By Fr. Paul Truebenbach
With the celebration of the Holy Pentecost, we face what may be the most important question of the Christian life: How can I make the Pentecost of the Apostles my own experience? This of course is not a question only for this season but for every day. The acquisition of the Holy Spirit is our lifelong goal.
And yet, these positive questions of what we can do seem, in my limited experience, much less of a concern for most parishioners than negative questions of how to avoid sin. And when speaking of the Holy Spirit, there is perhaps no more common question than, “What is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, and if I’ve done it, is it true I can’t be forgiven?”
The commentaries of the Fathers concerning this topic are varied and incredibly interesting. The approaches to this question are as numerous as the Fathers who address it, from the ancient theologians to modern Elders.
St. John Chrysostom, for instance, states that the Jews’ rejection of Jesus as the Son of God could be somewhat acceptable, as the idea of God becoming incarnate was new and strange to them; the Holy Spirit, however, was familiar to them through the Prophets, so His rejection was inexcusable. Sts. Cyril of Alexandria and Gregory of Nyssa suggest that, in offending the Holy Spirit, one really offends the entire Trinity; to offend the Spirit is to offend the God in whose image one was made, and thus to keep that image from being redeemed.
St. Symeon the New Theologian, following St. Basil, writes that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is to attribute the wonders and Grace of God to the demons. This is a theme common to the majority of the Fathers. Elder Paisios posits that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit can occur when we refuse to take responsibilities for our own sin, blaming our falls on the devil.
The problem is that, in all of these varied explanations, there is still a difficulty in relaying a simple answer to the worried parishioner. A priest I know, however, once answered these questions very simply, using his understanding of what laid behind most of the Fathers’ answers. He said, “Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit denies the very Grace from which we seek forgiveness. If we deny the means and method by which we are forgiven, then we remain unforgiven. This is why it is called ‘unforgiveable.’”
It is not God, in other words, Who will not forgive but man who refuses the forgiveness that is offered him.
Thus, once we admit our need of the Holy Spirit and begin to positively ask how we can obtain It, we need not fear the “unforgiveable sin,” and we can instead focus on the more important task of seeking the Pentecost experience in our own lives.