Live Audio Version
Pentecost – June 4, 2023 Gospel: John 7:37-52; 8:12 Epistle: Acts 2: 1-11
Today is the great feast of Pentecost! We once again invoke the Holy Spirit by praying “O Heavenly King…” We stopped this prayer at Pascha (except for when we forgot) and have hungered in anticipation. We begin every Liturgy – apart from this 50-day period – with this prayer.
The Holy Spirit is God, worshiped and glorified together with the Father and the Son. During Pentecost Vigil we sing: “The Holy Spirit provides all; Overflows with Prophecy; Fulfills the Priesthood; Has taught wisdom to the illiterates; Has revealed fishermen as theologians; He brings together the whole council of the Church.” He is close and connected intimately with each of us in a continuous and everlasting way. As part of our baptism we are “sealed” with the Holy Spirit! Jesus Christ told us, (John 15:26) “But when the Helper comes, Whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me…” (John 16:13) “However, when He the Spirit of truth has come, He will guide you into all truth…” (John 16:7) “Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away. The Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.” It is the goal of our Christian life to grow ever more aware of and compliant with the Holy Spirit. We are called to create a wonderful dwelling place within our hearts where He will be pleased to dwell! St. Seraphim of Sarov famously said, “the acquisition of the Holy Spirit is the goal of the Christian life.”
This is the end of the Paschal season, begun with Christ’s resurrection, His trampling down death by death! After His resurrection, for 40 days Christ opens the eyes of His apostles and disciples that they might understand the scriptures, and understand that the scriptures are all about Christ! Old and New Testaments. In the Jewish calendar, the great feast of Passover was of course a foreshadowing of our Pascha, and then 50 days (Lev. 23:15,16) after Passover came the Jewish celebration of the “Festival of Weeks” which they later re-named “Pentecost,” held one day after the Sabbath of the 7th completed week, 50 days after Passover. A pretty obvious Old Testament foreshadowing of our Pentecost and the receiving of the fullness of the Holy Spirit by the Church! After 40 days, Christ ascends, seating our humanity in heaven at the right hand of God, and tells His disciples to wait for Him to send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth. They wait until today – the 50th day.
Fifty is the ultimate number of completion in the kingdom. We celebrate Pentecost after 7 weeks of 7 days = 49 days (7 being the number of completion) plus 1 extra day – the 8th day; the day of the Lord. Each Sunday, the day of resurrection is considered the mystical eighth day, the day of kingdom time (Kairos), not earthly linear time (Chronos). So 7 x 7 plus one day into the eight day = 50 days symbolizes the completion of the Pascal season in God’s mystical time. The Pascal season is now complete, and we count the future weeks as the (1st, 2nd, 3rd …) week after Pentecost.
We specifically pray to the Holy Spirt in every Liturgy. Including the 25 times we pray in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, we pray to Him 45 times in each Liturgy. I want to make sure you understand that we are completely devoted to the Holy Spirit honoring and invoking His presence in all we do. Never let anyone try to tell you we are not a “Spirit filled” Church! We are just very careful about which “Spirit” we are filled with!
Since Pascha we have not knelt – we will soon make up for this a little when we pray the kneeling prayers for Pentecost at the end of today’s Liturgy. These 3 long kneeling prayers come to us from St. Basil the great, in the fourth century, and we only get to say them at this Pentecost service once a year. St. Basil gave them to the Church as he defended the truth of the Holy Spirit being fully God, and one of the Holy Trinity, against the heretical teaching of Macedonius, a bishop of Constantinople who denied the full divinity of the Holy Spirit. We have had some troublesome bishops at times.
We hear at Pentecost Vespers three Old Testament readings:
In Numbers; Moses asks God for help and he has Moses select 70 men, and then the Lord descended in a cloud and took the Spirit and rested it upon them. They all prophesied, even two of them that rebelliously refused to come. When Joshua complains about them Moses says: “Would that all the Lord’s people might be prophets, when the Lord would put His Spirit upon them.”
In Joel: We have the passage that St. Peter quotes in Acts Chapter 2, at the very beginning of his homily to the crowd at Pentecost: “But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel” and he then quotes from Joel: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh…upon My menservants and on My maidservants, I will pour out My Spirit in those days…and whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” About 3000 souls were baptized.
And in Ezekiel: “…I shall give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. I shall take the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I shall put my spirit within you and cause you to walk in My requirements. You will be My people and I will be your God.”
These Old Testament books are the “scriptures” Christ and His apostles used; the New Testament wasn’t yet written. In John we hear Christ say at the start of His ministry to the Jews (John 5:39) “You search the scriptures for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.” Christ unveiled the Old Testament writings to His disciples on the road to Emmaus when He appeared to them, (Luke 24:27) “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded to them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself.” He tells them (Luke 24:44-45) “…that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets concerning Me. And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the scriptures.”
The Old Testament scriptures always need to be interpreted in the light of Chris. He fulfilled all things and completed our creation as children of God, began in Adam. We are the true Israel. Christ and all of the apostles came from the Jewish race. The Christian Church was simply the natural evolving, expanding, and continuing of the true Israel – the people of God. Orthodox Christians are the true successors to the Old Testament Jews. The Jewish faith has changed much of their teaching, especially since the Talmud and laws written 200 to 500 years after Christ.
Christ sent us the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and is everywhere present and filling all things. How do we attract the Holy Spirit into our hearts and make a home for Him to abide within us? Repentance, accepting the forgiveness of God, forgiving others, squashing pride, and learning humility, and above all loving each other, these are the requirements that God asks of us. The Holy Spirit can not dwell in a heart that harbours unforgiveness, so it is especially important that we search our hearts to make sure we are clean in this area.
How do we recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives? It is by the very gentle fruits of the Spirit; (Gal: 5:22,23) “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;” not by elevated spiritual feelings or great spiritual insights. We are not given a spirit of fear but of love, joy, and peace! We would do well to remember this when cruising the internet! We all need love and acceptance in far greater measure than correction. May God grant that all should feel safe, loved, and accepted here at St. Aidan’s. May it may be said of our community as it was said in the beginning centuries of the Church, “See how they love one another.” This is the evidence of the indwelling of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Christ tells us today in the Gospel reading: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the scripture has said, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.” May God bless, and may we be found to be Christ’s disciples, and a welcome home for the Holy Spirit; that these living waters may flow abundantly to the thirsting world around us. There is no water rationing in the kingdom of heaven. Let us share with all and drink to saturation! With the Feast!