“Apart from love nothing whatever has existed, nor ever will. Its names and actions are many. More numerous still are its distinctive marks; divine and innumerable are its properties. Yet it is one in nature, wholly beyond utterance whether on the part of angels or men or any other creatures, even such as are unknown to us. Reason cannot comprehend it; its glory is inaccessible, its counsels unsearchable. It is eternal because it is beyond time, invisible because thought cannot comprehend it, though it may perceive it. Many are the beauties of this holy Sion not made with hands! He who has begun to see it no longer delights in sensible objects; he ceases to be attached to the glory of this world.” — St. Symeon the New Theologian
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Of the many, many holy shrines that we visited while on our Pilgrimage to the Holy Land and to Asia Minor, the vast majority of them were Greek Orthodox monasteries and churches. Some, however were either Jewish historical sites, Muslim shrines or Roman Catholic sites. On one particular day, we prayerfully prayed our respects at the Tomb of King David (a most holy sight for the Jews) and in that same hour ascended several stairs into what is now a small, Latin Church.
It is built upon the ruins of the Upper Room, where the Mystical Supper took place, where the Disciples hid in fear of their lives, following the Crucifixion of Christ, where the Lord appeared to them after His Resurrection, and where the Holy Spirit descended upon them as tongues of fire on the Feast of Pentecost. One, singular and ornate column from St. Helen’s original church, built upon this site remains in the interior of the space.
As we make our preparations for Holy Pentecost; the gift of the Comforter that Christ promised to the world (John 14:16), who is the Holy Spirit, I find myself back in that little church, that little room, and imagine what transpired in that space. We know the story, we look forward to the service of Pentecost; for the Kneeling Prayers to the Holy Spirit are among the most beautifully crafted words which flow from the mind of the Church.
Through the coming of the Holy Spirit, there is an instant and bold transformation in the persons of the Disciples. Their despair was displaced by hope. Their confusion was replaced with clarity. Their individual fears had succumbed to a collective purpose. Their ministry was transfigured from students of the Gospel to proclaimers of the Gospel. Those who were once meek with questioning in their hearts, now had all the answers – in Christ – and through the Holy Spirit.
But for all of the amazing details of the event of Pentecost, and in all the glory that was, and is Jerusalem and the Holy Sites, and for all the history that has amassed in the life of the Church, everything comes down, as St. Symeon so eloquently stated in the above-referenced quote, to love. The love that God has for His children.
Pentecost is a celebration of God’s love. His desire to not leave us abandoned and flailing around in our own demise. The Holy Spirit offers discernment, wisdom, connection, participation and actualization of God in our lives. These are all accomplished simply because the Lord wills it to be so, through His unyielding love for humanity.
I have been back from our trip long enough to realize that while I venerated several significant and historical altars, there is only one altar that defines Christ’s love for all of us in the most dynamic of ways. Surprisingly, its not the altar of the Holy Sepulcher, or the altar of the Nativity or the altar of the Transfiguration or any other altar but that of St. Anna’s.
Pentecost is the event that blasted the Church out of Jerusalem and into the world.
Into our world.
Every holy and significant sight that can be visited in the ancient world is only understood and valued through our own experiences that the Holy Spirit grants us in the here and now. St. Anna’s is our here and now. St. Anna’s is where Christ’s love abounds for us and where the Holy Spirit is active in our lives. Where the Mysteries are received. Where the Gospel is proclaimed.
And I’m not even describing St. Anna’s as a physical space as much as a collection of Orthodox Christians and a family in Christ. The Holy Spirit is strong and active in our lives through the Love He demonstrates towards us and the love we extend to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
The line which connects Jerusalem and Cottonwood Heights is clear and distinctive. This line is the mystery of the event of Pentecost.
It’s good that our parish made this trip. It’s also good that we returned to our families, our work and our lives.
While it’s true that our Pilgrims indeed walked with God.
Its equally true that they walk with Him, no less significantly in the midst of the people we love; back home and in our parish.
With Much Love in XC,
Please be reminded of the early time for Liturgy on Monday so that we can gather at Mt. Olivet Cemetery to pray for our loved ones who have passed on to eternal glory.