“O Heavenly King!”: teachings on the Holy Spirit revealed in prayer

by Rev. Fr. Andrew Jarmus,
Director of Missions and Education, UOCC,
Winnipeg, Manitoba

One of the best-known prayers in our Church is the prayer to the Holy Spirit, which begins every rite and service known to Orthodoxy: “O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, everywhere present and filling all things. Treasury of blessings and Giver-of-Life: come and abide in us, cleanse us of every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.”

This prayer to the Spirit opens every order of service because we believe that it is only through the Holy Spirit that our life as Christians is effective for our healing and sanctification. It is the Holy Spirit who guides us, who encourages us, and who fills us with the life-giving grace of God the Son and the love of God the Father. It is for this reason that during the Divine Liturgy, we pray that we may be partakers in the communion of the Holy Spirit.

The Orthodox Church does not have a great deal of doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit, because it is the function of the God the Spirit to make us understand the teachings of God the Son. In turn the teachings of the Son reveal to us the will of God the Father. In other words, we do not know much about the Spirit because little has been revealed about Him. Nevertheless, much of what we do believe about the Holy Spirit is found in the first half of the prayer “O Heavenly King.” Let us take a quick look at the various ways that we call upon the Holy Spirit in this prayer, and we will begin to understand better His importance in our life.

“O Heavenly King”: This statement affirms that the Holy Spirit is God, since God alone is the King of Heaven. This relates to the words of Jesus in John:4, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

“Comforter”: This is the title of the Holy Spirit given by Jesus in the Gospel of St. John, chapters 15 and 16; in Greek it is “Paraclete.” In English editions of Scriptures “Paraclete” is sometimes translated as “Helper”. Who does the Holy Spirit comfort or help? The Spirit offers comfort/help to us, the Christian peoples. Why? Because Christians need comfort, help and encouragement in the face of the many trial and tribulations that we face both as individuals and collectively as the Church.

“Spirit of Truth”: This again is a title given by Jesus in John 15 and 16. In these chapters, which come from His mystical supper before His death and third day rising, Jesus speaks of the function of the Holy Spirit. He says that there are many things that Jesus still has to teach His followers which they are not yet ready to bear. However, when the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide them into an understanding and an embracing of these teachings. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, because He reveals to us throughout history the Truth of Jesus’ Good News, and how we can apply this Gospel to our contemporary lives.

“Everywhere present and filling all things”: Psalm 139 affirms these two attributes of the Spirit most eloquently: “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Hades, behold, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb.”

“Treasury of blessings”: St. Paul, in Galatians 5:22&23, says, “When the Holy Spirit controls our lives, He will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” In 1 Corinthians 12, the Holy Apostle Paul asserts that “there are many kinds of spiritual gifts, but it is the same Holy Spirit who is the Source of them all.”

“Giver of Life”: In Romans 8:11 we read that “the Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as He raised Christ from the dead, He will give life to your mortal body by this same Spirit living in you.” The Holy Spirit is the giver of life everlasting to all who place their hope in the Son of God. Also, in a universal way, the Holy Spirit is the One who holds all that exists together; thus, the Spirit is the giver, not only of eternal human life, but of all life.

Two things, hopefully, become clear from this short prayer study. First of all, the words of our prayers are not selected simply for their aesthetic quality. Rather, they are carefully chosen to bring forth in timeless prose the Truths of the Gospel which lead us to life everlasting. Because we repeat these prayers so often, it is very easy to simply skim over them without much thought. It is good, then, to take some time every now and then to look deeper into the words, that we may appreciate them more fully, and say them with that much more attention and conviction.

Secondly, the words of this specific prayer form a small confession of faith about the Holy Spirit. Through “O Heavenly King” we are taught that the Holy Spirit is God Himself, that He offers those who turn to Him the strength and perspective necessary to live Christianity to its fullest. Also we are taught that there is no place where the Spirit is not, and that there is no gift or blessing which we receive in our lives that does not come from Him

It is on the foundation of these beliefs that we continue the prayer “O Heavenly King”: “come and abide in us, cleanse us of every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.” It is not just any spirit that we invite to live within us, but the Spirit of God. It is not just any teaching in which we place our hope, but the Truth which is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. It is not just any philosophy, movement or person that can grant us cleansing, healing and salvation, but only God the Holy Spirit who is the Source of all that is good, of all that gives life, and of all that is true.