Beloved in Christ, my friends!
The grace of the Holy Spirit has gathered people today in all Orthodox Churches all over the world, so that their common prayer might remind us of the great event that took place a long time ago in Jerusalem.
Our Holy Church now celebrates this great day—the Day of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles. The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, about Whom Jesus Christ spoke with His disciples at their parting, came down to earth.
History does not know a more amazing event than the one that took place fifty days after the Most Glorious Resurrection from the dead of Christ the Savior. It is beyond our intellectual understanding.
Remember, that ordinary Galileans entered the upper room in Sion; these were the closest disciples of Christ and His Most Pure Mother. They were very timid men, not yet having a firm, specific understanding of recent events. But they left as convinced heralds of universal truth, ready to go anywhere and teach all nations. It is bold to say that the crucified Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ.
Having received “Power from on high”, the apostles as if became different men—renewed, strengthened, capable of taking the great work of serving Christ and His Church upon their shoulders.
The apostles and the Mother of God were in Jerusalem after the Lord’s Ascension into heaven. Through increased, unified, fiery prayer and fasting they prepared themselves to meet the Comforting Spirit, Which Christ had promised to send from the Father.
And thus did a divine miracle take place!
The Holy Spirit came down upon them. With His all-powerful breath He inspired them, and with fiery tongues He enlightened their minds and ignited their hearts. The Holy Spirit rested upon each of them and upon the Mother of God in the form of fiery tongues.
And only then did all the disciples finally understand the redemptive significance of the Lord’s appearance in the world, and now unwaveringly believed in Him as the Savior of the world and Son of God.
From that moment the apostles received a conscious and precise understanding of God the Father, Who out of love for mankind sent His Son to earth; about the Son, Who came down to earth and suffered for the whole human race; and about the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, Who shines upon all who prepare themselves to receive Him and His grace.
They came to know the Holy Trinity!
Having received the grace of the Holy Spirit, they received also the gifts of wisdom, prophecy, preaching of glad tidings, and working miracles.
They were given the ability to speak in different tongues that they never knew before—each in the language that they would need to preach in the foreign country to which God’s Providence would send them.
From that time on the name of God and the teaching of Christ the Savior has been preached far beyond the borders of Jerusalem.
“Their sound has gone forth into all the earth, and their words unto all the ends of the world”. Thus says the Holy Church about this in its divine services (Rom. 10:18; Ps. 18:5).
And the preaching of the Galilean fishermen had great power, because they were filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit, which gave them wisdom and inspired them for the lofty apostolic service.
The Book of the Acts of the Apostles tells us how the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles occurred in Jerusalem on the day of Old Testament Pentecost.
The world in those times was made up of pagan peoples and tribes who all spoke different languages and did not understand each other. In order to successfully preach the word of God, they needed to be given, besides the power of grace that strengthened the apostles, also the knowledge of other nations’ languages. And in order for the pagans to be brought to reason, they needed to know that this teaching was divine and not just human invention; that divine heavenly powers participated in it.
Therefore did the Holy Spirit descend upon the apostles with a great noise (a fierce breath of wind) in the form of fiery tongues resting on their heads, visible to every person present. The earthly elements shuddered from the noise at which the holy apostles were mystically illumined before they began their preaching.
The Holy Church sings, “All the nations saw in the City of David...”, how in a fierce breath of wind the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles in the form of fiery tongues... “All saw” how the simple fishermen from Galilee opened their mouths and began to speak in foreign tongues... “All saw...” what great preachers the only recently timid and frightened disciples of Christ became, and through whom the Lord drew the whole universe into His fatherly embrace...
As we know, Apostle Peter right then and there pronounced his first apostolic sermon, his first “testimony” about Christ. And this multi-lingual crowd listened with great feeling to the apostle’s words, received them, and were baptized.
And there were around three thousand of them! My friends!
We should experience all our Church feasts in our souls not as distant events, but as if we were direct participants in those events; for the work of our salvation did not simply happen sometime. It is wrought all the time over each of us and with our own participation.
Thus, on Pentecost, the memory of which we are now solemnly celebrating, Christ’s work with regard to His bodily life on earth was finished, and the work of the Holy Spirit began.
The descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles is not only a miracle that glorified the apostolic Church, but also an event bound up with the work of our personal salvation.
The Holy Spirit creates our spiritual rebirth. He reveals to us the mystery of the Holy Trinity.
The Lord Himself, in His parting talk with His disciples, said, “I will pray to the Father, and He will send you the Comforter... In that day you will know that I am in My Father.” It was precisely on Pentecost that the mystery of the Holy Trinity was revealed to the apostles, and this mystery has been preserved over the course of almost two thousand years. The Holy Church calls the Trinity Life-creating—and this is because for the Church itself the Trinity is the creator of life. All in the Church lives and breathes the Trinity. All is driven toward Him—the teaching of the faith, the Sacraments, divine services, prayer, repentance, and ascetic labors.
Pentecost does not end with that one and only solemn day, which happened in Jerusalem and was described in the book of the Acts of the Apostles.
No! The day of the fiery tongues was only the beginning of an unceasing descent of the Spirit of God to mankind. This is the day of the Church’s Baptism of fire, by which the Church of Christ was founded on the earth.
Pentecost continues, and over the years and up to our days it happens with each of us if only we would truly strive with all our souls for God and seek Him.
Now we do not hear the noise that once filled Jerusalem, because our hearing is not subtle enough to perceive heavenly movements. But it is heard by our inner, spiritual ear.
The mystical union of the Creator with the creation—the descent of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the faithful—happens directly in Christ’s Church.
The grace of the Spirit of the Live-creating God, Who fills all things with Himself, the “Treasury of good gifts and Giver of Life”, penetrates into human souls, making them capable of illumination.
The descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles is an extraordinary event, which reveals a new era in the work of man’s salvation. With the coming of the Holy Spirit, the opportunity for the knowledge of God was opened to people.
Through the gifts of the Holy Spirit a person is cleansed from sins, perfected, and can restore the lost image of God in himself. The qualities of Christ are gradually restored in the inner man.
Many of the holy God-pleasers are an example of this is.
Thus, even in the Middle Ages, St. Anthony said to his disciples, “I prayed for you, that you would also be vouchsafed to receive that great fiery Spirit, which I have received... When He is received, He will reveal higher mysteries to you, drive away from you any fear of people or beasts, and you will have heavenly joy, day and night. And you will be in this body as those who are already in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
We also see in more recent times that the fire of Pentecost has not gone out on the earth.
In the cell of a saint who lived in a time not very distant from our own, and whom we all deeply revere, “poor Seraphim”, visitors lowered their eyes because they could not look at the saint directly in his face, which shone like the sun.
“When the Spirit of God comes to a person,” taught St. Seraphim, “and overshadows him with the fullness of His inspiration, then that person’s soul is filled with unspeakable joy, for the Spirit of God makes glad everything that He touches.”
Thus, we see that from the day of that event in the upper room in Zion, a new power has entered the world. It is a power that founds the Kingdom of God in human hearts.
By the pouring out of the Holy Spirit a person is transfigured, made a new creature, and partakes of divine life. This miracle of God’s mercy occurs uninterruptedly throughout the history of the Church and should bring the world and man to complete theosis. Due to the shortness of time it is not possible to cite more examples. But these are also clear testimony to the inexhaustible Pentecost in the history of our Church!
Again and again the mystical unification of the Creator with the creation takes place.
And this is unspeakable blessedness, the highest summit in a person’s journey from earth to heaven.
From the moment of Pentecost, a sea of enlivening grace has flooded the earth... It has passed through the centuries... illumined many nations... And in our days it fills the holy churches and the hearts of the faithful.
But due to his weakness, man is not able to conduct his whole life in sanctity. We often loose our gifts of grace. And therefore we have to prayerfully call out to heaven, so that the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, would come to us and again abide in us, and manifest His saving action.
“Come and abide in us... and save our souls!” There has always been a thirst in people for close communion with God. We can see how great it was from the prayer of Blessed Augustine—a man who stood on the border of the ancient and medieval world.
Here is a citation from his prayer:
“Thou O divine love, holy union of the Almighty Father and All-blessed Son, O all-powerful Comforter, Spirit... Come into my heart with Thine almighty power and enlighten with Thy radiance the places in it that are darkened from my carelessness, and make them fruitful with Thine abundant dew. Ignite my enfeebled heart with Thy saving flame, and with Thy fire illumine and scorch all that is sinful in my thoughts and body. Give me to drink of the streams of Thy sweetness, and teach me to do Thy will...”
This thirst does not cease in our times either. The feeling of faith and its joy is accessible to people of any cultural level. This is the inheritance of all people. And only alienation from God can deaden in the soul its natural need for faith.
That spiritual life might not be extinguished in us, we should strive towards its source—to God—in our thoughts, feelings, deeds, and all our lives.
O my friends! That we would only receive today into our hearts and souls this grace of the Holy Spirit!
It would change us also. And from timid people who are not always steadfast in the faith it would create firmly convinced bearers of the true faith.
From my whole heart I wish for each of us to have in our consciousness the words of our Church hymn, filled with exaltation:
“We have seen the True Light, we have received the Heavenly Spirit, we have found the True Faith, worshipping the undivided Trinity, for He has saved us.”1