Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Sunday is the Feast of Pentecost – the gift of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Disciples, thus instituting the Church of Christ upon the world. It is at this moment, when the origins of the Orthodox Christian Church were established. Not in the Fourth Century. Not in the Middle Ages. Not in the 1800’s. Pentecost.
This is a celebration of unity and union. Men of differing life circumstances were united in their service to Christ, and were equipped to minister to the known and unknown world with the gift of language. The Gospel from that time forward would then be preached to all of humankind, and the message that Christ is risen from the dead would be carried to all corners of the earth.
For our own community, This day of Pentecost represents another “breath” that is blowing through us. As we emerge from our separation from each other for these past several months, we see a re-confirmed unity and re-established purpose for us. More and more of us are returning to church and more and more ministries and activities are coming online for the benefit of our fellowship and personal interaction.
And as has been announced, our Archbishop, being with us to celebrate our Parish Name Day in July is just the perfect opportunity for all of us to share in our collective love for one another, our affinity towards our Matron Saint, our devotion to her daughter, the Theotokos and our ultimate devotion to our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. Our Name Day Celebration is going to be our absolute re-introduction to the beauty of our church grounds and the laughter that has been missing from them for far, too long.
But also, please let me remind us all of the value of this great Feast which stands before us. The late Fr. Alexander Schmemann, a prolific author and keen academic shared his thoughts on Pentecost. I’d like to share them with you.
“In the Church’s annual liturgical cycle, Pentecost is “the last and great day.” It is the celebration by the Church of the coming of the Holy Spirit as the end—the achievement and fulfillment—of the entire history of salvation. For the same reason, however, it is also the celebration of the beginning: it is the “birthday” of the Church as the presence among us of the Holy Spirit, of the new life in Christ, of grace, knowledge, adoption to God and holiness.
This double meaning and double joy is revealed to us, first of all, in the very name of the feast. Pentecost in Greek means fifty, and in the sacred biblical symbolism of numbers, the number fifty symbolizes both the fulness of time and that which is beyond time: the Kingdom of God itself. It symbolizes the fulness of time by its first component: 49, which is the fulness of seven (7 x 7): the number of time. And, it symbolizes that which is beyond time by its second component: 49 + 1, this one being the new day, the “day without evening” of God’s eternal Kingdom. With the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Christ’s disciples, the time of salvation, the Divine work of redemption has been completed, the fulness revealed, all gifts bestowed: it belongs to us now to “appropriate” these gifts, to be that which we have become in Christ: participants and citizens of His Kingdom.
The liturgical peculiarity of Pentecost is a very special Vespers of the day itself. Usually this service follows immediately the Divine Liturgy, is “added” to it as its own fulfillment. The service begins as a solemn “summing up” of the entire celebration, as its liturgical synthesis. We hold flowers in our hands symbolizing the joy of the eternal spring, inaugurated by the coming of the Holy Spirit. After the festal Entrance, this joy reaches its climax in the singing of the Great Prokeimenon:
“Who is so great a God as our God?”
Then, having reached this climax, we are invited to kneel. This is our first kneeling since Easter. It signifies that after these fifty days of Paschal joy and fulness, of experiencing the Kingdom of God, the Church now is about to begin her pilgrimage through time and history. It is evening again, and the night approaches, during which temptations and failures await us, when, more than anything else, we need Divine help, that presence and power of the Holy Spirit, who has already revealed to us the joyful End, who now will help us in our effort towards fulfillment and salvation.
All this is revealed in the three prayers which the celebrant reads now as we all kneel and listen to him. In the first prayer, we bring to God our repentance, our increased appeal for forgiveness of sins, the first condition for entering into the Kingdom of God.
In the second prayer, we ask the Holy Spirit to help us, to teach us to pray and to follow the true path in the dark and difficult night of our earthly existence. Finally, in the third prayer, we remember all those who have achieved their earthly journey, but who are united with us in the eternal God of Love.
The joy of Easter has been completed and we again have to wait for the dawn of the Eternal Day. Yet, knowing our weakness, humbling ourselves by kneeling, we also know the joy and the power of the Holy Spirit who has come. We know that God is with us, that in Him is our victory.
Thus is completed the feast of Pentecost and we enter “the ordinary time” of the year. Yet, every Sunday now will be called “after Pentecost”—and this means that it is from the power and light of these fifty days that we shall receive our own power, the Divine help in our daily struggle. At Pentecost we decorate our churches with flowers and green branches—for the Church “never grows old, but is always young.” It is an evergreen, ever-living Tree of grace and life, of joy and comfort. For the Holy Spirit—“the Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life—comes and abides in us, and cleanses us from all impurity,” and fills our life with meaning, love, faith and hope.”
As I am away (writing this message from Denver, CO), I am grateful that Fr. Elias will be sharing these prayers with you. I was ordained to the holy Priesthood 24 years ago on the Feast of Pentecost at the Holy Trinity Church in Dallas, Texas, where I served for eight years. In this past, nearly quarter of a century, I have experienced many blessings and challenges, highs and lows, celebrations and lamentations. But all for the glory of God, all guided by His wisdom, and attached to the same Holy Spirit, Who breathes life into the collective Church and individual Christian, each and every day. May you enjoy a blessed Feast!
With Much Love in Christ,
Fr. Anthony Savas