Sunday, June 15, 2008

On The Feast of Pentecost

Sunday, June 15, 2008: Today's commemorated feasts and saints... 8th SUNDAY OF PASCHA — Tone 7. PENTECOST — FEAST OF THE HOLY TRINITY. Prophet Amos (8th c., B.C.). St. Jonah, Metropolitan of Moscow (1461). Ven. Gregory and Cassian, Abbots of Avnezhk (Vologdá—1392). Martyrs Vitus, Modestus, and Crescentia, at Lucania (ca. 303). Martyr Dulas of Cilicia (4th c.). St. Dulas the Passion-bearer, of Egypt. St. Jerome (Hieronymus) of Stridonium (420). Translation of the Relics of St. Theodore the Sykeote (ca. 9th c.). Rt. Blv. Lazarus, Prince of Serbia (1389). St. Ephraim, Patriarch of Serbia (14th c.). Bl. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (430). The "MARIANICA" Icon of the Most-Holy Theotokos.

When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, "Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs-we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.

(Acts 2:1-11)

On Pascha the gift of the Holy Spirit is given only to the Apostles, on Pentecost it is given to all the faithful. On this St John Chrysostom says

Was it upon the twelve that it came? Not so; but upon the hundred and twenty. . . . Observe now, how there is no longer any occasion for that person to grieve, who was not elected as was Matthias, "And they were all filled," he says; not merely received the grace of the Spirit, but "were filled. And began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." It would not have been said, All, the Apostles also being there present, unless the rest also were partakers. For were it not so having above made mention of the Apostles distinctively and by name, he would not now have put them all in one with the rest. For if, where it was only to be mentioned that they were present, he makes mention of the Apostles apart, much more would he have done so in the case here supposed. (Homily on Acts, 4)

While acknowledging that their roles are different, for Chrysostom there is no advantage to being, say, one of the Twelve (that is, an apostle) rather than one of the 120 since "all were filled" and not simply the Apostles. In like fashion there is no disadvantage for us who live some 20 centuries after that first Pentecost.

To be a Christian, to be baptized and chrismated, means that we don't simply have a "share" of the Holy Spirit, some greater than others. No. In and through the sacraments, and just like the 120 on that first Pentecost, we are each of us filled the Holy Spirit. Again, St John Chrysostom (Homily 12 on Matthew):

For in the case of the apostles too, there was a "sound of a mighty wind," (Acts 2:2) and visions of fiery tongues appeared, but not for the apostles' sake, but because of the Jews who were then present. Nevertheless, even though no sensible signs take place, we receive the things that have been once manifested by them. Since the dove itself at that time therefore appeared, that as in place of a finger (so to say) it might point out to them that were present, and to John, the Son of God. Not however merely on this account, but to teach you also, that upon you no less at your baptism the Spirit comes. But since then we have no need of sensible vision, faith sufficing instead of all. For signs are "not for them that believe, but for them that believe not." (1 Corinthians 14:22)

One reason I suspect, we are so easily tempted to doubt and disbelief is that we imagine ourselves, I imagine myself, at a disadvantage relative to the Apostles and disciples who actually knew Jesus and experienced that first Pentecost. And so, I rely solely on their faith, on the strength of their testimony, without ever imagining that I can have a faith and a testimony of my own.

At Vespers for Pentecost we sing:

Blessed art Thou, O Christ our God, who hast revealed the fishermen as most wise by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit: through them Thou didst draw the world into Thy net. 0 Lover of Man, Glory to Thee (Troparion).

Wisdom is a gift; so too are faith, hope and love. And these come to us not from the past, but only from above, by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our lives. On the Feast of Pentecost we celebrate and affirm that this has happened not simply 20 centuries ago, but here and now, not simply for the 120 then, but for you and me today. But if our celebration is to be anything more than a mere formality we must each of us, as St Seraphim of Savrov reminds us, acquire the Holy Spirit in our own life. This means that the gift of the Holy Spirit must be something that each of us not only desires but actively seeks.

How do we do this?

When the Most High came down and confused the tongues, he divided the nations. But when he distributed the tongues of fire, he called all to unity. Therefore, with one voice, we glorify the All-Holy Spirit! (Kontakion)

If we wish to acquire for ourselves the gift of the Holy Spirit, if we wish to experience the fullness of what we have received, let us go where the Holy Spirit is, let us do what the Holy Spirit does. Taking our cue from the Kontakion, we acquire the gift of the Holy Spirit by our willingness to love others, to forgive and to encourage others. We grow in the Holy Spirit only to the degree that we cooperate in the Spirit's work of reconciling of the whole human family to God the Father in Jesus Christ. To acquire the Holy Spirit let each of us be committed to be a sign and a cause of reconciliation in ways great and small.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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