The Rector writes …
Saint Basil (330-379) is among the greatest of the early theologians produced by the Eastern tradition of Christianity: he wrote a treatise on the Holy Spirit in which, among the graces which are given to the individual believer, Basil lists the ability to “dance with the angels”. What a beautiful insight that is and one that should warm our hearts as we find our way through these disorienting days. The Saint continues: “souls that carry the Spirit, and are enlightened by the Spirit, become spiritual themselves, and send forth grace upon others”. From the account of the original Pentecost we know that the Holy Spirit infused a new dynamism into those he touched, and that the gifts bestowed and received individually were intended to be shared universally. As the Disciples burst out from the Upper Room, the power of their witness transcended the usual barriers which divide humanity: “we hear them preaching in our own language about the marvels of God”.
The Holy Spirit is the Godhead’s conduit of those graces which we need to live our lives as Christians. The promise had been made: “when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth” (John 16:17) and while this applies particularly to the Disciples and through them to the Church in every age, it also has a personal significance. In the rites of Christian initiation, through Baptism and Confirmation, we have an individual share in the Spirit of truth, and throughout the whole of our journey through this life that same Holy Spirit is seeking the cooperation of our own spirit to build faith and hope. “These are the very things that God has revealed to us through the Spirit, for the Spirit reaches the depths of everything, even the depths of God. After all, the depths of a man can only be known by his own spirit, not by any other man, and in the same way the depths of God can only be known by the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10).
If Saint Basil is right, then all this must mean that we are able “to dance with the angels”! By this I do not mean that we should expect to follow the example of King David in literally leaping for joy as he composed his psalms, or indeed to worship in the same arms-outstretched exuberance beloved of charismatic evangelicals but rather we should allow the Holy Spirit to open up for us the mysteries of God and to begin to lead us – even if partially on this earth – ever closer to heavenly realities. Jesus had spoken of the Spirit as “Paraclete” and it is interesting to see one of the first Christian teachers, Barnabas, described in the Book of Acts (4:36) by that same word “paraklesis”, which translates as “son of encouragement”, with its overtones of consolation and comfort. Of course, Christian faith should challenge and disturb, but, at the same time, it ought to strengthen and reassure. As we celebrate Pentecost this year, in the special circumstances which pertain, we need to speak gentle words of encouragement to one another – we should be helping those around us to tread with a lighter step as we witness to the possibility of dancing with the angels.
As we wait for the Government to provide a clearer pathway for the re-opening of places of worship (and there might well have been more clarification by the time you read this newsletter) it seems that public services will not resume before the first week in July, but that our buildings might be open for private prayer at some stage during June. We need to be clear, though, that the return to anything like normality will take many months. Initially when the church opens there will be restrictions on how much of the building may be accessed within certain limited times. It is likely that the Blandford Street doors will have to be used as an exit point and, in all probability, there will need to be a rota of people acting as stewards during the hours that we are able to remain open. Hopefully, a fuller picture will emerge in the next week or so but it does seem that we shall be asking for those with availability to volunteer their time on a regular basis to keep the church doors open for some part of each day.