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Born Again Christians - Charismatics - Gifts Of The Holy Spirit: An Orthodox Perspective
By Father George Nicozisin.
Source: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America - Department of Communications

Most of us have heard the phrase "Born Again Christian" at least once or twice, if not more often. This would not have been true ten years ago. But today the term has gained popularity among a wide cross section of the American public. What does Born Again mean? What are Charismatics? What are the Gifts of the Holy Spirit so often echoed when the terms Born Again and Charismatic are used? In dealing with these themes objectively, it is necessary to take a look at history, touch upon a bit of theology, go to Scripture, and finally, view the liturgical cycle and the development of the Christian Church through the centuries until today.

When Adam and Eve disobeyed God they lost life in Paradise. That is to say, they lost their fellowship with God and their ability to reach God's Heavenly Kingdom. Consequently, Adam and Eve forfeited their destiny, which was eternal life with God. Adam and Eve lost these legacies for themselves as well as for all generations to come. While mankind separated from God, nonetheless, God continued to speak through the prophets and leaders of Israel. But gradually each generation became increasingly separated from God, until He sent His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be the Offering of Reconciliation.

The loss of Fellowship with God and the loss of the Ability to reach God's Heavenly Kingdom for Eternal Life are called the ORIGINAL SIN. The consequences of Original Sin are lifted in Christ through Baptism. Therefore, all those who are baptized in the Name of the Holy Trinity are restored to God's grace. The old Adam and Eve die in us when we are baptized and we are born again in the New Adam who is Jesus Christ, our Lord. We are reborn as the New Children of God.

A second Sacrament was also performed in the Early Christian Church, Chrismation (also referred to as Confirmation). In the Book of Acts, 8:14-15, we read: "Now when the Apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the I-loiy Spirit; for it had not yet fallen on any of them; but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit." As the Church grew in size after the end of the first century, it became almost impossible for the Bishops, the successors of the Apostles, to lay hands on the heads of each newly baptized Christian. They therefore adopted the practice of blessing the Holy Oil called "Chrism" and giving it to the Priests. In this instance, the Priest acted as representative of the Bishop, who succeeded the Apostles, called by Christ.

This practice of annointing with Chrism Oil immediately after Baptism was the norm throughout Eastern Christendom (practically everywhere St. Paul and the other Apostles went). Serapion of Egypt, a contemporary of St. Athanasius summarizes what was happening in Eastern Christendom up to the fourth century: "The annointing after Baptism is for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, that having been born again through Baptism and made new through the layer of regeneration, the candidates may be made new through the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and secured by this Seal may continue steadfast." Then the third Sacrament was administered to the newly chrismated Christian: the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

These three Sacraments Baptism, Chrismation and Holy Communion were administered together both in the East and the West and they were called the Triple Initiation. In many parts of Western Christendom, they too, had the practice of Holy Chrism Oil. However, once the Frankish Empire began to consolidate in the eighth century and especially the Holy Roman Empire, by the time of Charlamagne, a conformity set in. Baptism was administered by the priests and Chrismation was delayed for the Bishops' visits. Thus the two Sacraments in Western Christendom were separated in time. Once these two Sacraments were separated, the third Sacrament of the Triple Initiation, Holy Communion, was delayed for even a later date.

Thus, when the One Church which was founded by Christians separated in 1054 AD., two distinctly different liturgical practices were observed. The Western Church, which became the Roman Catholic Church, performed Chrismation and Holy Communion and Baptism at three different periods of time. The Eastern Church, which became the Eastern Orthodox Churches (Greek, Russian, Bulgarian, Albanian, Romanian, Ukrainian, Syrian, Serbian, etc.,) retained the practice of the Early Christian Church - all three Sacraments administered together.

By the time of the Protestant Reformers in the early 16th century, confirmation took on another purpose and objective. Instead of being the Sacrament at which time we receive the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, confirmation became the concluding part of a series of catechism lessons. Thus also entered the notion that a child is confirmed at a responsible age of reason. Then and then only, it was thought, should the initiate be admitted to the highest privilege of the Church's fellowship, in particular, Holy Communion. This notion spilled over into the Roman Catholic Church, too, when at the Council of Trent, 1545 AD, the following was decreed: "After Baptism, the Sacrament of Confirmation may indeed be administered to all; but that, until children shall have attained the age if reason, its administration is inexpedient. If not, therefore, to be postponed to the age of twelve, it is most proper to defer this Sacrament at least to that of seven years."

In a very real sense, the Sacrament of Chrismation became almost a Christian (Bar-Mitzvah) in Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. On the one hand, it is administered at an age of reason, and on the other, both Holy Communion and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit are delayed. Besides departing from the ancient Christian practice of Triple Initiation - Baptism, Chrismation, Holy Communion together - there is also a dramatic departure from the function and role of the Holy Spirit.

God the Father is the Source and First Cause; it is He Who conceives our creation and plan of salvation. God the Son reveals the Father's plan of salvation and indeed fulfills it with His incarnation, death, Resurrection and Ascension. God the Holy Spirit make the plan of salvation operable, beginning on Pentecost Sunday.

In the late fourth and early fifth centuries, St. Augustine developed a doctrine that the Holy Spirit was the bond of love which united the Father and the Son. Thus the role and function of the Holy Spirit was relegated to a perfunctory one, primarily between the Father and the Son and only on occasions, between the Father and the Son, on the one hand, and the Church and mankind, on the other. That doctrine prevailed in Western Christendom; hence throughout Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Since Vatican II of 1965, both Roman Catholic and Protestant theologians have engaged in a study of the role and function of the Holy Spirit. They are returning to the Eastern Fathers (Sts. Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Symeon the New Theologian, Maximus the Confessor....) These are historical facts.

In the meantime, with the exception of certain Pentecostalist groups throughout the past century, there has been a grass roots level upsurge of interest in the Holy Spirit in the past decade. Prayer groups, healing groups, Born Again Christians and Charismatics have emerged all over the American continent. Some are within the bodies of the established Churches (Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Churches). The lion's share, however, are independent groups operating in church edifices, homes, storefront churches and wherever they can congregate.

Are the Born Again and Charismatic groups a threat to the established Churches? Are they a threat to the Orthodox Church? Not necessarily. To the contrary, they can be a great plus, providing they fit within an Orthodox Christian theological frame of reference. But first, let us come to a definition of certain terms.

What does it mean to be Born Again? Usually all the available sources predicate this phrase and movement on the Gospel of John, Chapter 3. Nicodemus, a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews, met Jesus late one night and spoke with Him about God and eternal life. Jesus said, "Unless one is born again, he cannot seek the Kingdom of God... Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God." In the first instance, Born Again is to be reconciled with God.. . to be a new creation. In the second, it is to be baptized and chrismated. This is what the authority of the Church believed and taught long before these words of John were officially regarded as part of the Gospel according to John. It was the authority of the Church that gave authenticity and validity not only to the Gospel according to John, but all the books of both the Old Testament and the New Testament, which came to be called the Holy Bible. This was done in 325 AD.

The word Charismatic derives from the Greek word charisma. More specifically, St. Paul speaks of the Charismata tou Agiou Pnevmatos - Gifts of the Holy Spirit in First Corinthians, Chapter 12. Literally, charisma comes from the root word charis, which sometimes means "grace, joy, favor, loveliness, for the sake of, graciousness, kindness and goodwill." Collectively, in Chapter 12 of First Corinthians, the Charismata in English are referred to as the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. They include "godliness, wisdom, knowledge, faith, hope, healing, miracles, leadership, teaching, preaching, speaking in tongues the manifestations of the Holy Spirit." St. Paul then proceeds to expound that the greatest of all is "love." (Chapter 13)

Have we been Born Again? Have we received the Gifts of the Holy Spirit? Are we Charismatic? Yes, as Orthodox Christians, we have received the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Yes, we are Charismatics. As Bishop Maximos Aghiorghoussis, world-reknowned Orthodox theologian on the Holy Spirit states, "For Orthodox Christians, Baptism is our personal Paschal Resurrection and Charismation is our personal Pentecost and indwelling of the Holy Spirit." Whether the Holy Spirit and the Gifts are dormant within us or whether they are operating at full steam, of course, is another question.

Is Jesus Christ our personal Saviour? Yes, as Orthodox Christians, dating our beliefs and tenets back to the ancient Christian Church, her theology and liturgical practice, Jesus Christ is our personal Saviour. Yes, we have a personal relationship with Him. Yes, we are born again at the moment we were baptized. Yes, we had the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit and received the charismata of the Holy Spirit when we were chrismated. We had our citizenship in the Kingdom of God restored to us at Baptism and were given the privileges and rights as Citizens in the Kingdom of God immediately! We did not have to wait to reach an age of reason. The Gifts of the Holy Spirit were bestowed upon us at Chrismation. The Spirit of God came upon us and we were sealed with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit when the priest annointed us and said "The Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit."

Of course, the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a continuous one....as long as we keep open the access into our souls to Him. Our parents and godparents helped keep open the access into our souls by the Holy Spirit. But then one day, we had to take over the responsibilities ourselves. For some of us it was a gradual realization and for others it was an immediate, sometimes dramatic realization. Whether ours is a gradual or an immediate, dramatic realization of Christ and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, we are in tune with Orthodox Christian theology.

Born Again Christians, then, in the Orthodox Christian sense, should not be criticized for a zealous desire to come to know Christ better through Scripture, through prayer services and healing services. Nor should they be scrutinized with a suspicious eye because their faith in Christ is so enriching and rewarding. On the other hand, those who are Born Again Christians need to be very careful that zealousness does not exceed its limitations. There is a grave danger in being judgmental of others. We all have a responsibility to share our faith with others, but not to be their judge and jury. It is very easy to become like the Pharisee of whose pride Jesus made an example. (Luke 18: 10-14) With love, care, concern and above all, tolerance, patience and compassion, we can help others come closer to Jesus Christ. Coercion, castigation, admonishment and embarrassment can be more destructive than fruitful.

As regards frequent Holy Communion, St. Basil urged his flock to receive four times a week. However, St. Basil was also quick to remind his fourth century flock that they should keep the strict fasts of the Church. The late Archbishop Michael (+1958) defined the fast for frequent Holy Communion in our Archdiocese which is still in effect. All the strict fasts of the year are to be kept (Eve of Epiphany, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Feasts of the Precious Cross, Beheading of John the Baptist and the Eve of Christmas.) We are to fast the first week of Lent and all of Holy Week. We are to fast the first fourteen days of August, the first week of Christmas Lent and the week before Christmas, as well as the prescribed Lenten fast for the Holy Apostles. We are to fast all Wednesdays and Fridays (except the week after Easter, Pentecost and Christmas). We are to spend Saturday evening in preparation. And of course, we are to approach the Chalice fasting on the morning we receive.

Eastern Orthodox Born Again Christians cannot receive Holy Communion in neither the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches, nor in other Born Again and Charismatic groups. Not because we are better than they are but because we do not have intercommunion. Because our teachings differ from theirs. Because our liturgical practices and Sacraments differ from theirs. Because their role and function of the Holy Spirit differ.

The Holy Spirit makes the plan of salvation operable. The Holy Spirit brings the grace Christ promised and operates through the Church, the Sacraments and Liturgical life. The Holy Spirit returns us to the Father through the Son. The Holy Spirit dwells within us and operates within us. The Holy Spirit, through Pentecost incarnates Christ in us and through Baptism and Chrismation we are given the opportunity to be partakers of Christ's glory.

The Holy Spirit communicates the grace of Christ to us. This is the greatest "Gift of the Holy Spirit." The Church is the instrument through which the Holy Spirit communicates, transmits Christ's grace to us. The Eucharist (Divine Liturgy), the Sacraments and the Liturgical Cycle of the Church are the visible signs of the presence of the Lord. But so are our thoughts and acts and deeds in our daily life the visible signs of the presence of the Lord. This is the way the early Christian Church understood and taught the Sacraments of Baptism, Chrismation and the theology of the Holy Spirit. Roman Catholics and Protestants are in search of a theology of both the Sacrament of Chrismation and the Holy Spirit. They will soon discover that what was taught in the early Church is still taught by Orthodoxy until today.

We must discover that our Church offers us grace, salvation, and love through Jesus Christ. While faith is the acceptance of the truth of our Lord, it must be acted out in daily commitment. St. James says, "Faith without works is dead." The gifts of the Holy Spirit come to us at Chrismation, not at an age of reason. But they must come to a full glow of their potential just as soon as possible in our life. We need a spiritual awakening among our Orthodox people. We need to let Christ be more visible in our deeds, both as a parish community and as individual Orthodox Christians. We need to let the Holy Spirit guide us more often and not relegate Him to an occasional prayer just when we are desperately in need.

Are you Born Again? Yes, through my Baptism. But then I must show it through my deeds. Have you received the Holy Spirit? Yes, when I was chrismated. But then I must live that new life in Christ through prayer, works and the reception of the Sacraments and Liturgical Cycle of the Church. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are not a savings account; they are an incoming and outgoing cash flow. The more we spend the more we receive. Are you saved? I am in the process of being saved because each day I live I know my Lord better; come closer to Him; find His grace all the more enriching. His salvation all the more rewarding and my purpose and destiny in this life leading me to the Father's Heavenly Kingdom.

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