Schmemann on knowing the Holy Spirit

…this sequence — knowledge about, then knowledge of, and finally communion with — is reversed. There is nothing we can merely know about the Holy Spirit.

… in the words of St. Seraphim, “when the Spirit of God descends on man and overshadows him with the fullness of His outpouring, then the human soul overflows with unspeakable joy because the Spirit of God turns to joy all that He may touch.”

All this means that we know the Holy Spirit only by His presence in us, the presence manifested above all by ineffable joy, peace and fullness. . . Thus one can say that the presence of the Holy Spirit in us is the fulfillment of true happiness. And since this happiness does not come from an identifiable and external “cause,” as does our poor and fragile worldly happiness, which disappears with the disappearance of the cause that produced it, and since it does not come from anything in this world, yet results in a joy about everything, that happiness must be the fruit in us of the coming, the presence, the abiding of Someone Who Himself is Life, Joy, Peace, Beauty, Fullness, Bliss.

This Someone is the Holy Spirit. There is no icon, no representation of Him, for He was not made flesh, neither has He become man. Yet when He comes and is present in us, everything becomes His icon and revelation, communion with Him, knowledge of Him. For it is He Who makes life into life, joy into joy, love into love and beauty into beauty, and Who therefore is the Life of life, the Joy of joy, the Love of love, and the Beauty of beauty, Who being above and beyond everything makes the entire creation the symbol, the sacrament, the experience of His presence: man’s encounter with God and communion with Him.

— Alexander Schmemann, “Of Water and the Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism” (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s), 1974, 105-6.

I would normally [apply] inclusive language when quoting, but in this case I chose to respect the usage of the author writing in his tradition. Here follows a revision using feminine language rather than masculine:

…this sequence — knowledge about, then knowledge of, and finally communion with — is reversed. There is nothing we can merely know about the Holy Spirit.

… in the words of St. Seraphim, “when the Spirit of God descends on woman and overshadows her with the fullness of Her outpouring, then the human soul overflows with unspeakable joy because the Spirit of God turns to joy all that She may touch.”

All this means that we know the Holy Spirit only by Her presence in us, the presence manifested above all by ineffable joy, peace and fullness. . . Thus one can say that the presence of the Holy Spirit in us is the fulfillment of true happiness. And since this happiness does not come from an identifiable and external “cause,” as does our poor and fragile worldly happiness, which disappears with the disappearance of the cause that produced it, and since it does not come from anything in this world, yet results in a joy about everything, that happiness must be the fruit in us of the coming, the presence, the abiding of Someone Who Herself is Life, Joy, Peace, Beauty, Fullness, Bliss.

This Someone is the Holy Spirit. There is no icon, no representation of Her, for She was not made flesh, neither has She become human. Yet when She comes and is present in us, everything becomes Her icon and revelation, communion with Her, knowledge of Her. For it is She Who makes life into life, joy into joy, love into love and beauty into beauty, and Who therefore is the Life of life, the Joy of joy, the Love of love, and the Beauty of beauty, Who being above and beyond everything makes the entire creation the symbol, the sacrament, the experience of Her presence: woman’s encounter with God and communion with Her.

Note that there is unambiguous evidence in tradition for use of the feminine pronoun, as well as the masculine, to refer to the Holy Spirit: so there is nothing heterodox about this revision. There is no such evidence, as far as I’m aware, for the use of “woman” to indicate the generic “human”, but I frequently jailbreak the patriarchy on texts like these, so I can experience them in relationship to myself in the same way that a male reader can experience the unaltered texts.

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2 Responses to Schmemann on knowing the Holy Spirit

  1. PROFLING says:

    There is no gender in God, so there is no need to be politically correct and anthropomorphize the Holy Spirit.

    • If there is no gender in God, then masculine and feminine pronouns for the Holy Spirit are equally correct.

      As I stated in the post, there is unambiguous evidence in tradition for the use of the feminine pronoun for the Spirit.

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