Pentecost and Creation

trees2Earth is a wondrous place – no matter where we go – how deep, how far, how high, how hot, how inhospitable – in this place we find life. Everywhere we look on our nearest neighbor – Mars – we find – no life. We want to find life. We hope to find life. We theorize life. But we have yet to find it.

There is something about life, at least in our earthly experience, that is inexorable. Any individual case of life may be fragile, but life itself endures. In the Genesis account we are told that God blessed this planet and said:

Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth”; and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. (Gen 1:11-12 NKJ)

Note that the account does not say that God said “Let there be life!” and life just appeared…(Boom! Trees!) But that He blessed this place and commanded that it bring forth grass… herbs… trees… according to their kind… and it was so!

The feast of Pentecost in Eastern tradition, celebrates the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Church as Christians do across the world. However, there is a strange aspect to the Eastern version of the feast (or so it might seem). The Feast focuses as much on the Holy Spirit’s work in Creation as it does on the Spirit’s work in the Church. The Church is decorated in green. In Russian tradition, branches of birch are brought into the Church; fresh green grass is placed on the floor; flowers are everywhere. In Soviet times a secular version of the festival remained, called the Day of Trees.

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church is not something separate from Creation – nor are the trees a distraction from the Church. They are, together, a proper reminder of the role God’s Spirit plays always, everywhere. He is the “Lord and Giver of Life.”

Just as the Spirit moved over the face of the waters in the beginning of creation, so He moves over the face of all things at all times, bringing forth life and all good things. Though I am frequently assaulted with bouts of pessimism, despairing over various aspects of our distorted civilization, the truth is that like the planet itself, civilization with its drive for beauty and order seem inexorable. The history of humanity is not the story of a fall from a great civilization with increasing instances of barbarism and cave dwelling. Great civilizations have risen and fallen, but civilizations continue to occur. Some may already have begun in the ruins that surround us now.

The story told in Scripture is not the story of collapse and decay. There are certainly dire warnings of terrible trials and great catastrophes. But these things do not reveal the mystery of God’s will. These things are cracks in the pavement while life continues to burst forth:

God has made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth– in Him (Eph. 1:9-10).

What appeared as tongues of flame upon the heads of the disciples at Pentecost was a manifestation of this Divine Purpose at work. With the sound of a mighty rushing wind, the Holy Spirit filled the room. The fullness of the Church burst into the streets proclaiming the Gospel in a multitude of languages. Being birthed in Jerusalem was the New Jerusalem, where there is neither slave nor free, Jew nor Greek, male nor female. Instead there is the fullness that fills all things bringing forth all things in one – in the One Christ Himself.

The voice of Pentecost is the voice of creation’s groans being transformed into the glorious liberty of the children of God. Stones cry out, trees clap their hands and the song of creation rejoices in the One Christ.

Comments

  1. says

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen,

    A great reminder of “For God so loved the world…” Not only man or men or certain men, but rather the whole world!

  2. James, the Brother says

    Fr. Stephen, very well stated and I can only say thanks for you sharing your time, insight and experience.

  3. Mrs. Mutton says

    I have always loved the Russian tradition of trees being brought into the church for this Feast, and am glad you made the connection between the custom and the Holy Spirit as the Giver of Life – *all* life. Thank you, Father!

  4. George says

    I find that if I sit in the stillness of His Presence, God comes and shows me His Presence in everything and everyone, whether it is on my back porch in the presence of the trees and wind and clouds or in a noisy room filled with people.

  5. chuck says

    father bless your blog is a wonderful blessing it bucks us up so often beautiful meditation on the glory of life and christs central place in it may your health continue to mend god bless you always

  6. Athanasia says

    “There are certainly dire warnings of terrible trials and great catastrophes. But these things do not reveal the mystery of God’s will. These things are cracks in the pavement while life continues to burst forth”

    This really struck me. Especially with the internal strife in the OCA which has ‘cracked’ my faith in those that ‘lead’ it. Thank God my faith has not been cracked and live in hope.

  7. fatherstephen says

    Athanasia,
    I have been in ordained ministry for 33 years now (as of about a week ago). I have seen many, many cracks. Some of those were in my first 18 years (within Anglicanism). I knew many good people among whom I do not count myself – I know that I was as much a “crack” in the pavement there as any. I generally have no contact with those I studied with in seminary. A few are now bishops once place or another. Interestingly, my seminary is now out of business, along with a number of other Episcopal institutions. It is hard to exaggerate the demise of that institution. But tt’s possible to focus very narrowly and miss so much else that is going on.

    Within Orthodoxy there is always enough turmoil (or rumor) to keep at least one deeply disturbed mind churning out very dark material for the internet. May God have mercy on them!

    The American Church (OCA, et al) is quite young in many, many ways. The establishment of the Church in America has been quite different for most of its years than normative Orthodox mission. It was an immigrant Church – and this is quite unusual. It had but a single monastery in the early part of the 20th century, and but two for a while. Two monasteries cannot produce sufficient bishops. The history of the leadership was quite “non-American” for awhile, and only recently began to change.

    Oddly, the present life of the American Church is probably more normal – it has both immigration – native growth – and converts – many of them. There are, at my last count, about 50 monasteries, most quite small, but growing. Our seminaries are, more or less, “busting at the seams.” I think the “turmoil” within the OCA over the past decade or so is a “hiccough” in American Orthodox history – bound to happen at some point. I also think that much has been learned and taken to heart. I am encouraged – greatly encouraged of late – despite our trials.

    Internationally, there are tremendous things going on. I cannot say enough about the good things that are growing in Russia. Monasteries, parishes, just the level of development that is occurring is a renaissance the likes of which have pretty much no parallel in Orthodox history. There isn’t time or space here to describe them all. Patriarch Kyrill’s visit to Greece, brought an announcement about the rebuilding of a monastery on Mt. Athos. The Russian presence and support there is extremely well-timed.

    There are many such things going on in various places. There are tragic pressures, such as the Arab Spring, that will have terrible consequences for Orthodoxy in certain historic areas. But the Church is also better equipped to address that tragedy than at in time in the modern period.

    Sometimes we focus very narrowly indeed – my Local Church (OCA) – my diocese – my bishop – my parish – me. Having had a brief encounter with my own mortality recently, I have been reminded of what is important. In time, I will die, and my work will be finished. But I lived, and my work has thus far been blessed. The various notes and emails that I receive from time to time, particularly from those who found their way into Orthodoxy through this blog and its community of comment, make every hour worth while. It is never for us to know, short of the Kingdom, what our lives have meant, other than that our lives mean Christ, and Christ is everything.

    In Revelation the martyrs are described as those who “loved not their lives unto death.” It can be applied to many believers at many times. The quiet faithful work of a family, struggling to make ends meet, while centering themselves in Christ – teaching children the love of God – loving and building the Church. How many such lives have been lived and are a great “fleshly” core of Christian history? They “loved not their lives unto death” in some very difficult times and places.

    Our 24 hour news cycle has made the ephemeral seem important. It is so – only inasmuch as the decisions of souls are made moment by moment. But the strong mercy of God, our sure foundation, so undergirds us and even the weakness of our flesh, that we outlive many things and find victories that we were afraid to imagine.

    Be careful not to let your faith or hope crack – do a word search in the New Testament for the word “patience” or “patient endurance.” It renews us. Be encouraged!

  8. Dino says

    Reading this:

    Our 24 hour news cycle has made the ephemeral seem important. It is so – only inasmuch as the decisions of souls are made moment by moment.

    made me instantly recall Elder Aimilianos’ counsel on the delusional as well as distractive quality of following “current affairs”. St Silouan also mentions the futility of reading news. I guess even St Paul does this reminding us of having “no continuing city, but seeking one to come”.(Heb 13:14)
    Besides even our joy, our most unshakeable joy, is an ‘eschatological joy’….

  9. George says

    Thank you, Father for the perspective on Orthodoxy in America. The Faith is thriving at St. Stephen OCA in Longwood, FL!!!

  10. George says

    This is off the subject but I wanted to pass this on to all who have come to Orthodoxy from the western churches. I recently listened to a talk on Ancient Faith Radio by Professor David Frost of the Cambridge Orthodox Institute on the Western rite in Orthodoxy. In listening to it, I realized that I was still holding on to the notion that there was no health in me. As I am letting this go and affirming that I was created good and the goodness of Christ dwells in me, I find that I have a much more positive sense of myself. I, also, find that I can resist temptation more easily!

  11. Kate says

    Fr. bless,

    This is a lovely and hopeful post. Do you know where the beautiful picture was taken? How wonderful to have the outside and inside meet with such beauty. When I converted to Orthodoxy, I had to give up the idea of getting married outside, so I got married in a church set in the mountains, fields, and trees. I never thought of bringing the trees inside! This I’m sure, announces that I do not belong to a Russian tradition, so beautiful.

  12. paul says

    Father Stephen,
    Just discovered your wonderful site! My family became Orthodox in 1992 through the then ROCA here in Australia after a journey from cradle Catholicism, charismania and the Latin mass movement. It is very easy to become depressed by the modern world around us and the schismatic spirit that is often evident even in Orthodoxy. One thing I read said by an Orthodox convert many years ago was that “If you have your eyes on anything other than Christ you will be scandalised”.
    BTW Father I too have had heart trouble – a cardiac arrest some years ago at the age of 53 – followed by a quintuple bypass. I recovered quite quickly physically (back at work within six weeks), but psychologically it took many many months. Thank God for the saints!!
    God bless
    Paul

  13. Dino says

    Paul,
    your words are truly moving and one glorifies our Lord when reading them. May the Lord always bless you! May we all keep the memory that there is not a speck of depression when we concentrate on Christ, there is no scandal when we are relentlessly aware of the wider, -wider than this world, (eschatological)- picture!

  14. guy says

    Father Stephen,

    You had a really great post about the obstacles of faith that came to my mail box–looks like you deleted it though. It had quite a lot i wanted to ponder and ask you some things about. Are you re-writing it?

  15. fatherstephen says

    Guy – it was an accidental (premature) posting. The completed article will be back up shortly.