I am president of a motorcycle ministry, most likely not compatible with orthodoxy? I am a former Roman Catholic, presently worshiping in a Pentecostal church. What is the position of the Orthodox church on the full gifts of the gospels, specifically, speaking in new tongues? Also, do you believe that the age of miracles is passed?
Concerning the gifts of the Holy Spirit and specifically speaking in new tongues, I offer the following observations:
While the Orthodox Church does not deny this gift in any way, it does acknowledge that this gift is rarely given, spontaneous, and only evident in cases of need. On the day of Pentecost, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, the apostles proclaimed the Good News to all who would listen. Acts notes that there were many people from many lands in Jerusalem at the time, celebrating the Jewish feast of Pentecost. Many languages were spoken. Acts continues by stating that every one in the crowd heard and understood the apostles as if they were speaking in their own tongues. This gives rise to speculation: does speaking in tongues mean that someone is speaking in a language he or she does not know, or does it imply that he or she is speaking in his or her own language but that the Holy Spirit miraculously enables his or her listeners to understand, even if his or her listeners do not know the speaker’s language?
It follows that on the day of Pentecost there was a clear need for this manifestation: everyone was from a different land and spoke a different language. However, everyone understood. This clearly implies that speaking in tongues is not meaningless babbling, but readily understood speech and language.
While on the day of Pentecost there was a need, due to varying languages, in the case of a group of people who all speak and understand the same language, what would be the purpose of tongues? In Scripture we do not find other indications or references to the apostles speaking in tongues, other than on the day of Pentecost. Perhaps it was because no such need had made itself evident.
It is only my personal opinion, but I think the Orthodox Church would say that “regularly scheduled” speaking in tongue sessions conducted by individuals who speak the same language somehow miss the point. For example, it seems inconceivable to say, “Welcome to our mid-week prayer service. From 7:00 until 7:30 we will pray and sing hymns, and then we will speak in tongues.”
If everyone speaks the same language, what is being revealed? If what is uttered is not intelligible to the hearers, what is being communicated?
If it is a way of showing who in a congregation is filled with the Holy Spirit and who isn’t, it constitutes heresy, for the Holy Spirit is everywhere present and fills all things, including those individuals who have been created in God’s image and likeness yet who reject the very notion. Scripture is very clear that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are never to become sources of personal pride.
With regard to miracles, surely there can be no end to the age of miracles, for God is present everywhere and at all times in the midst of His people. This in itself is a miracle.
If, however, by miracles we are referring only to physical healings, flashing lights, unexplained phenomena, and the like, then we may very well be disappointed. Christ Himself condemned those who continually wished to see signs, or miracles. And Scripture is clear that even those who witnessed miracles with their own eyes often rejected that which they had experienced.
Read the account of the resurrection of Lazarus; everyone witnessed Lazarus walking out of his tomb, yet Scripture says that immediately this created a division among the people, with some greeting Christ the very next day with palm branches as He entered Jerusalem while other witnesses sought a means by which they might put Him to death. “If we don’t stop Him, the whole world will chase after Him.”
Indeed, we believe in miracles—the real miracle, however, is discoverning God’s presence in our lives; discerning His voice, small and still as it may be, as the Prophet Elijah did—and keeping still and silent so we can hear His voice and discern His will for our lives; accepting His call and invitation to live in this world while not being of this world; etc. Healings do occur, but as Christ Himself states in every case, healings are not only signs of God’s power and love but also signs of tremendous faith on the part of the one healed—“Your faith has made you whole.”
Finally, one of the greatest miracles that can occur today, in this age of personal issues, lack of self esteem, and the ongoing search to discover “who am I,” is the recognition of ourselves and our very lives as miracles. As Saint John of Kronstadt, the late-19th century Orthodox saint, once wrote, “Lord, I am a miracle of Thy love. ...”
With regard to what we might call phenomenal miracles—weeping icons, faces of Jesus appearing on walls, and the like—Saint John Chrysostom offers good advice: they may be a revelation from God, or they may be a deception from Satan. If we are living according to the teachings and example of Christ, however, we should not make much of them.