On Friday I did a short post about the humorous story that Metropolitan Kallistos Ware told at the beginning of his talk at the women's luncheon during the conference hosted by my parish here in Memphis. As funny as that story was, I haven't been able to get the meat of his talk off my mind, returning to it over and over all weekend. His topic, again, was "The Fire of the Spirit." He was talking about what it means to be a lay person in the Church--one who has received the gift of the Holy Spirit. "It's a personal Pentecost when the tongues of fire descend on each of us at our Chrismations. We are Spirit-bearers."
He went on to talk about three aspect of FIRE:
1. Fire is FREE. It's never still, always moving and not to be confined or held fast. This movement, he said, signifies freedom. He related the story of the Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov, and then went on to say that life is less challenging if we don't have to exercise our freedom, so we often run away from it. And we sometimes try to take it away from our fellow human beings. This struck me in a powerful way, because I react strongly when others try to take my freedom away, but I rarely think about ways that I might be doing the same to my fellow man, even by judging him for making choices different than my own.
2. Fire SPREADS. A little flame can become huge. Tongues are given for communication, for relationships. We all begin as individuals, but the Spirit calls us to become PERSONS IN RELATIONSHIPS. The Greek word for person is "prosopon," which means "face." We are not truly persons unless we are in a relationship with others. It's about "we," not "I." Met. Kallistos told several more wonderful stories, but I especially liked the one about the person who was asked to describe what it was like to be in Hell. He said, "We are strapped to another person, back-to-back, so that we cannot see each other's faces." Unless we come face-to-face with others, we cannot relate; we cannot love.
I thought about ICONS when he was telling us this. Saints in icons are always painted fully facing the viewer. The only figures in icons that are painted in profile are non-saints and demons. Notice in this icon of Judas' betrayal of Christ that only Judas and three soldiers are portrayed in profile. The other disciples and Christ are shown facing forward.
3. Fire BURNS. It purges, defines and devours. And yet this spirit of fire that judges is also a spirit of compassionate love. This part of his talk was a little confusing to me. I understand that the Holy Spirit can burn off the dross in our lives if we let Him, so maybe that's what Met. Kallistos meant. But I don't want to be a burning fire to others, and I don't receive this type of "love" well myself. I'm sure I need to learn how to apply this purging, defining, devouring aspect of the Fire of the Spirit to my life.
After weeks of celebrating the Paschal season and then the season of Pentecost, we are now beginning the Apostles' Fast, which culminates in celebrating the Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul on June 29. Perhaps I can allow the fire of the Spirit to cleanse me and burn some of that dross during these days. I suck at fasting, because I react to "rules" and I'm very undisciplined in my spiritual life. But this is only 9 days. Maybe I'll try....