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The Gift of Pentecost

June 23, 2013

Each human soul is unique with her own thoughts and desires, hopes and fears, joys and sorrows. Everyone of us needs individualized care especially when we are confused, when we don’t know what to believe, and when we feel alone. And the Lord Christ offers us that personal solicitude in the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Eternal Son came into this darkened world that our thoughts might be holy, our desires pure, our hopes golden and our fears as a cloud of smoke dispersed by the wind. And on the fiftieth day after His Resurrection, that wind came through which He provides most graciously the wherewithal for each unique soul to find her special path to Him. He does this by sending down His All-Holy Spirit on the Feast we still call with the original Greek name, Pentecost, the fiftieth day.

PentecostOn that first Pentecost, there was a sound like a rushing wind and tongues like fire, powerful metaphors for the grace of the Holy Spirit that filled the Apostles with a holy peace, a peace in which pure thoughts become clear, in which holy desires are given wings, and in which our greatest hope is already fulfilled: the human soul need never feel alone, for God is not just with us, He is in us, if we but prepare Him room.

Pentecost takes us beyond therapies and human constructions about the relationships between thought and behavior. And Pentecost is certainly not about emotion. Pentecost is about the Uncreated God Who is beyond our every notion, our every feeling, our every sensation, anything we have ever seen and anything we could ever imagine. And Pentecost is about how when His Spirit touches us we are made anew and we come to understand who we are meant to be and where we are meant to be: sons and daughters of light ever in the presence of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

 And yet if all of this seems so impossibly far from where we are now, it simply indicates that we are far from where the Apostles were in the upper room, far in terms of spiritual maturity, far in terms of purification from the passions, far in terms of the illumination of the Holy Spirit. But we shouldn’t let this discourage us, since even the Apostles living with Christ daily had a spiritually long path until they reached that upper room. During the period of the Lord Jesus’ sojourn on earth, the Apostles experienced the slow and arduous process of purification and illumination.  In my earlier book, In Peace Let Us Pray to the Lord, I note, “If one desires to be convinced that the Apostles were in fact both prepared and purified by their way of life and belief, one need only observe the veritable transfiguration that gradually took place in the Apostles’ very way of understanding the world and those around them, a transformation that can vividly be seen by comparing the behavior of the Apostles when they were following Christ before His Crucifixion (in the process of purification) and their behavior on the very day of Pentecost (in a state of deification).  While Christ was still purifying the Sons of thunder, they coveted positions of prominence, but at Pentecost they readily yielded before Peter allowing him to speak publicly and considering it to be the same honor.”

What does this mean for us in our daily lives?  If we take the Apostles as our guide we may notice that their focus turned from the acquisition of power, honor, and glory to their humble submission to making Christ’s teachings the center of their existence and in so doing entering the fire of repentance that purifies the heart and the light of truth that illumines the soul. They came to know that Christ is everything and that knowledge became a permanent possession of their humble, Christ-loving hearts. The only one of the original Twelve who stubbornly refused to make this transition wasn’t present at Pentecost, because he continued to focus on those things that are illusory and fleeting.

The Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles at Pentecost and appeared as flames of fire.  This is a splendid truth of the divine economy.  Yet our focus must remain on the fact that at the time of Pentecost the Apostles had entered the Upper Room of their hearts and were prepared through repentance to receive the gift of the Spirit.  In my previous book, I write, “This significant process points to a basic law of the spiritual life:  in order for the believer to become a vessel of the Holy Spirit, he must first cleanse the vessel of his soul ‘from all pollution of the flesh and spirit’ (Saint Nikitas Stithatos, “On Spiritual Knowledge”) through a life of self-denial.  Saint Peter of Damascus expresses this teaching as follows:  ‘in this life, all things go in pairs:  practice and spiritual knowledge, free will and grace, fear and hope, struggle and reward.”

Pentecost is the great gift to humanity, the gift of God’s love directly to each human soul. But to receive it, we must seek to acquire the gift of the Holy Spirit at all times by trying to repent, by getting on our knees, by calling out to our Sweetest Lord Jesus, and continuing to call on His Name till our last breath. Pentecost teaches us that if we are to experience “the glorious freedom of the children of God” we must follow the path of the Apostles, Martyrs, and all God’s Saints, a path which purifies, illumines, and even deifies. This is the good tidings of the Spirit who reigns in the hearts of the friends of God and wills to reign in our hearts as well if we but humbly let Him. This is the most precious of gifts, the pearl of great price, the salvation of our souls.

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