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Orthodox View of the Spirit

I was very pleased to receive this little volume from Paraclete Press by John Oliver. The title, 'Giver of Life: The Holy Spirit in Orthodox Tradition,' tells of the main thrust of the book to provide a historical, biblical, and theological understanding of the Holy Spirit from the Orthodox persuasion. Right off the bat I was impressed with the book in the discussion of the relationship between the Spirit and the Holy Trinity. Oliver makes the assertion that reading the Fathers and the Scripture as bearing witness to the Spirit's divinity is crucial to faith. Even more, the beliefs we hold have drastic consequences for the life of faith, including our practices of prayer, reading, communion, and fellowship. Oliver notes, " belief about what God is like-right or wrong-affects how I relate to Him and how I perceive He relates to me, and that belief spills into the river of faith downstream: prayer life, worship life, and my whole relationship with the divine" (16). Beliefs have consequences in the daily practices of the believer. As such, belief in the Holy Spirit as divine and as in concert working with the Trinity has enormous positive consequences for the faith.

Secondly, it was helpful to see that Fr. Oliver's discussion in the second chapter of his book was nuanced regarding creation of God and child of God. "Every human being is a creation of God, but not every human being is a child of God," Oliver states (27). Why is this important? It is important because it only by the Spirit of God and His work that believers become imbued by faith, faith is not just a rational assent to specific propositions but a radical change of the heart. Oliver goes onto say that believing in Christ is the crucial differences from those being a child of God and a creation of God. Yet, as Oliver continues, this transformation from being a creation of God to a child of God is 'a messy process (28). We fight tooth and nail with sin and temptation and yet the Spirit seeks to root out those patterns of sin that are imbedded within us. This part of the dicussion regarding being a child of God in connection with the Spirit was immensely helpful. I don't really see any difference in Evangelical thought and Orthodox thought here except for the hint on pp.28-29 of the old man/new man concept which is more concretely Lutheran.

In the chapter on the Spirit of Truth, Oliver gets into a discussion of the Nicene and Apostle's Creed. What was most helpful for me was his commentary on the various sections. Wonderfully written, Oliver says, "As a person acquires the Holy Spirit the faculties of perception are cleansed and he or she feels the Spirit within drawing toward the Holy Logos" (42). Our gaze is lifted towards the Son due to the drawing of the Spirit. We see this evident in the book of Acts and in the life of the disciples. The very witness of the Spirit in their lives emboldened their proclamation and witness to the Lord of glory. As I was looking back at this chapter, I notice how Oliver makes the claim over and over again that the persons of the Trinity work together to glorify one another. As a matter of consequence, I began to see worship in a more robust way, that the words and the Scriptures we use should be an example of the Trinitarian filial action each person has for each other. In other words, we should worship each person of the Trinity in full effect, without discarding one of the person's for the sake of another.

Lastly, Father Oliver points out a great nuance of our understanding of the Trinity and worship that we should never lose sight of: namely, the imminence and transcendence of God. Holding these two concepts together is part of believing in antinomy ("acceptable contradiction between two things that are in themselves true" 52). As the Spirit is everywhere present yet fillest all things, we need to see that our minds cannot fully grasp this truth. Yet, as we catch a glimpse of the nearness of God and the absence of God, we see that the Spirit is very much in the same boat. Our job is not to flee to the pillar of transcendence nor immanence, but to realize that both are true and remain committed to God even in the midst of confusion.

This book is a good look into the Orthodox's perspective of the Spirit. More than that, this book is a good resource for seeing the Spirit's work through the Scriptures and the Fathers.


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