In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
This morning I would like us to consider together the passage from the Gospel of St John, found in the account of the meeting of our Lord Jesus Christ with the woman of Samaria. In these verses in chapter 4, our Lord says to her…
Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. John 4:21-24
I hope that we can focus especially on the last verse here,
God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
My intention, as God wills, is neither to present a theology lecture, nor simply give a homily on this passage. But to lead us in a spiritual reflection, using the teachings of the Fathers, to help us understand what it means to worship in spirit and truth, and to be those men and women who offer such worship as God desires.
In all of my spiritual thinking and teaching I am guided and inspired by that ambition of which St Theophan the Recluse writes when he says…
I will tell you plainly: the greatest and most perfect thing a man may desire to attain is to come near to God and dwell, in union with Him.
Some of you will have noticed that I find it difficult to speak about our Orthodox spiritual life without returning often to this essential aspect, that of union with God. It seems to me that often our Gospel message is subverted by making it only matter of morality, or of pleasing God so that we might avoid punishment, or even doing those things which might allow us entry to heaven in the future. But the true Gospel we are to proclaim, and that which we are invited to participate in ourselves, is union with God in the present, as far as we are able, so that the life of eternity has its beginning in us even now, and is a guarantee and a foretaste of what is to come.
Our Orthodox Tradition is often spoken of by those who have not properly experienced it, as being ritualistic and religious rather than spiritual. Indeed, we know that religious practice and spirituality are often contrasted as if it is not possible to be spiritual while celebrating the Liturgy, or praying from the Agpeya or any other collection of prayers. There is certainly a fragment of truth in such a view. But as with most theological and spiritual errors, it takes one aspect of truth to extremes and so becomes harmful to those who adopt it. It is undoubtedly possible that having a rich spiritual tradition such as that which belongs to our Orthodox Church, can be misunderstood, even by those in the Church, so that it seems that doing religious things is the same as being spiritual.
I was reading a refutation of the highly critical views of Dr. Magdi Khalil while I was preparing for this spiritual day, and I notice that he had said that…. The Coptic Church treats the rite as the end rather than the means to Christ. Now if that were so then it would be a serious thing indeed. But as someone who has become Orthodox, and become Orthodox within this particular Coptic Orthodox community, I have seen no evidence that such a criticism has any great weight at all. Of course there are those individuals who might well believe that simply attending services is all that is required of us by God. But this is manifestly not the teaching of the Church, and does not represent our ancient and patristic spiritual Tradition at all.
Again, St Theophan the Recluse speaks about this when he says,
There are many who say that the perfection of Christian life consists in fasts, vigils, genuflexions, sleeping on bare earth and other similar austerities of the body. Others say that it consists in saying many prayers at home and in attending long services in Church.
And there are others who think that our perfection consists entirely in mental prayer, solitude, seclusion and silence. But the majority limit perfection to a strict observance of all the rules and practices laid down by the statutes, falling into no excess or deficiency, but preserving a golden moderation. Yet all these virtues do not by themselves constitute the Christian perfection we are seeking, but are only means and methods for acquiring it.
So all of these spiritual practices which we find in the Church are clearly not taught as if they were the end of our spirituality, despite what our critics might claim. On the contrary, they are the means and the methods which we are taught and employ to seek after the true goal, as far as we can attain it, which is union with God by the Holy Spirit.
Why have I begun in such a way? It is because the Fathers teach us that one aspect of the truth which we are to embrace, as those who worship God as he desires, is that the shadows and types of the religious worship of the Jews has passed away with the coming of Christ. He is himself the Truth, and it is in union with Him that we are able to experience truth, to experience reality, to experience the divine revelation of God himself to us in the heart.
The worship of the Jews was filled with shadows and allusions of what would come in due time. Almost any passage of Scripture in the Old Testament which describes water can be considered as a prefigurement of the sacrament of Baptism. Likewise, almost any passage in the Old Testament which speaks of food, and especially of the heavenly provision of food, can be considered a prefiguring allusion to the sacrament of the Eucharist. Our Lord Jesus Christ himself points out some of these figures. St Cyril of Jerusalem, one of the important Fathers of the 4th century, when teaching those who had been newly baptised speaks in the way of types and their fulfilment when he says, speaking of the crossing of the Red Sea by the children of Israel on their flight out of Egypt,
Turn from the old to the new, from the figure to the reality. There we have Moses sent from God to Egypt; here, Christ, sent forth from His Father into the world: there, that Moses might lead forth an afflicted people out of Egypt; here, that Christ might rescue those who are oppressed in the world under sin: there, the blood of a lamb was the spell against the destroyer; here, the blood of the Lamb without blemish Jesus Christ is made the means of resisting evil spirits: there, the tyrant was pursuing that ancient people even to the sea; and here the daring and shameless spirit, the author of evil, was following you even to the very streams of salvation. The tyrant of old was drowned in the sea; and this present one disappears in the water of salvation.
And our Lord Jesus Christ speaks in this way himself, for instance, in John 6…
Therefore, they said to Him, “What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
The Jews spoke of the Bread from Heaven, and indeed they properly looked back to the time when the children of Israel wandered in the desert and God provided them with miraculous sustenance. But now our Lord Jesus, the Word of God incarnate has come into the world, and the shadows are passing away in the light of the truth. This truth is not only a matter of doctrines, but it is essentially and especially a matter of the divine life breaking into world by the incarnation and revealing the Father personally and completely to mankind.
Therefore, he speaks of himself and describes himself as the true bread from Heaven, the real bread from Heaven, the fulfilment of all the images and ideas and allusions which the bread in the wilderness might have stirred up in people’s hearts and minds.
St Paul reveals the same aspect of events and persons in the Old Testament being a shadow of that which was to come. In Romans 5 he says,
Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.
Here he actually uses the word type, or tupos in Greek, which has the sense of being the impression made by a die. It is an image or reflection of that which made it. And in this passage St Paul is considering how Adam is not the original of which Christ is a copy, but that it is Christ himself who is the true Adam, of which Adam is the figure. Christ is the real Adam, the Adam who will truly bring about a beginning in holiness and in union with God for mankind, where Adam failed and fell into sin.
We can see this sense of the reality coming upon the world when St Peter, in his first letter, speaks about Noah and the Flood. He says,
The Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.
In this passage St Peter speaks of an anti-type which saves us. He means the reality of which the history of Noah and the Flood, and the salvation of a few souls through the waters was but a shadow. We might easily imagine that Baptism represents a shadow and a type of the Flood, and that the Flood is the reality. But St Peter turns this on its head. It is the Flood which is the shadow, now it is Baptism which is the coming into being of the true and substantial meaning of the Flood.
This is what we are to understand. With the coming of Christ, a reality has broken in upon us. We are no longer stumbling in the shadows of things. The truth has dawned upon us, and it is not simply a collection of doctrines and practices, but it is a person. It is the Word of God himself, who is incarnate and is himself the truth.
This is what St Cyril says in his commentary on the Gospel of St John concerning the account of the meeting of the Samaritan Woman at the well, He says,
When our Lord speaks, He is indicating that the time has now come because of His Own Presence and says that the type shall be transferred into truth and the shadow of the Law into spiritual worship: He tells us that through the Gospel the true worshipper, that is, the spiritual man, shall be brought to a life and practice well-pleasing to the Father, leading unto unity with God. For since God is conceived of as a Spirit, in reference to the embodied nature of man. Rightly therefore does He accept the spiritual worshipper, who does not in form and type carry on in a Jewish way the practice of godliness, but in accordance with the Gospel and arrayed in the achievements of virtue and in rightness of the Divine doctrines fulfils what is the really true worship.
What is St Cyril saying here? It is that when, as we have read in the Gospel this morning, the Lord Jesus Christ says that a time is coming and now is, when people will worship God in spirit and truth, it is defined by his own presence. Things have changed radically and completely because Christ, the Word of God incarnate, is in the world. The old way of knowledge and worship of God is no longer sufficient. It was a type, a shadow, a prefiguring. Now the reality has appeared, the truth, the substance, that which was the desire of God from the beginning.
The Fathers of the Church have reflected on this whole account of our Lord’s conversation at the well, and find it in a mystical representation of the Gentile, the non-Jewish Church, which now also approaches Christ and finds in him life and spiritual refreshment. So this is an important passage in the consideration of the Christian life. It has things to say about the new relation of God and man which the incarnation has brought about.
One of the early Christian writers says,
It is relevant to the image of the reality that this woman, who bore the type of the church, comes from strangers, for the church was to come from the Gentiles, an alien from the race of the Jews. In that woman, then, let us hear ourselves, and in her acknowledge ourselves and in her give thanks to God for ourselves.
The woman at the well asks our Lord about how the worship of God should be conducted. She is a Samaritan. The Samaritans were a heterodox community living in the Holy Land, and still present there today. They followed a form of the Jewish religion but had their own temple and priesthood who worshipped on Mount Gerizim, which was the mountain about which the Samaritan woman spoke. They claimed to be descended from the Israelites and to have preserved a more ancient and authentic form of Jewish worship than that practiced in Jerusalem. At the time of our Lord Jesus there were as many as a million Samaritans. They were a significant population. Now, there are just under 800 who follow the Samaritan form of worship.
Therefore, when Photini, and this is the name that the Samaritan woman has been commemorated under by the Church. When Photini asks where and how the proper worship of God should take place, she is asking a question about a live issue. There was a theological and spiritual difference of opinion between the Jews and the Samaritans, and seeing that our Lord Jesus was an educated man, and perhaps because she was, despite her way of life, not an unbelieving woman, she wanted to take the opportunity of receiving our Lord’s opinion. Which of them was right? The Samaritans on Mount Gerizim, or the Jews in Jerusalem.
But the Lord has not come to encourage either the worship of the Samaritans or that of the Jews. Something new is taking place, something for which all of the Jewish worship has been a shadow and a prefiguring. In the first place, our Lord insists that salvation is of the Jews, and criticises the schismatic and heterodox worship and spirituality of the Samaritans. The true worship of God is not found in isolation and separation from God’s people. But neither does salvation belong only to the Jews. Another early writer says,
We have become one, the Jews and the Gentiles; but in the One, not in ourselves. Of what lineage was Christ born? Of the Jews. That is what you find written: ―Salvation is from the Jews, but not only for the Jews. He did not say, after all, ―Salvation is for the Jews but ―Salvation is from the Jews.
And Origen reflecting on the same passage says,
The ―we literally means the Jews, but allegorically it means, ―I, the Word, and all who are changed by me receive salvation from the Jewish Scriptures. For the mystery now revealed was revealed both through the prophetic Scriptures and through the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And another writer says,
However, in order that it might not appear that Jews and Samaritans had to be considered equal (because he predicted the end of both their sanctuaries) he says, ―You worship what you do not know, that is, you Samaritans; ―We worship what we know, that is, we Jews. Then he adds, ―For salvation is from the Jews. He did not say ―in the Jews but ―from the Jews. In fact, salvation was not in them but from them because Christ in flesh came from them. Therefore, he says, the truth is by the Jews, but both sanctuaries will be emptied out.
What do we learn from our Lord and from the Fathers? It is that in the incarnation the worship of the Temple was to come to an end. It was not the substance and reality that God purposed for mankind. It was a shadow, and in Christ the truth, the reality, the actuality has burst into the world. Salvation is no longer found only among the Jews, and in Jerusalem, it is found in Christ, the Word of God incarnate. Both the worship of the Temple and the worship of heterodoxy will come to an end, but salvation in Christ Himself, the true and living way, is now available to all.
This is why our Lord speaks to Photini about the water of life which it is in his power to give her, becoming a spring of the life of eternity within her heart. This was not in the gift of either the worship on Mount Gerizim or that in the Temple in Jerusalem. This was a new a living way of which our Lord could say that a time was coming and now is. The time had come only because of the incarnation.
There is some truth then, in the criticism which we sometimes find levelled at Orthodoxy, that a religion of rites and liturgy such as that of the Temple, is no longer in God’s will. If Orthodoxy only presented a form of worship which was based on shadows and types, then this would be justifiable cause for the arguments we are faced with by those who reject all rites and liturgy. But it is not liturgy itself which is spoken of as coming to an end by Christ, but the worship according to shadows. Now the reality has come and the worship is in accordance with truth, that is it presents the reality of things to us, and it is in the Spirit, that is it is no longer worship according to the flesh, and according to a merely human expression of worship. In our Orthodox spirituality we are now invited to participate in an interior union within the heart with God himself by the indwelling Holy Spirit. If we offer prayers as did the Jews it is now with an entirely different purpose, since the Holy Spirit was not poured out on those who believe until the resurrection. If we celebrate a Liturgy, and find it has some similarity with aspects of the Jewish worship in the Temple, it is now for an entirely different purpose, since it is only now, that Christ Himself, the Word of God incarnate, descends upon the altar and gives himself to those who receive him. Everything has changed. The substance is different. And it is the substance which was filled with shadows.
It is possible, therefore, to worship the Father in spirit and in truth not only when ―the hour comes but also when it ―now is. … For just as the angels do not worship the Father in Jerusalem because they worship the Father in a better way than those in Jerusalem, so those who can already be like the angels in their attitude will not worship the Father in Jerusalem but in a better way than those in Jerusalem.…When, however, someone worships neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem, once the hour has come he worships the Father boldly because he has become a son. Therefore, it is not said, ―worship God but ―worship the Father. …
At first he speaks to Photini about the gift of God. But once he has begun to speak about the coming of the end of the shadows of things, and indeed that this time has come, he now speaks about the Father. In his own prayer, which he taught his disciples and which we use every day, he taught them to believe that they could now address God directly, not with various titles that indicated how distant and fearsome he was, but as Abba, Father. The closest relationship of all, that between a parent and a child.
We worship in a better way than that practiced in Jerusalem, but it is not any particular forms which are the issue. And we will see as we continue to reflect on this passage that when we speak about spiritual worship we must not restrict ourselves to thinking only of the services in the Church. The worship of the Father which Christ institutes is a new one, a true and real worship, because of the essential character of the relationship which is to exist between the one who worships and God, the Father, who is worshipped. To worship the Father in Spirit and truth, is the worship of the children of the Father, the new relation which Christ has brought about.
St Ambrose of Milan writes about what Photini was starting to learn as she spoke to Christ. He says,
She learned the divine mysteries: that God is spirit and is adored not in a place but in spirit. She also learned that Christ is the Messiah and therefore that he who was still awaited by the Jews had already come. Hearing these things, that woman, who manifests the beauty of the church, learned and believed the mysteries of the law.
We too, follow her example, may begin to make a note of these same lessons, as we seek to understand what it means to worship the Father in Spirit and truth. We see that God is not worshipped essentially in particular places but as Spirit is worshipped in the spirit. We also see that our worship must now be rooted in the incarnation, and therefore take account of the life, death and resurrection of Christ. And we can also note that this new worship is Trinitarian. It is the worship of the Father, by the salvation that is given by the Son, in the gift of the Holy Spirit. To worship in the Spirit is to worship in the life of the Holy Spirit of God. Our Lord has already been speaking to Photini about the spiritual water that he is able to provide within the heart, and one of the early writers says,
We have in the Gospel according to John the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, who says, ―If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink: he that believes on me, as the Scripture says, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. And the Evangelist has gone on further to add, ―And this he spoke of the Spirit, which they should receive who believe in him. And hence Paul the apostle also says, ―And we have all been made to drink into one Spirit. … For when the same Lord was talking with the woman of Samaria at the well, to whom he had said, ―Give me to drink, and she had answered that the Jews ―have no dealings with the Samaritans, Jesus answered and said to her, ―If you had known the gift of God and who it is that says to you, Give me to drink,‘ you would have asked of him, and he would have given you living water. … Because this living water, then, as the Evangelist has explained to us, is the Holy Spirit, without doubt the Spirit is the gift of God.
In the way of the Jews the worship of God was offered at the Temple in Jerusalem. Prayers were also offered in the synagogue, but these were not sufficient for the forgiveness of sin. It was in the Temple alone, in the whole world that the proper worship of God took place in accordance with the Jewish rites. But now something entirely new is offered, not only for the Jews but for the Gentiles, not only in Jerusalem, but universally, within the heart of each man and woman who will seek and receive this well of water, this divine refreshment, this gift of the Holy Spirit within them.
This gift of the Holy Spirit is not given because the worship of the Jewish Temple had not been in God’s will. For a time, the worship according to the shadow had been necessary, and had led men to think of spiritual things, and of their relationship with God with soberness. But now the truth and the reality has come. God’s desire and his purpose is to fill each heart with life and love, to overflowing, and to make each heart the temple and the throne of God by the indwelling Holy Spirit.
St Cyril says,
Jesus calls the quickening gift of the Spirit ―living water because mere human nature is parched to its very roots, now rendered dry and barren of all virtue by the crimes of the devil. But now human nature runs back to its pristine beauty, and drinking in that which is life-giving, it is made beautiful with a variety of good things and, budding into a virtuous life, it sends out healthy shoots of love toward God.
This gift of God in the Holy Spirit is the very purpose of God from the beginning. It is the renewal of the beauty of mankind, that which God had said was very good when he had first made it. It is the renewal of the breath of God in man, which was his gift to Adam, and which he lost when he abandoned God in sinful disobedience. Something new comes into the world with the incarnation of the Word. A new opportunity for mankind and for each of us. It is radically different from the Jewish way of worship, but it is in truth the working out of the divine purpose which the Holy Trinity formed at the beginning, when Adam fell. The whole history of the world is a waiting for the incarnation, the presence of that one who is life and truth himself, and the renewal of the gift of the Holy Spirit to man.
Another early writer says,
The water from a spring does not run out, nor does it need to be brought from another place or to be introduced, but it constantly offers perpetual nourishment to those who want it. In a similar way also the virtue of this water provides the one who receives it with perpetual help and will always preserve him and not allow him to perish. Therefore, the one who receives this grace will never reach death. He said what he did for good reason, because this is what the virtue of the Spirit is. And so we also receive from him the first fruits of the Spirit with the hope of the future resurrection.
To worship in the Spirit is to be one who finds life in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which is the gift of God. This gift is continually renewed in the one who is faithful. As water is the means of human life, we understand that this divine spring within the heart is the source of the life of eternity. There are many who struggle with a moralistic or religious understanding of Christianity. When we believe that the essence of our faith is that we must act in a certain way, whether to please God or to avoid his angry judgement, then we are still worshipping according to the shadows of the Jewish worship which Christ has brought to an end. Now, for those who know Christ and have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, the essential character of the Christian life is found in the illumination of the divine person of the Word incarnate, who is himself the truth, and the renewal of our nature by the Holy Spirit, so that united with the one who is truth we may worship in the grace of the Holy Spirit, as spiritual men and women, not those engaged in the worship which has been brought to an end.
This sense of our being offered a dynamic, interior and personal encounter with Christ by the Holy Spirit is described by Origen when he says,
What is meant in the first place would be something like this: he who partakes of supposedly profound thoughts, even if he is satisfied for a little while and accepts the ideas that are drawn out and that he thinks he has discovered to be most profound, will, however, when he has reconsidered them, raise new questions.… But the Word says, I have the teaching that becomes a fountain of living water in the one who has received what I have declared. And he who has received of my water will receive so great a benefit that a fountain capable of discovering everything that is investigated will gush forth within him. The waters will leap upward. His understanding also will spring up and fly as swiftly as possible in accordance with this briskly flowing water, the springing and leaping itself carrying him to that higher life that is eternal.
Origen was one of the great minds of the Church, hugely intelligent. Yet he reminds us here that the truth of which Christ spoke, when he said that we must worship in spirit and truth, cannot simply be reduced to an apprehension of doctrines, however correct they might be. Of course I am committed to an Orthodox theology, and I often write about aspects of our theological Tradition, but the truth we are to seek is greater than a mental acquisition of knowledge. Origen illustrates this by the fact that the one who seeks such an intellectual appreciation of knowledge is only ever partially and temporarily satisfied. The understanding of the truth which comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit, the fountain of life within the heart, is not of such a character, but is the direct illumination of the Holy Spirit, who makes the things of God known to the heart.
I believe that what this signifies is the difference between having read something so that we know about it, and having experienced something so that we have lived it. We know, for instance, that God is faithful, but this might only be an intellectual and mental apprehension until we have had to experience what it is to trust God, and to receive such understanding that we know within the heart that God is faithful.
This understanding of truth which Christ grants by the Holy Spirit can also be expressed as wisdom. This again is far from a simply mental apprehension of doctrines.
Another early writer says,
Visible water can quench our thirst for a little while, but the unseen water cures one of thirst altogether because there is no longer a thirst for life when immortality is gushing forth on you. What follows clearly demonstrates that the Holy Spirit is what is freely being promised here, as the spiritual water spoken of here corresponds with the physical water spoken of.… The Spirit of wisdom, whose presence is unceasing, gives of its abundance freely.
It is by the Holy Spirit then, that those who worship in Spirit receive the Spirit of Wisdom. It seems to me that wisdom is the spiritual apprehension of the truth of things. The Father speaks here of us realising that the things of this world have a secondary value when compared to the life of eternity. We see the truth of our relation to our possessions, our career, our secular interests. But this understanding of the truth of things, which is wisdom, is once again, not the fruit of reading many books, and I certainly do not disparage our continuing education as Orthodox Christians, but it is the fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit, revealing the life of Christ, who is truth and wisdom, in us and to us.
To worship in spirit and in truth is therefore to be those who are filled with the Holy Spirit, and illuminated with the presence of the divine person who is life and truth, even the Word of God himself. It does not narrowly mean that we worship according to any particular rites. Those of our own Orthodox Church of Alexandria have developed both with a universal and a particular character. The same reality applies to the worship of the Armenian Orthodox, the Orthodox of Syria, of Ethiopia and Eritrea, of India, of Russia and Greece, and every other Orthodox community. The details of our rite are unique, but the essence of our spiritual Tradition is universal and belongs to all Orthodox, since we are the one Church and Body of Christ, who forms us into a living and spiritual temple by the Holy Spirit in truth.
Our worship together is not a replication of the Temple worship of Jerusalem, though there are aspects in common. Rather our worship in this place and in every place is filled with the reality that the Jewish Temple worship could only prefigure in shadows. This is a holy place, because Christ Himself is enthroned on the altar by the Holy Spirit and gives himself to us here so that we might offer up that worship in spirit and truth. But this beautiful and hallowed place is not the true Temple of God. It is we ourselves, who receive Christ into union with ourselves by the holy sacrament and are renewed again by the Holy Spirit, who form a living Temple. When we leave this place after communion where is the divine Word of God made present? It is no longer on the altar of this place, but on the altar of each heart. And if we kiss the hand of the celebrating priest because he has held the body and blood of our Lord, how much more worthy of honour and dignity is each soul who communes in that body and blood and receives Christ in union with themselves.
The one who worships in spirit and truth is that one who has this life of Christ within them, as a life giving spring that transforms our whole life, and does not merely express itself in attendance in church worship. The one who worships in spirit and truth has given his whole life to Christ as a living sacrifice, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and with a divine gifted apprehension of the reality of things. To be those who worship in such a way requires that there is fruitfulness in our life.
St John Chrysostom says,
In the same way that he calls the Spirit by the name of ―fire, alluding to the rousing and warming property of grace and its power of destroying sins, he calls it ―water in order to highlight the cleansing it does and the great refreshment it provides those minds that receive it. For it makes the willing soul like a kind of garden, thick with all kinds of fruitful and productive trees, allowing it neither to feel despondency nor the plots of Satan. It quenches all the fiery darts of the wicked one.
More is required then of the one who would be a worshipper in spirit and truth. It is not only the reception of these divine gifts, but that use be made of them. Otherwise we are as the servant who received a talent and buried it, receiving condemnation. If we have received the Spirit so that we might worship in the spirit, then where is the fruit in our lives? Is our heart becoming a fruitful and productive orchard? Do we find strength to overcome temptation? Is there a cleansing and renewal taking place in our heart?
If we have received understanding of the truth from the one who is truth, have we made it the firm foundation of our daily life and experience? It does not seem possible to me that we can live our lives in separate ways, one of which is Christian and spiritual and another which is secular and worldly, if we are those who worship in spirit and truth. On the contrary this divine gift of life and understanding, the gift of grace and of God himself, must change everything or it has not been properly received at all.
Of course we can block up a spring, and obstruct it with such obstacles it cannot easily flow. In our own lives these are sins, the preoccupation with the worldly, the lack of fervour and the trials and difficulties we face. There is a need for us to be always clearing away the accumulation which blocks this spiritual spring within us. But while we are faithful it will not fail us. While we are faithful we will not cease to be led into greater understanding of the truth, and a greater experience of the presence of the Holy Spirit within us.
St Cyril of Alexandria says,
We must know again that the Saviour here calls the grace of the Holy Spirit water. If anyone drinks of this water, he will have the gift of the divine teaching constantly welling up from within him.
This is the desire of God for us. That we will become mature in our faith, growing in our understanding and experience because within our heart, at the very centre of our being, is found the presence of the Holy Spirit, who mediates to us and manifests in us, the knowledge and understanding of Christ himself, the Word of God incarnate.
God is a Spirit.… God, who brings us into the true life, is called Spirit, and in the Scriptures, the Spirit is said to make us alive. It is clear from this that ―making alive refers not only to ordinary life but to what is more divine.
Do we wish to be alive? Truly alive? The one who worships God in spirit and truth is one who is filled with abundant life. This life is not found simply in performing the spiritual practices of our Orthodox tradition. We do not confuse the means for the end. We engage in prayer, fasting, reading of the Scripture, service of others, and in the sacraments, because we have within us already the gift of life and truth in the spirit which leads us to seek a greater and increasing experience of God by these means. He has already given us the incomparable gift of his own presence within our heart. He asks no more than that we offer ourselves by the grace of that gift so that he might give yet more of himself, more truth, more understanding, more personal and interior encounter with the divine life.
Therefore, as another early writer says,
God is of an incorporeal nature and cannot be circumscribed into any one place. Rather, he is everywhere, and it is necessary that he be worshiped according to this understanding. The true worshiper is the one who honours him with the right intention and believes with a pure conscience that everywhere he can speak with the one who is incomprehensible.
God is everywhere, and he is worthy of our worship in every place and at every moment of our lives. If we are to be true worshippers in every place, then we must be true worshippers at every moment. The true worship of God is not a part time activity but is the transformation of our whole life. It requires of us that we seek to learn, as far as we are able, to be those who pray without ceasing, offering worship to God in every hour. That we seek to be those who respond to the indwelling Spirit at his every movement within us. And that we seek, by the grace of God to be living a life of purity and holiness.
Such worship is the offering of our whole life, the sacrifice of self each day, and the living each moment in the grace of the indwelling Holy Spirit, who leads us into truth, into the understanding of things as they really are, and into the spiritual reality that God desires for mankind.
St Hilary of Poitiers says,
We see that the woman, her mind full of inherited tradition, thought that God must be worshiped either on a mountain, as at Samaria, or in a temple, as at Jerusalem.… The prejudices of both confined the all-embracing and illimitable God to the crest of a hill or the vault of a building. God is invisible, incomprehensible, immeasurable. The Lord said that the time had come when God should be worshiped neither on mountain nor in temple. For the Spirit cannot be shut up, as if in a cabin, or confined. It is omnipresent in space and time, and under all conditions it is present in its fullness. Therefore, he said that they are the true worshipers who shall worship in the Spirit and in truth. And these who are to worship God the Spirit in the Spirit shall have the One for the means, the Other for the object, of their reverence. For each of the two stand in a different relation to the worshiper. The words ―God is Spirit‖ do not alter the fact that the Holy Spirit has a name of his own and that he is the gift to us.… The imparted gift and the object of reverence were clearly shown when Christ taught that God, being Spirit, must be worshiped in the Spirit, and revealed what freedom and knowledge, what boundless scope for adoration, lay in this worship of God the Spirit, in the Spirit.
This is surely clear teaching. Our worship is not to be confined to a time and a place. Nor is this to disparage at all our proper coming together as the Body of Christ, to express our unity in Christ together in worship and prayer, in the sacraments and in service. But we offer together what we must have received ourselves. And we are built up into a spiritual temple because we are ourselves becoming living stones, with a real and unfailing experience of the Holy Spirit in our heart.
I have just a final two passages from the Fathers which help us understand this worship in spirit and truth. Evagrius of Ponticus says,
If you wish to pray, you have need of God, ―who gives prayer to him who prays. Invoke him, then, saying, ―Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come—that is, the Holy Spirit and your only begotten Son. For this is what he taught us, saying, ―Worship the Father in spirit and in truth. He who prays in spirit and in truth is no longer dependent on created things when honouring the Creator but praises him for and in himself. If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.
This passage is well known by many of us. A theologian is not someone who has read many books but who has experienced God himself in a life of prayer. And the one who is committed to the life of prayer is the one who knows God and can speak of God. It seems to me that this expresses well this sense of worshipping in spirit and truth. It is unceasing prayer, and prayer is itself the gift of God by the Holy Spirit, and the fruit of this prayer in the Spirit is true knowledge, the encounter with God himself in the heart.
And finally, another early writer says,
Even if perhaps you seek some lofty place, some holy place, make yourself a temple for God within yourself. ―For the temple of God is holy, which means you. Would you pray in a temple? Pray in yourself. But first be a temple of God, for he in his temple hears the one who prays.
It seems to me that this is the essence of the worship of the one who worships in Spirit and truth. We do not abandon the coming together or the sacraments. God forbid. But before all else we must build within our heart a Temple for God, so that filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit we might meet him there and offer the unceasing worship which is his due, and receive from him the gift of life and grace, and the understanding of all things.
May each of us seek to become those who worship in spirit and truth, and find within our heart that place where God is present in his love and mercy, by the indwelling Holy Spirit, and discover in him the reality, the actuality, the truth of the spiritual life as a personal and transforming encounter with God.
For his glory and our salvation. Amen.