ONE OF THE COMMONEST RESPONSES to the experience of the "Baptism of the
Holy Spirit" is laughter. One Catholic testifies: "I was so
joyful that all I could do was laugh as I lay on the floor" (Ranaghan, p.
28). Another Catholic: "The sense of the presence and love of God was so
strong that I can remember sitting in the chapel for a half hour just laughing
out of joy over the love of God" (Ranaghan, p. 64). A Protestant testifies
that at his Baptism, "I started laughing... I just wanted to laugh
and laugh the way you do when you feel so good you just can't talk about it. I
held my sides and laughed until I doubled over" (Sherrill, p. 113).
Another Protestant: "The new tongue I was given was intermingled with waves
of mirth in which every fear I had just seemed to roll away. It was a tongue of
laughter" (Sherrill, p. 115). An Orthodox priest, Fr. Eusebius Stephanou,
writes: "I could not conceal the broad smile on my face that any minute
could have broken out into laughter - a laughter of the Holy Spirit stirring in
me a refreshing release" (Logos, April, 1972, p. 4).
Many, many examples could be collected of this truly strange reaction to a
"spiritual" experience, and some "charismatic" apologists
have a whole philosophy of "spiritual joy" and "God's
foolishness" to explain it. But this philosophy is not in the least
Christian; such a concept as the "laughter of the Holy Spirit" is
unheard of in the whole history of Christian thought and experience. Here
perhaps more clearly than anywhere else the "charismatic revival"
reveals itself as not at all Christian in religious orientation; this
experience is purely worldly and pagan, and where it cannot be explained in
terms of emotional hysteria (for Fr. Eusebius, indeed, laughter provided
"relief" and "release" from "an intense feeling of
self-consciousness and embarrassment" and "emotional
devastation"), it can only be due to some degree of "possession"
by one or more of the pagan gods, which the Orthodox church calls demons. Here,
for example, is a comparable "initiation" experience of a pagan
Eskimo shaman: Not finding initiation, "I would sometimes fall to weeping
and feel unhappy without knowing why. Then for no reason all would suddenly be
changed, and I felt a great, inexplicable joy, a joy so powerful that I could
not restrain it, but had to break into song, a mighty song, with room for only
one word: joy, joy! And I had to use the full strength of my voice. And then in
the midst of such a fit of mysterious and overwhelming delight I became a
shaman...I could see and hear in a totally different way. I had gained my
enlightenment...and it was not only I who could see through the darkness of
life, but the same bright light also shone out of me... and all the spirits of
earth and sky and sea now came to me and became my helping spirits"
(Lewis, Ecstatic Religion, p. 37).
It is not surprising that unsuspecting "Christians," having
deliberately laid themselves open to a similar pagan experience, would still interpret
it as a "Christian" experience; psychologically they are still
Christians, although spiritually they have entered the realm of distinctly
non-Christian attitudes and practices. What is the judgment of the Orthodox
ascetic tradition concerning such a thing as a "laughter of the Holy
Spirit"? Sts. Barsanuphius and John, the 6th-century ascetics, give
the unequivocal Orthodox answer in reply to an Orthodox monk who was plagued by
this problem (Answer 451): "In the fear of God there is no laughter. The
Scripture says of the foolish, that they raise their voice in laughter (Sirach
21:23); and the word of the foolish is always disturbed and deprived of
grace." St. Ephraim the Syrian just as clearly teaches: "Laughter and
familiarity are the beginning of a soul's corruption. If you see these in
yourself, know that you have come to the depths of evils. Do not cease to pray
God that He will deliver you from this death...Laughter removes from us that
blessing which is promised to those who mourn (Matt. 5:4) and destroys what has
been built up. Laughter offends the Holy Spirit, gives no benefit to the soul,
dishonors the body. Laughter drives out virtues, has no remembrance of death or
thought of tortures" (Philokalia, Russian edition, Moscow, 1913:
vol. 2, p. 448). Is it not evident how far astray ignorance of basic
Christianity can lead one?
At least as common as laughter as a response to charismatic
"Baptism" is its psychologically close relative, tears. These
occur to individuals and, quite often, to whole groups at once (in this case
quite apart from the experience of "Baptism"), spreading infectiously
for no apparent reason at all (see Sherrill, pp. 109, 117).
"Charismatic" writers do not find the reason for this in the
"conviction of sin" that produces such results at Protestant
revivals; they give no reason at all, and there seems to be none, except that
this experience simply comes upon one who is exposed to the
"charismatic" atmosphere. The Orthodox Fathers, as Bishop Ignatius
notes, teach that tears often accompany the second form of spiritual deception.
St. John of the Ladder, telling of the many different causes of tears, some
good and some bad, warns: "Do not trust your fountains of tears before
your soul has been perfectly purified" (Step 7:35); and of one kind of
tears he states definitely: "Tears without thought are proper only to an
irrational nature and not to a rational one" (7:17).
Besides laughter and tears, and often together with them, there are a number
of other physical reactions to the "Baptism of the Holy Spirit,"
including warmth, many kinds of trembling and contortions, and falling to the
floor. All the examples given here, it should be emphasized, are those of
ordinary Protestants and Catholics, and not at all those of any Pentecostal extremists,
whose experiences are much more spectacular and unrestrained.
"When hands were laid on me, immediately it felt as if my whole chest
were trying to rise into my head. My lips started trembling, and my brain
started turning flips. Then I started grinning" (Ranaghan, p. 67). Another
was "without emotion following the event, but with great warmth of body
and a great ease" (Ranaghan, p. 91). Another gives this testimony:
"As soon as I knelt down I began to tremble...All of a sudden I became
filled with the Holy Spirit and realized that 'God is real.' I started laughing
and crying at the same time. The next thing I knew I was prostrate before the
altar and filled with the peace of Christ" (Ranaghan, p. 34). Another
says: "As I knelt quietly thanking the Lord, D. lay prostrate and suddenly
began to heave by the power of someone unseen. By an insight that must have
been divinely inspired... I knew D. was being moved quite visibly by the Holy
Spirit" (Ranaghan, p. 29). Another: "My hands (usually cold because
of poor circulation) grew moist and warm. Warmth enveloped me" (Ranaghan,
p. 30). Another: "I knew God was working within me. I could feel a
distinct tingling in my hands, and immediately I became bathed in a hard
sweat" (Ranaghan, p. 102). A member of the "Jesus Movement"
says: "I feel something welling up inside me and all of a sudden I'm
speaking in tongues" (Ortega, p. 49). One "charismatic"
apologist emphasizes that such experiences are typical in the "Baptism of
the Holy Spirit," which "has often been marked by a subjective
experience which has brought the recipient into a wonderful new sense of
nearness to the Lord. This sometimes demands such an expression of worship and
adoration as cannot be contained within the usual restrictions imposed by the
etiquette of our Western society! At such times, some have been known to shake
violently, to lift up their hands to the Lord, to raise the voice above the
normal pitch, or even to fall to the floor" (Lillie, p. 17).
One does not know at what to marvel the more: at the total incongruence of
such hysterical feelings and experiences with anything at all spiritual or at
the incredible light-mindedness that leads such deceived people to ascribe
their contortions to the "Holy Spirit," to "divine
inspiration," to the "peace of Christ." These are clearly people
who, in the spiritual and religious realm, are not only totally inexperienced
and without guidance, but are absolutely illiterate. The whole history
of Orthodox Christianity does not know of any such "ecstatic"
experiences produced by the Holy Spirit. It is only foolishness when some
"charismatic" apologists presume to compare these childish and
hysterical experiences, which are open to absolutely everyone, with the Divine
revelations accorded to the greatest Saints, such as to St. Paul on the road to
Damascus or to St. John the Evangelist on Patmos. Those Saints fell down before
the true God (without contortions, and certainly without laughter), whereas
these pseudo-Christians are merely reacting to the presence of an invading
spirit, and are worshipping only themselves. The Elder Macarius of Optina
wrote to a person in a similar state: "Thinking to find the love of God in
consoling feelings, you are seeking not God but yourself, that is, your own
consolation, while you avoid the path of sorrows, considering yourself
supposedly lost without spiritual consolations" .
If these "charismatic" experiences are religious experiences at
all, then they are pagan religious experiences; and in fact they seem to
correspond exactly to the mediumistic initiation experience of spirit-possession,
which is caused by "an inner force welling up inside attempting to
take control" (Koch, Occult Bondage, p. 44). Of course, not all
"Baptisms of the Holy Spirit" are as ecstatic as some of these
experiences (although some are even more ecstatic); but this too is in
accord with spiritistic practice: "When spirits find a medium friendly or
well-disposed in submissiveness or passivity of mind, they enter quietly as
into their own home; while, on the contrary, when the psychic is less
well-disposed from some resistance, or want of passivity of mind, the spirit
enters with more or less force, and this is often reflected in the contortions
of the face and tremor of the medium's members" (Blackmore, Spiritism, p.
This experience of "spirit-possession," however, should not be
confused with actual demonic possession, which is the condition when an unclean
spirit takes up permanent habitation in someone and produces physical and
psychic disorders which do not seem to be indicated in "charismatic"
sources. Mediumistic "possession" is temporary and partial, the
medium consenting to be used for a particular function by the invading spirit.
But the "charismatic" texts themselves make it quite clear that what
is involved in these experiences - when they are genuine and not merely the
product of suggestion - is not merely the development of some mediumistic
ability, but actual possession by a spirit. These people would seem to be
correct in calling themselves "spirit-filled" - but it is certainly
not the Holy Spirit with which they are filled!
Bishop Ignatius gives several examples of such physical accompaniments of
spiritual deception: one, a monk who trembled and made strange sounds, and
identified these signs as the "fruits of prayer"; another, a monk
whom the bishop met who as a result of his ecstatic method of prayer felt such
heat in his body that he needed no warm clothing in winter, and this heat could
even be felt by others. As a general principle, Bishop Ignatius writes, the
second kind of spiritual deception is accompanied by "a material,
passionate warmth of the blood"; "the behavior of the ascetics of
Latinism, embraced by deception, has always been ecstatic, by reason of this
extraordinary material, passionate warmth" - the state of such Latin
"saints" as Francis of Assisi and Ignatius Loyola. This material
warmth of the blood, a mark of the spiritually deceived, is to be distinguished
from the spiritual warmth felt by those such as St. Seraphim of Sarov who
genuinely acquired the Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit is not acquired from
ecstatic "charismatic" experiences, but by the long and arduous path
of asceticism the "path of sorrows" of which the Elder Macarius spoke,
within the Church of Christ.
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