Sunday of Pentecost – Orthodox Homily on the Holy Spirit

Today, Pentecost, the Feast of the Holy Trinity, is a day of great rejoicing: All that Christ imparted to us through His saving Incarnation, defeat of sin and death on the cross, resurrection, and glorious ascension, has its fulfillment and culmination on this day of illumination and empowerment by the descent of the Holy Spirit. The disciples, formally confused and fearful, who cowered in the upper room for fear of their fellow Jews, are now emboldened and enlightened by the descent of the Holy Spirit.  In an instant, all is changed: the disciples now courageously witness to the truth, speaking with great conviction and authority—the Holy Spirit has descended upon them and replaced their heart of fear with power from on high.

Now, we see Christ’s disciples take on the mantle Christ has given them as Apostles; they are in the streets, united, and preaching with one voice the Good News of new life in Christ Jesus in fulfillment of all God had promised in His great love and mercy. The importance of Pentecost is seen in even greater light if we understand its historical context in man’s relationship with God.

Mankind’s efforts at unity without God are always prideful, ego-centric, seeking to take the place of God and challenge God’s place.  We see it in the Tower of Babel, where mankind erroneously thought to exclude God. To humble man and teach him to follow God’s way that alone is life, He divided the tongues.  But now, at Pentecost, God offers us again a way to unity —not one of man’s prideful making, but the way of God by the Holy Spirit. Christ  promised before His ascension: “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for…when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:7, 13).

By the Holy Spirit we are indeed led “into all truth.”  And what is this truth?  Pilot asks this same question of Jesus. Christ’s answer, found in Jn. 14:6 is clear: “I amthe Way, the Truth, and the Life.” This revelation of Christ is manifested through His fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, by His power over death, His ability to heal and give life, to forgive sins, and through the witness of the changed lives of His Saints, which continue to bring into the present the message of that same Gospel that changed the world on that Pentecost day 2,000 years ago. 

The early Christians, our Orthodox (‘right-believing’) forebears, like all faithful Orthodox Christians, know that the Truth is not an ideal, a philosophy, or an ethic, but a Person, Jesus Christ, the Word of God.  The idea that there can be many ‘truths,’ or in the language of ecumenism, “many paths” to God, all of which are equal, is an oxymoron.  By definition, truth is objective, not subjective or divisible. Christ declares and demonstrates Himself to be that Truth.

Pentecost is then an opportunity for the renewal of our Baptism into Christ, our new life in Christ, of our being sealed by the Holy Spirit; it’s an opportunity to step forward in our faith in Christ to witness to the Truth He alone is.  By the power of the Holy Spirit and our cooperation with Him, we’re given the means to thirst more after God, to advance in His Kingdom, because on this day, the life in Christ is made accessible to all, manifesting to us Christ’s abiding presence in our lives by the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit.  

God promised Israel that through the Messiah He would “pour out His Spirit on all flesh.”  This prophesy is fulfilled this day, as we heard at Vespers last night from the Prophet Joel.  Those present at Pentecost from all nations heard the good news of salvation in their own tongue: They all hear in their own language, the one thing that can unite all mankind together in true community, one not based on prideful human ambitions, or humanism, our modern ‘tower of Babel,’but on communion with God Himself, He who is Life—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  

Life in the Spirit afterPentecost is manifested then not in chaos or confusion or individual frenetic expression, but always in order and for the sake of the Gospel, as St. Luke relates of the early post-Pentecost Church in Acts 2, “… they continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship in the breaking of the (Eucharistic) bread, and in ‘the prayers’”(as it is written in the original Greek). This same order continues at the heart of Orthodox worship to this day!  And despite differences in language, culture, geography, and time, the same message of “good news,” of healing and salvation, of new life in communion with God in accord with His commandments, is proclaimed with the same power to change lives—the life of everyone here.  

This life in unity in the Spirit, is depicted in the icon of Pentecost before us.  In it, we see the heavenlyreality of the descent, what it means for us, for the faithful in the Church. The unity of common Orthodox (i.e., ‘right-believing’) faith is seen in the Apostles’ communal gathering.  The diversity of gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, teaching, prophecy, language (I Cor. 12), are depicted in the Apostles’ differing gestures, the Gospel writers are shown Gospel in hand, others with scrolls, depicting their gift of teaching and preaching.  The vacant space at the top signifies that Christ has ascended and is now invisiblypresent with us by the Holy Spirit, whom God the Father has sent to empower them to minister in Christ’s name.

The Holy Spirit is represented by tongues of fire.  Why tongues?  Because God spokecreation and life into being by His Word, Who then became incarnate to enter into and redeem our human nature.  God has sent us His Holy Spirit to further us in this redeemed life in Christ, to empower our speech and actions to proclaimto the world the Good News of His salvation.  Today the tongues are united; the curse of Babel is undone. Today, God is proclaimed and manifested as Holy Trinity, a relationship of truth in perfect unity and love that we are invited into through communion.  The fire testifies to the truth that God is “a consuming fire,” healing our passions by “burning up all the thorns of our offenses,” as we pray in the pre-Communion prayers.

To all those wearied by sin, grudges, mediocrity in faith, indifference, fear of witnessing to the truth of Christ in this age, all of which is represented in the holy icon as the old man, ‘the cosmos,’ruled by sin and darkness, Christ proclaims in today’s Gospel, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).  The Apostles and their successors in Christ’s holy Church today proclaim this same truth that was proclaimed then: there’s freedom from enslavement to this world, there’s fulfillment, enlightenment, healing from sin-sickness, and new life in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.  

I urge you this day:  renew your baptism into Christ, your love for God and His holy Church.  The same Holy Spirit, Who filled the Apostles and our Orthodox forefathers with zeal, conviction, and boldness for the sake of the Gospel, is here to fill you as well.  Devote yourselves as our Christian forebears did after Pentecost, to continue steadfast in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship in the breaking of the (Eucharistic) bread, in ‘the prayers’” of the Church.  Pray daily, make time to attend the divine services, come to Bible study, love others enough to invite them to church, to “come and see” for themselves.  Be zealous for the Truth that is Christ.  Through your witness, others will be strengthened in faith and the truth of Pentecost will inspire them to put Christ on in baptism, to be born again by water and the Spirit.  So then, beseeching God and begin to pray again this day: “O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, who art everywhere and fillest all things, treasury of blessings and giver of life, come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One!”  

Fr. Robert Miclean
Holy Archangels Orthodox Church
Pentecost/Trinity Sunday
June 16, 2019