|Homily for Pentecost|
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen. Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
‘“If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” 39 But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive…’and it is on this day that the Church celebrates the receiving or rather the giving, of the Holy Spirit, to the Apostles and to us to this very day.
The Church sees in Pentecost the completion of the work of man’s salvation. It is at the Annunciation that the incarnation of the Word began and at Pentecost that “man, through the Holy Spirit, becomes a member of the risen Body of Christ.” (Met. Hierotheos Vlachos p. 308 “The Twelve Feasts of the Lord”) It is also on this Sunday, according to St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, that the creation of the world finds its completion. It was on a Sunday, the first day, that the Father with the synergy of the Son and the Holy Spirit, created light; on the Sunday of the Resurrection we see the renewal of creation by the Son “with the good will of the Father and the cooperation of the Holy Spirit” was begun and on the Sunday of Pentecost we see the completion of creation with the descent of the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and is sent by the Son (Vlachos p. 308).
That this happened on the Feast of Pentecost is also significant. Just as Pascha is the fulfillment of the Jewish Feast of Passover (indeed Pascha means Passover in Aramaic), so Pentecost is the fulfillment of the Jewish Feast of Pentecost or Shavuot. Fifty days (Pentecost means 50 days in Greek), Fifty days after the first Passover in Egypt and the Exodus of the Israelites from there, God gave to Moses the Law and the commandments. Fifty days after Pascha Our Lord Jesus Christ sent the Holy Spirit to the Apostles (and to us). This fulfills a prophecy from the Prophet Joel who said “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh” and also by Jeremiah who said (and these verses are quoted in full by the Apostle Paul in Hebrews:
31 “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— 32 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jer. 31:31-34)
In looking at this prophecy of Jeremiah we understand that with the Holy Spirit descending upon the Apostles and dwelling in their hearts they had the law written there and they knew (and know) the Lord. If we look at Christ’s prayer in one of my favorite chapters of Scriptures, John Chapter 17, we hear Christ pray to the Father: “3 And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” So by all of this we see that by the descent of the Holy Spirit we are given to know God (not just knowing about Him, but to know Him personally in a communion of love in the deepest part of our being). Again, the Jewish Feast of Pentecost commemorated the giving of the Law to the people of Israel on Mount Sinai. This feast was a foreshadowing of the greater feast in which the Holy Spirit would be poured out upon all flesh and God’s Law would be written on the hearts of men and men would then know God personally which is life eternal.
It is interesting to note that in reading about the Jewish Feast of Pentecost it is emphasized that the feast is not about the “receiving” of the Law but of the “giving” of the Law to Israel. Jewish tradition says that God gave the Law at one time in history and that time can be commemorated, but it is up to the Jews, according to Judaism, to continue to receive the Torah “every day and everywhere.” (“To Be a Jew” p. 239) We can take up this theme even more so and say that we Orthodox Christians have been given the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (and at our Christmation) and that we must continually receive Him by living the life in Christ, in a communion of Love. We know that the Law, the Torah, has been fulfilled. We are no longer bound by the works of the Law. We have the new covenant and the new Law of Love written upon our hearts. The Church calls us to live a life which will cultivate this love and keep the Spirit within us. We pray in the prayer, O’ Heavenly King….for the Spirit to come and abide in us and cleanse us from every impurity. When we look at the Greek word for “abide” we can see that the words are literally “come and pitch your tent” within us. Our hearts are to become like the tent of the meeting in which the Israelites who wandered in the desert worshipped, and in which the Glory of the Lord abode. We truly become as St. Paul said, Temples of the Holy Spirit.
The Jewish Feast of Pentecost also occurred at the time of the first fruits. It was a harvest festival. So too we can celebrate the fruit of the Holy Spirit which we receive on the Orthodox Christian Feast of Pentecost and at our own Chrismation: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control.” Even as Israel was given the Tent of the Meeting or the Temple, even as Israel was given the fruits of the harvest, we have been given these things….but in a greater spiritual sense.
In this we can be warned, though. Old Israel fell away from their great heritage. They lost their Temple. They were cut off from the vine and we, the Gentiles were grafted in. As St. Paul says, we are to be careful not to find ourselves in the same position. We can fall away from the state we received at our chrismation and baptism. We have free will and we can drive the Holy Spirit from our hearts. God does not force Himself upon us. He does not stay where He is not welcome. This is the fruit of our sins: that we drive the grace of the Holy Spirit from us. By our repentance we can reconcile ourselves with God, though. In the Church we have been given the means of that reconciliation in the mystery of Repentance, also known as confession. It is important to note that God does not abandon us. We abandon God by our sins and we can run back to God by our repentance.
Let me repeat that God does not abandon us. Let us listen again to the prayer of the Holy Spirit which begins the Trisagion Prayers: “O’ Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things. Treasury of blessings and giver of life, come and abide in us, cleanse us from every impurity and save our souls O’ Good One.” God is our King, the Holy Spirit is our King and our protector, but He is also the Comforter and Spirit of Truth. The Lord promised at the Ascension to send the Paraclete the Comforter to the Apostles. This name of the Holy Spirit, this designation, comes from the Lord Himself and itself should act as a comfort to us. This Comforter will remind us, as Scriptures say, of all the things that Christ has done for us and will teach us all things concerning the Truth. In our struggles against sin and evil and darkness, although the struggle is hard, we will find comfort and consolation (Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted). We also know that this Comforter is everywhere and filling all things. Even when we drive His grace away, He is still everywhere. He is still present. He is like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, ready to run to greet us when we come to ourselves.
In His comforting and consolation, though, if we cry out to Him and allow Him, He will also give us the power to overcome sin. In addition to the Jesus Prayer, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, we can also pray the Heavenly King in times of temptation. It takes humility to do that, though. It takes humility to ask for help. When we rely on our own strength, then we are bound to fall because we are relying on our pride to get us through difficulties. When we realize our sinfulness and ask for help that is when Christ and the Holy Spirit will help us. In our weakness He is strong. In His strength, we can do all things. With God nothing is impossible.
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen. Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory Forever!
2009 Fr. Philip Kontos