“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” – John 4:24
This article is excerpted from the book, Christianity: Fundamental Teachings, published in 2017 by © The Joint Commission of Churches in Turkey. This book is a landmark in inter-church efforts to draw closer together. It was written by a commission delegated by leaders of all of the major churches of Turkey [including Eastern Orthodox, Syrian and Armenian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant].
This commission, which met at regular intervals, decided to publish a basic book containing the doctrines of faith held in common by all Christian churches.
This joint publication, which will help every Christian in Turkey to understand their own faith doctrines, bears significance not only for its contents, but also for the striking and seminal advance in mutual respect and affection that it represents. The faith doctrines summarized in this book can already be found in each church’s books on faith and doctrine. Yet for churches that have ostracized each other for centuries leaving a legacy of deep divisions and resentments to sign their names to such a work is no small step toward church unity.
Through this book the churches that have maintained their presence in Istanbul express in lasting words how few points of difference they have in their beliefs and how many of the same values and teachings they share on the essentials of their faith.
– from the Preface, Christianity: Fundamental Teachings, Archpriest Father Drtad Uzunian, ed.
The Holy Spirit Completes the Work of Christ
After the resurrection, the Lord Jesus appeared to His followers in different ways for forty days and gave them His last instructions and teachings. They had all become disappointed about being the followers and witnesses of Christ; they had lost self-confidence, were frightened and seeking to hide. The Lord, who knew their weaknesses well, taught them that the work of spreading the Gospel throughout the world could not be accomplished through mere human effort, but would only be possible through a divine power entering them. He explicitly commanded them not to leave Jerusalem until they had received the promised Holy Spirit. Only when the Holy Spirit had come to them would they be empowered and able to be His witnesses to the farthest corners of the world (Acts 1 :3-8). Thus, we can say that, after the ascension of Christ, the era of the Holy Spirit began in the world. The third person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit, took on the task of preparing the world for the second coming of Christ. He lives especially in and among believers as a friend and teacher, without restricting their freedom.
Ten days after the ascension of Christ (that is fifty days after the resurrection), the disciples were in Jerusalem in the Upper Room waiting for this promise to be fulfilled. “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:1-4).
The loud sound of a hundred and twenty believers, full of the Holy Spirit and praising God in foreign languages on the streets, drew the attention of the large crowd which had assembled there for the festival from every part of the world. The Apostle Peter delivered an effective speech to the crowd, while many repented and were baptized. To be precise: three thousand people were baptized. This situation clearly demonstrated what the disciples would be able to do through the Holy Spirit to spread the Gospel.
This is why the day of Pentecost is considered the day on which the Church was founded. Up to that day, monotheism was only known in the Jewish nation. But by giving the disciples the grace to speak in foreign languages, the Holy Spirit was showing how the Church would become a “House of God” made up of all languages and nations. Since that day, the Holy Spirit has been active throughout the world, leading people of all nations to the truth of the Christ and encouraging all believers. We can never reach the standard of perfection expected of us by God through our own personal abilities and efforts. Without the life-changing, ever-renewing power of the Holy Spirit, our Christianity can never be where it should be. We were baptized to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. What water is to a plant or breath is to a living being, the Holy Spirit is for all of us who want to walk in the ways of God.
The Place of the Holy Spirit in the Life of Faith
Christianity is not just a legal system commanding people what to do by giving them laws to follow. Not everything depends on human effort. Through Jesus Christ, God offers believers His active support, aid and the plentiful grace of the Holy Spirit so that they can walk in the ways of the Lord. From a very young age, we all realized our personal deficiencies and dependence on others. Many of the things we want and need are outside of us. Our happiness, health and peace are dependent on our possessing these things. We cannot do without air; we cannot maintain our existence without food and drink. The contributions from our families and those around us are essential for our lives. Just as we have physical needs, there are spiritual things that we must absolutely have. The Word of God, prayer, the Mysteries of the Church (Sacraments), fellowship, faith, hope, love and all the other spiritual virtues. Neglecting these is spiritual suicide.
However, all of these and the other spiritual practices are like the dead bones that the Prophet Ezekiel saw in his vision. They do not have life in themselves. The Prophet sees a valley full of dry human bones, and God shows him how the resurrection of these bones is possible. When the Spirit enters into them like the wind, they are brought back to life (Ezekiel37:1 -14). In the same way, all our religious practices and virtues are dead in the sight of God. Only God’s Spirit can give them life. It is only with and through Him that our lives, works and worship will be as they should be. For,
“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth”.(John 4:24)
His presence within us is life and abundance. His absence is death and barrenness. It is not enough simply to have information about God and believe in His existence.
- Without being born of the Holy Spirit, we cannot enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:1 -12).
- Unless that Spirit resides in us, we will always be barren in virtues such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and overcoming passions, and unable to bear fruit (Galatians 5 :22-26).
- The Holy Spirit is the guarantee of eternal life and of our resurrection (Romans 8:11).
- The most effective weapon for resisting and overcoming sin, trials, fears and death is to walk in the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26-30).
- The Teacher to enlighten us in the knowledge of God, the Comforter to change our sadness into joy and the Fountain of Life who conveys Jesus to our hearts is the Holy Spirit (John 14:10-19, 26).
Since such abundant gifts began to flow into the heart of man on the day of Pentecost, that day is a turning point in human history. Through this event, God offered humankind His greatest gift: namely, Himself. This is the pinnacle of His eternal love. There is now nothing greater for Him to give us. One of the Holy Trinity, God the Spirit, was willing to share His life with us; just as another, God the Son, offered Himself as a sacrifice on the cross for our salvation.
This article is excerpted from Christianity: Fundamental Teachings, pages 56-60, copyright © The Joint Commission of the Churches in Turkey.
Arch priest Father Drtad Uzunyan, is the vice president of the Joint Commission of Churches in Turkey. He is a member of the religious council of the Armenian Patriarchate of Turkey and Executive officer for inter church relations. He also serves on the CHARIS “Christian Unity Commission” (CUC) for the purpose of promoting and working for unity of the body of Christ, as expressed in the prayer of Jesus Christ (John 17,21).