Speaking in Tongues
By Fr. George Nicozisin
Speaking in Tongues, "Glossolalia," a popular practice with many Churches today, is a phenomenon which can be traced to the days of the Apostles. A decade ago, Speaking in Tongues was encountered only in Pentecostal Churches, Revival Meetings, Quaker gatherings and some Methodist groups. Today, Glossolalia is also found in some Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches.
The Orthodox Church differs with those Pentecostal and Charismatic groups which regard Glossolalia as a pre requisite to being a Christian and to having received the Holy Spirit.
There are two forms of Glossolalia:
- Pentecost Glossolalia happened this way: Fifty days after the Resurrection, while the disciples were gathered together, the Holy Spirit descended upon them and they began to speak in other languages. Jews from all over the civilized world who were gathered in Jerusalem for the religious holiday stood in amazement as they heard the disciples preaching in their own particular language and dialect (like in a United Nations Assembly). They understood!
- Corinthian Glossolalia is different. St. Paul, who had founded the Church of Corinth, found it necessary to respond to some of their problems, i.e., division of authority, moral and ethical problems, the eucharist, the issue of death and resurrection and how the Gifts of the Holy Spirit operated. In chapter 12, St. Paul lists nine of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, i.e., knowledge, wisdom, spirit, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, speaking in tongues and interpreting what another says when he speaks in tongues.
It appears St. Paul was questioned about the working of the Holy Spirit through the Gifts. Corinth was greatly influenced by Greek paganism which included demonstrations, frenzies and orgies all intricately interwoven into their religious practices. In post Homeric times the cult of the Dionysiac orgies made their entrance into the Greek world. According to this, music, the whirling dance, intoxication and utterances had the power to make men divine; to produce a condition in which the normal state was left behind and the inspired person perceived what was external to himself and the senses.
In other words, the soul was supposed to leave the body, hence the word ecstasy ( ek stasis ). They believed that while the being was absent from the body, the soul was united with the deity. At such times, the ecstatic person had no consciousness of his own.
The Corinthians of Paul's time were living under the influence of Dionysiac religious customs. It was natural that they would find certain similarities more familiar and appealing. Thus the Corinthians began to put more stress on certain gifts like glossolalia. No doubt the Apostle was concerned that their ties and memories of the old life should be reason enough to regulate the employment of Glossolalia. In chapter 14, he says:
"I would like for all of you to speak in strange tongues; but I would rather that you had the gift of proclaiming God's message. For the person who proclaims God's message is of greater value than the one who speaks in strange tongues-unless there is someone who can explain what he says, so the whole Church may be edified. So when I come to you, my brethren, what use will I be to you if I speak in strange tongues? Not a bit, unless I bring to you some revelation from God or some knowledge or some inspired message or some teaching."
The Holy Spirit endowed men and women with many gifts in order to bring this about. One of its gifts during New Testament times was Glossolalia. But even from New Testament times, it would seem Glossolalia began to phase out. St. Paul, it seems, indicates later in chapter 14 that Glossolalia should be minimized and understood preaching maximized. Justin Martyr, a prolific mid-century writer lists several kinds of gifts but does not mention Glossolalia. Chrysostom wrote numerous homilies on Books of the New Testament during the fourth century but does not appear to make mention of Glossolalia as noted in First Corinthians.
What then is the Orthodox Christian perspective on Glossolalia? The Orthodox Christian viewpoint on Glossolalia is based on St. Paul's words in chapter fourteen of the same Epistle: "I thank God that I speak in strange tongues much more than any of you. But in Church worship I would rather speak five words that can be understood, in order to teach others, than speak thou sands of words in strange tongues." (verses 18-19) In chapter thirteen, St. Paul says, "Set your hearts, then, on the more important gifts. Best of all, however, is the following way." Then St. Paul proceeds and shares with his readership the greatest gift of all - Love!
The Orthodox Church does not rule out Glossolalia. She simply does not regard it as one of the important ones. Better to "speak five words that can be understood ... than speak thousands of words in strange tongues." This is the Orthodox Christian viewpoint.
“And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues?” (1Co 12:28-30)
We just have seen a gift of the Holy Spirit i.e. speaking in Tongues. But we also know that there are 9 gifts of the Holy Spirit and He distributes to each one individually just as He wills. We always ask God give me this gift-that gift especially of Miracles and Healing. And we know that Holy Spirit gives each one only one gift as He wills. We should ask God, gifts of the Holy Spirit. We should desire best gifts but should leave decision on God because He knows better what is good for us.
But we should not get sad if we don’t get our desired gift. We should thank God and use that gift for the Glory of God. And the film is not yet finished my friend. You can still perform miracles, healing and use all kind of gifts by asking God-Jesus in prayer in faith.
“…all things are possible to him that believeth.” (Mar 9:23)
“If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:14)
“Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” (Mar 11:24, Matt. 21:22)