Sunday, September 19, 2010

Speaking in Tongues

My internet connection has been down, so I'm late responding to Anonymous' question about speaking in tongues.  As many of you know, I was a Charismatic/Pentecostal Christian before I became Orthodox.  I was a tongues speaker.  After I became Orthodox, I found myself using (what we called) "prayer language" less and less--not because anyone told me not to pray in tongues.  What I found was that the Jesus Prayer as a prayer technique and the other prayers of the Church were meeting the need of my heart.  I could say that the longing of my heart to pray beyond words, a longing that was somehow partially satisfied by praying in tongues, was much more fully satisfied by the practice of the Jesus Prayer (along with the many written prayers of the Church, which freed me from the burden of always trying to find my own words to express what was in my heart).

But what of that experience of speaking in tongues?  Was it the same experience that St. Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 12 - 14 and also alludes to in Romans 8?  My firm conviction is "I don't know."  I don't know what it was I was experiencing.  I do know that God heard the longing of my heart and has led me into the Church and in the Church given me a wealth of prayer "resources" such that what I used to do then, now seems like a childhood memory.  I know that much of what I did then and called exercising the gifts of the Spirit I now consider suspect.  This is largely because what I used to experience when I or others "functioned in the gifts" was largely deprived of holiness.  They are the gifts of the Holy Spirit after all.  And by holiness, I do not mean not drinking, not smoking and not dancing.   By holiness, I am referring to humility, self control, gentleness, obedience, hidden acts of virtue, etc.  I am not saying that these qualities do not exist among Pentecostals; I am saying that they did not exist in me and I seldom saw them in those around me.

About speaking in tongues specifically, there are references to Orthodox saints speaking in tongues.  However, in all cases that I know about, the person speaking in tongues was understood by everyone in the room in his or her own language.  A famous example of this is St. Pacomius in Egypt in the forth century.  St. Pacomius had several communities of monks (each of about a thousand monks) and each organized into houses based on language group.  When all of the houses got together to be addressed by St. Pacomius, they would all understand him regardless of their language.  Now that's speaking in tongues (if you ask me).  What I was doing as a Pentecostal, I don't know what that was.  I do not condemn it because it was part of my journey that has led me to the Church; however, I cannot recommend it either.

Excitement and enthusiasm are not fruits of the Spirit.  Zeal is a tricky thing.  Elevated feelings can be caused by many things.  I was shocked the first time I heard an Orchestra.  I was sure the Holy Spirit was filling the room because I "felt the Spirit" just like I did in (my Pentecostal) church.  The experience did not end my practice of "the gifts," but it did set me to paying attention to my feelings, and looking for something beyond those feelings.

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