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The Baptism of Tears: The Two Baptisms of St. Symeon the New Theologian

There are at least three more aspects of Symeon’s second baptism that need to be discussed. Firstly, the question can be asked as to why Symeon pressed this issue. As Cremeens has stated (p. 14), during “this period of time the general spiritual condition of the Orthodox Church had fallen into a dead formalism. Many attended the Church’s worship and received its sacramental ministrations in a mechanical way, not attaching personal faith to the actions.”21 What was needed at this time was a revival of the affective nature of the personal relationship with God, especially as seen in the reality of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Secondly, with this baptism of the Spirit a transformation in the nature of the believer would occur.22 This was an affective transformation that involved the continual state of the individual and their relationship with the world that surrounded them. This is most clearly stated by Symeon in regards to love. In Chapters and Discourses (p. 60), Symeon speaks of being able to live according to the virtues of love that we recognize as being found in 1 Corinthians 13, most specifically, of being able to overlook the wrongs which have been done to you. And thirdly, what is the role of the second baptism in the life of the church? Symeon did not place as high an emphasis on ecclesiastical ordination as on the ordination that comes through the personal presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the individual. Therefore, as Kallistos Ware shows us (p. 135), Symeon recognized that even lay monks could perform tasks that had previously been reserved for the clergy if there was evidence that they were in fact baptized in the Spirit. Ware subsequently shares (p. 136) the reasoning, “(w)hat matters to St. Symeon is not the visible laying on of hands by men, but the invisible ordination by ‘the hand of God’.” This giftedness and ordination came through the baptism of tears and the Holy Spirit.
What then is the relationship between the theology of Symeon, especially as seen in his understanding of the second baptism, and the contemporary Pentecostal movement? First there is an undeniable parallelism between the understandings of spiritual experience. There is a moment, for Pentecostals, that transcends time and space. Being caught up into the very presence of the Lord is an event that is beyond the rational faculties, yet it impacts the rational thought of the one who has experienced it. This experiential knowing is more intuitional than rational, yet it is not irrational. This experience occurs at salvation, Spirit baptism and countless other times.

James Loder refers to any crisis moment with which the Christian is faced as a “transforming moment.” It is the basis for a different way of knowing referred to as convictional knowing. Loder (p. 14) uses this term, convictional, in the sense of the original Latin, “to overcome, to conquer, to refute.” In other words, there is a knowledge that conquers our faculties and irrefutably convinces us of the validity of the knowledge. A common testimony in Pentecostalism is that one knows that she/he is saved simply because she/he knows it. For the Pentecostal, the source of this conviction is the Spiritus Creator, the transforming and re-creating Holy Spirit. This, then, is an epistemology that is from above, yet from within. It is experienced within the believer not outside as a theology from below would be. It is, therefore, integrally related to the theological enterprise and it is almost a mirror of the experience of the second baptism as found in the thought of Symeon.

Let’s deepen the discussion on the affective transformation that occurs through time, especially in the relation to the two baptisms.

Not only does the experiential nature of Symeon’s second baptism have a corollary in Pentecostal theology, but more obvious is the existence of the second baptism in the first place. For both Symeon and Pentecostals, the existence of a second baptism does not deny the efficacy of the first baptism or original salvation, it only recognizes the need for a deeper relationship with God that is, paradoxically, quite mystical, yet existentially based. The overall emphasis of the baptisms are not identical. Symeon has much more emphasis on penthos. Yet there is similarity in the aspects of giftedness and sanctification resulting from this second baptism. And though the initial evidence of the second baptism is not the same, since it is tears for Symeon and glossolalia for classical Pentecostals, there is the existence of physically manifested evidence.23

What can be said in critique of St. Symeon the New Theologian? Or what can he say again to the church? Symeon was inescapably bound to his context, and as such, he found holiness only in the extreme asceticism of the monastic life. This is neither practical, nor desirable, for most Christians of today. Yet can this also be one of the loudest clarion calls Symeon has for us? Could it be that we have complicated our lives to the point that we have made any concept of theosis an impossibility without such a radical change in lifestyle? For those of us who claim to have the Spirit baptism, are we now living in a state of penthos as Symeon has called us? Symeon believed that the ecstatic experiences are for the new mystic, while the mature, those who live in the constant presence of the Spirit, are not awestruck by that presence.24 In light of this, have we Pentecostals achieved some sense of maturity or are we still caught up in the ecstatic experiences of the novice? Let us hear the voice of the Spirit, even as it comes through the mouth of past reform and speaks to our current experience.25

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Category: In Depth, Spring 2019

About the Author: Gene Mills, MDiv., ThM., (as of 2001) is a PhD candidate at Florida State University. He is Senior Assistant to the editors of Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture and Senior Pastor of Words of Life Church of God in Tallahassee, Florida.

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