Bearing Witness to the World with Integrity by the Power of the Holy Spirit : Homily for the Great Feast of Pentecost in the Orthodox Church

Acts 2:1-11; John 7:37-52; 8:12

         On this day of Pentecost, we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit as a sign of the restoration of human persons, both individually and collectively, in the divine image and likeness.  The deep thirst of fallen humanity for living water that fulfills our deepest desires is now quenched. God is not remote, distant, or removed, but present and active in the souls of our Lord’s followers. The same divine breath which first gave humanity life now blows as a mighty wind. The divine glory beheld by Moses in the burning bush now rests upon the disciples personally in flames of fire.   The miracle of speaking in different languages overcomes the divided speech of the tower of Babel and the enmity between people of different nations and ethnicities characteristic of our world of corruption.  Pentecost is the birthday of the Church as the Body of Christ, which must provide a sign of the world’s salvation in its common life.  The water, wind, and fire of the Holy Spirit call and enable us to become radiant with holy light in our darkened world.  As the Lord said,    “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

We celebrate Pentecost this year in dark times because of the global pandemic, the economic crisis, and the social trauma sparked by a horrendous crime.  As His Eminence Metropolitan JOSEPH wrote this week,

We witnessed the brutal murder of a defenseless man, George Floyd, by men entrusted by our society to uphold peace and justice. As Orthodox Christians, we are appalled by this act of unjust violence, and we fervently entreat the Lord to grant repose to George’s soul and comfort and peace to his grieving family and loved ones. We are also witnessing protests that speak to the wider issues of racial prejudice and injustice in our society.  We do not condone chaos and violence as a means of protest, as they only serve to fan the flames of anger and hatred and harm the very communities the peaceful protestors are working to improve. As Antiochian Orthodox, we can offer our broken-hearted empathy, as many of our faithful have come from countries where they have experienced injustice, and we must forcefully proclaim the equal dignity of every human person as created in the image and likeness of God.

Our calling this Pentecost is to live as those who have received the fullness of the Holy Spirit from the very depths of our souls and in our life together as members of Christ’s Body.  We must manifest “the fruit of the Spirit…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control” in how we respond to today’s challenges. (Gal. 5:22-23) It is much easier, of course, to fall into hatred and divisiveness according to the standards of the fallen world, especially in situations of stress and conflict.  If we are not to fall prey to the powerful temptation to demonize others, we must open our souls to the healing presence of the Holy Spirit in focused prayer as we mindfully turn away from thoughts of fear, hatred, and despair.   What we have to offer the world is not merely ourselves, but a sign of the fulfillment of God’s gracious purposes for the human person, both personally and in society. We will learn how to shine the light of Christ in our darkened world only if our souls become radiant with the divine glory.  As St. Paul taught, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom. 12:2)

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit brought people of different nationalities and ethnicities into one Body.  In His earthly ministry, the Savior had mercy on Samaritans, Gentiles, and a Roman centurion, as well as Jews of different social and religious status.  In Him, “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.” (Col. 3:11)  We have received the Holy Spirit due to the mercy of our Lord, not because of our nationality, race, or politics. The agendas of this world, whatever they may be, must not work their way into our hearts as false gods.  Instead, we must examine what we think and how we act in light of the demands of God’s Kingdom, which is not of this world.  We must reject ideas and behaviors that turn us away from serving Christ in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner. (Matt. 25)  The Savior is always present to us in “the least of these,” and the members of His Body must become living icons of the divine mercy that transcends the sensibilities of those enslaved to the fear of death.

If we are faithful to Him, we will likely never fit easily into the dominant factions and ideologies of any society.   Our many petitions for God’s peace and blessing upon our neighbors will ring hollow if we do not conform our character to Christ’s, and thus gain the strength to convey His light to a world darkened by hatred, violence, and injustice of so many kinds. We will not be able to address any of the world’s problems with integrity if we do not manifest together a sign of its salvation.  Our calling in the Church is nothing less than to participate in the eternal life of the Holy Trinity, which requires love, unity, and holiness beyond what we can give ourselves. On this great feast of Pentecost, let us become fully open to the water, wind, and fire of the Holy Spirit, embracing the healing of our souls and of our common life as much as we possibly can as the Body of Christ.  That is the only way we will able to participate in the fulfillment of the Savior’s words:  “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

 

 

 

 

 

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