SEVERAL HYMNS OF PENTECOST allude to promises made by Christ concerning the coming Holy Spirit. He would be “another Paraclete” (Comforter or Advocate), Jesus Himself being their first Paraclete. The Holy Spirit, being immaterial, would “abide with you forever” (John 14:15). He would be “everywhere present and filling all things,” as we say in the hymn to the Holy Spirit which begins most of our services. The Lord Jesus, took on our humanity to be like us in all things except sin. His earthly life, like ours would be limited to a certain time and a certain place so that we could be glorified like Him forever in His glory
According to Christ the first work of the Holy Spirit would be to help Jesus’ followers understand God’s plan for us. “He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26). “He will testify of Me” (John 15:26), guiding you “into all truth” (John 16:12).
More than Understanding
The Scriptures read at the Divine Liturgy on this feast show us another dimension of the Spirit’s presence among us. He would impart spiritual power to the Church by His presence. Before His ascension Christ promised His followers, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This power would give the courage to speak the Good News of Christ to men who, before the Spirit’s coming, had been hiding in an upper room for fear of the Jewish authorities. The Spirit’s presence brought clarity to their message as well as the boldness to transmit it to their disbelieving countrymen.
The Acts of the Apostles gives several instances of how the Holy Spirit’s power worked among the apostles. It lists:
- The Gift of Tongues (Acts 2:4-11) – The ability to proclaim the Gospel and to be understood in a number of languages otherwise unknown to the speaker.
- The Gift of Teaching (Acts 2:14-36) – The ability to express the mystery of the Gospel with clarity despite their humble background and lack of education.
- The Gift of Healing (Acts 3:1-10) – The ability to heal the physical illness of people and even, as in the case of Tabitha, to raise the dead.
- The Gift of Discernment (Acts 4:36- 5:11) – The ability to distinguish between spiritual truth and delusion, as when Peter detected the deceitful hearts of Ananias and Sepphira.
- The Gift of Passing on the Spirit (Acts 8:14-17) – The ability to confer the Gift of the Holy Spirit through the laying-on of hands.
- The Gift of Exorcism (Acts 16:16-18) – The ability to drive out evil spirits.
All these gifts have been manifested throughout the life of the Church over the centuries with the exception of the first of these gifts, the multiplicity of tongues. According to St Augustine and St John Chrysostom, the purpose of the gift of tongues was to affirm “that the Gospel of God was to be proclaimed over the entire earth in all languages” (St Augustine, Homily on 1 John 6:10). That universal proclamation began almost immediately, fulfilling the purpose of the gift of tongues which ceased.
Other gifts were bestowed upon the growing Church, as described in the epistles of St. Paul. Some of them are celebrated in a hymn repeated frequently during this feast:
“The Holy Spirit provides every gift: He inspires prophecy, perfects the priesthood, grants wisdom to the illiterate, makes simple fishermen become wise theologians, and establishes perfect order in the organization of the Church. Wherefore, O Comforter, equal in nature and majesty with the Father and the Son, glory to You!”
Releasing the Spirit’s Power
The fruit of these gifts have been with us foe centuries. The result is often that we take them for granted and fail to see the power in them. The Lord does not try to scare us into faith by brandishing these gifts in our faces. Rather He waits for us to seek a relationship with Hum in the Holy Spirit. Then the power in these gifts will be revealed.
In 1968 the late Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius IV, addressed these words to a meeting of the World Council of Churches. Quoted time and again since then, they testify to the Spirit’s power in these gifts, released when we seek to know Him, the Giver of them all.
“Without the Holy Spirit:
God is far away,
Christ stays in the past,
the Gospel is a dead letter,
the Church is simply an organization,
authority – a matter of domination,
mission – a matter of propaganda,
the liturgy – no more than an evocation, Christian living – a slave morality.
“But in the Holy Spirit:
The cosmos is resurrected and groans with the birth-pangs of the kingdom,
The risen Christ is there,
The Gospel is the source of life,
The Church shows forth the life of the Trinity,
Authority is a liberating service,
Mission is a Pentecost,
The liturgy is both memorial and anticipation,
Human action is deified.”
The River of Living Water
It is with an understanding like this that Christ describes the Holy Spirit in terms of living or flowing water:” “’If anyone thirsts let him come to me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’ But this He spoke concerning the Spirit whom those believing in Him would receive, for the Holy Spirit was not yet given because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:37-39).
This living water – the Holy Spirit – is not meant simply to remain in the heart of the believer but to flow out to others. He quenches the thirst of the believer but also goes forth to nourish others. Our celebration of this feast, then, is a reminder that we are conduits, vessels for the Holy Spirit. With-out the Holy Spirit we are empty vessels – with the Holy Spirit we water the world.
On this feast of fulfillment, O faithful, let us joyfully celebrate Pentecost, which is the end of the feast and the fulfillment of the promise of Christ. For today the Fire of the Paraclete comes down to earth in the form of tongues, enlightening the Apostles and making them wise in the things of heaven. Behold the Light of the Paraclete, making the world radiant! (Kathisma Hymn, tone 4)
The Power coming down upon us today is the Holy Spirit, the Goodness and Wisdom of God. The Spirit which proceeds from the Father through the Son is revealed to us, the faithful: He communicates holiness to those whom He inhabits. (Troparion from the Canon, Ode 5)