Saturday, 27 December 2008

Repentance 2

In Repentance 1, we looked at repentance from the point of view of the non-Orthodox Christian considering conversion to Orthodoxy. We suggested that in such a case the proper repentance was much more than is now sometimes thought to be appropriate. Now we take the argument one step further and look at the case of the Pentecostalist—the case of the Protestant who thinks he or she has an intimate personal spiritual experience of the Holy Spirit and is seeking merely to complete that experience with the Jesus Prayer or some other element of Orthodoxy, perhaps even by joining the Orthodox confession.

In a situation where someone wishes to begin a spiritual life in the Holy Spirit in the Orthodox Church, the normal sequence is spiritual preparation for Baptism followed by Baptism. This is a movement of conversion and repentance.

However, repentance is even more complicated in the case of Pentecostalists than it is in the case of ‘garden-variety’ Protestants. The Pentecostalist thinks that he has personal experience of various charisms of the Holy Spirit.

In some cases these supposed charisms seem, at least on the superficial level, to be accompanied by fruits which would be recognizably Christian. In other cases—we are thinking in particular of the Toronto Blessing—people get ‘drunk’ on the ‘Holy Spirit’: they tap-dance; they bark like dogs; they laugh on and on for days. Moreover, as we ourselves have noted, the supposed charisms are not always accompanied by what we would understand to be fruits of the Holy Spirit. The fruits of the Holy Spirit are those elements of our personal behaviour which distinguish the Christian as living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The supposed charisms are also sometimes accompanied by very odd interpretations of the Gospel—the so-called Prosperity Gospel; the Rapturist End-Times doctrine—and they are often mixed up with what are very clearly personal psychological elements (we are thinking here of a prophetess who prophesied to young man that he would marry her daughter).

Here we would like to remark on something that happened in the life of a Roman Catholic saint, John of the Cross. St John was approached by certain clerics and his counsel sought concerning a nun who thought she was experiencing rather advanced manifestations of the Holy Spirit. He advised that she be tested, and not a little. He remarked: Even a demon will put up with a certain amount of humiliation in order to keep up the pretence of holiness; let her be tested severely.

Essentially what we want to say is this: the Elders of the Pentecostalist churches have never accepted Orthodoxy. The Orthodox Church has never accepted Pentecostalism. Moreover, the rock services that accompany Pentecostalist outpourings are foreign to the mind of the Elders of the Orthodox Church, who see such music as demonic.

So what we would counsel in such a case of a Pentecostalist conversion to Orthodoxy is very deep conversion. What we have to go through is a very deep repentance. We have to empty ourselves completely, even from the supposed charisms of the Holy Spirit that we have experienced.

This is a very difficult matter. The person thinks that as a Pentecostalist he is experiencing something genuine. What can the Orthodox monk be on about saying that he has to give it all up to become Orthodox—and in the depths of his or her soul?

The problem in these cases is what the Orthodox call delusion (Gr: plani; Ru: prelest). This word has a spiritual denotation, not a psychological one. It means that the person is experiencing a spirit of error, not the Holy Spirit. In this case it should be understood that a spirit of spiritual error may sometimes tell the truth in order to deceive.

In such cases, the person usually doesn’t bother to go by to look at the new wine on offer at the Orthodox Church down the road. The old wine is good. After all, they’ve been drunk on the Holy Spirit.

What we are saying is this: an extra problem occurs with Evangelicals and Pentecostalists interested in Orthodoxy when there enters in a dimension of plani or prelest—spiritual delusion.

One of the characteristics of spiritual delusion is the persuasion that the deluded person has that he has experienced the Holy Spirit of the Living God in utter truth. In those rare cases that such a person develops an interest in Orthodoxy—say, via the Jesus Prayer and Hesychasm—then it is merely to pick up a few pointers. In these cases, a change of heart is impossible without the mercy of saints of the Orthodox Church who will pray for the person’s salvation.

But it is not impossible.

How can we know whether we are experiencing a spirit of truth or a spirit of error? In the particular case of the Pentecostalist, the thing to do is to examine in ourselves whether we are proud. Do we think we know it all? That we have experienced Truth? Can anyone talk to us in anything more than a superficial way or do we know everything? Do we get angry when we are contradicted? This is something for us to consider not in conversation with therapists and clerics—where we can fake it—but alone in the depths of our hearts. Repentance is a change of heart.

May God have mercy on the soul of every man and woman and bring them to knowledge of the truth in his Son Jesus Christ.

For those of us who celebrate Christmas with the new calendar, may God who in the Incarnation of his Son blessed all Mankind with the possibility of eternal life—the knowledge of the one true God and the Son whom he has sent—grant us to repent and come to new life in the Holy Spirit of the Living God.

–Orthodox Monk

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