit. As we are anointed with Holy Chrism on the eyes, nostrils, lips, ears, breast, hands and feet, the priest says each time, “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit”, and the sponsor says (these days everyone usually says it) “Sealed!”  The Holy Spirit has been received. It is another Pentecost.

Water, living, flowing water. Those of you who live in the American Southwest know what the desert is like before and after the spring rains. Here in Wisconsin (where winter turned almost overnight into summer this year), I quickly put in my garden. Last Sunday we walked out of church to discover it was 97 degrees Fahrenheit – in Wisconsin?! in May?! Some of my new seedlings were lying on the ground almost dead. That can happen to us new plants too. When life seems dry and barren, or when the heat of life’s problems leaves us wilted, all we need to do is drink that water, let the fresh living water of the Holy Spirit of God flow into our lives.

Where can we find that living water? “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” Yes, of course the Spirit is “out there” as well. Otherwise the cosmos wouldn’t exist. And it’s not illegal to ask anytime for him to descend on you again. But if we are baptized and chrismated, the chief place to look for the Spirit is within us. God has already poured his Holy Spirit into our hearts, into the depths of our being. He has promised “a spring of water welling up to eternal life”. “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water”. Look within.

What does this living water of the Spirit produce within us? The “fruit of the Spirit”. Galatians 5: “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh *. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like [Does this sound like contemporary politics? Lord, have mercy.]; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”

  • By “flesh, here, Paul does not mean simply things of the body. Envy, anger, hatred, for example, are not bodily. “Flesh” here means things belonging to our fallen nature. Nor by “Spirit” does he mean immaterial things. He means “of the Spirit of God”. There is nothing more “spiritual” than the material acts of receiving the Holy Eucharist and feeding the poor.

In the passage above, I used to think it was odd that Paul listed the works of the flesh first. What a negative approach! But take that image from gardening. Once the plants are in the ground, we’d better get the weeds out quickly and frequently. That’s the first priority. Only then can the new plants begin to flourish and produce their “fruits”.  In our spiritual life, first comes the work of weeding out “the works of the flesh”. Then the new seedlings of the Spirit can grow and produce the fruits. We don’t have to worry about the growth. “God gives the growth.” In time the new plants of the Spirit will get big enough that they’ll choke out the weeds. That’s what the saints have attained. But with us, not yet. So keep weeding, brothers and sisters. Keep weeding.

6. The Overshadowing of the Holy Spirit

In the beginning, the Spirit of God overshadowed the face of the deep and brought all things into being and gave life. He still creates and gives life to the old natural order moment by moment.  

So with the New Creation – but now with a new purpose. Now the Spirit “produces” and “manifests” the living Body of Christ on earth.

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be since I have no husband?” And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the Child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” Luke 2 And so the Body of the living Christ took existence. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”

“When Jesus had been baptized and was praying the heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form as a dove… and a voice came from heaven: You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased”. Matthew 3  And so Christ was manifested to the world in the flesh as Son of God. 

On Pascha night in the Upper Room, Christ breathed on the disciples and said: Receive the Holy Spirit: If you remit the sins of any they are remitted; if you retain the sins of any they are retained.” John 20:23  So the apostles were commissioned for their work, ordained for the ministry of the Church, the new living Body of Christ. 

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place, and suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind… and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” Acts 2, and the pre-existent Church was “born” visibly into the world, and sent out to proclaim Christ to all mankind. 

So it continues: At every Baptism, the priest breathes on the water, and the Spirit of God, the breath of God, the wind of God hovers again over the unformed chaos, and he baptizes “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. So just as at the dawn of the Old Creation, each one is born again into the Body of Christ, the Church, the New Creation. Pentecost continues. I think you know that in the early Church Baptisms normally took place in “living water”, fresh running water.   

At every ordination, as the apostolic ministry of the Church is extended, the Bishop lays his hands on, overshadows the ordinand, and prays: “The grace divine which always heals that which is infirm and completes that which is lacking elevates through the laying on of my hands N. the most devout [deacon] N. to be a [priest]. Wherefore let us pray for him that the grace of the all-holy Spirit may come upon him.” And Pascha night continues, Pentecost continues. 

At every Divine Liturgy the Holy Spirit comes down upon us again. There is a new and continuing Pentecost. The priest prays, “we beseech thee and pray thee and supplicate thee: send down thy Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here spread forth…”. The Holy Spirit comes down first upon us, and then he comes down upon the Holy Gifts – overshadowing us and the material bread and wine, just as he overshadowed the Virgin Mary – “and make this bread the precious Body of thy Christ, and that which is in this cup the precious Blood of thy Christ, changing them by thy Holy Spirit”. That’s from the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom. Saint Basil’s Liturgy says it differently: “.. and bless them and hallow them, and show this Bread to be itself the Precious Body of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ…” (The Holy Orthodox Church has no problem taking 2 approaches to the same Mystery.) And the Body of Christ comes into being again, takes form again, is manifested again. The Holy Spirit overshadows us and the Holy Gifts, and in anticipation all things become the Body of Christ, all things are lifted up into the Kingdom of heaven. If you want the Holy Spirit to keep descending on you, here is the place to start: keep coming to the Divine Liturgy.

So by the power of the Holy Spirit, the New Creation continues. Pentecost continues. The coming of the Holy Spirit was not a one-time thing. The Holy Spirit is forever overshadowing, forever descending in power, forever creating anew. Pentecost is the normal life of the Church


Next Week: All the Saints of North America

Week after Next: Fathers’ Day – the  “I-hope-not-lost” role of Christian Fathers


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