Becoming Persons in Communion with God and One Another by 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 today’s great feast of Pentecost, we celebrate the healing of what lies at the very root of our alienation from one another.  At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes upon on the Apostles as they are gathered together in obedience to the command of the risen Lord.  The same divine breath which first gave us life from the dust of the earth now comes as a mighty, rushing wind.  The divine glory beheld by Moses in the burning bush now rests upon each one personally as flames of fire.   The divided speech of the tower of Babel is now overcome by the miracle of speaking in different languages as a sign that everyone is invited to share in the life of the Lord.  This great feast manifests the fulfillment of God’s gracious promises for the entire world and every human person in the Body of Christ, the Church born at Pentecost.  Today we celebrate the restoration of our true unity in God through the unifying power of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter sent by the risen and ascended Savior Who is seated at the right hand of the Father in heavenly glory.

The sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit empowers the Church to become a living icon of the common life of humanity in which our petty divisions are healed.  He enables us to become persons in communion united organically as members of the one Body of Christ instead of isolated individuals perpetually choosing sides over against one another due to the fear of death.  The Persons of the Holy Trinity share a common life of love, unity, and holiness; by the power of the Holy Spirit manifested at Pentecost we participate by grace in Their eternal communion.  Our journey to theosis calls us to nothing less than being united in and with God such that we become radiant with the divine energies in every dimension of our being, like an iron left in the fire of holy glory.

As those who bear the divine image and likeness, we become both more truly human and more like God as we find healing from the passions that divide and separate us, and instead embrace our life together. That is why St. Paul wrote, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal. 5:22-23) That is why St. Siluoan the Athonite taught, “One can only love one’s enemies through the grace of the Holy Spirit.” And “He who does not love his enemies, does not have God’s grace.”

The Lord said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.’”  He uses the image of living water to describe what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit, even as He did with St. Photini, the Samaritan woman at the well.  Our ascended Lord did not send mere theological ideas, moral instructions, or spiritual practices to His followers.  He did not limit His salvation to any particular group of people.  After His Ascension, the Savior sent the Holy Spirit to quench the deep thirst of all the broken, confused, and alienated people of the world for sharing personally in eternal life, for nothing else can truly satisfy us.

Wind, fire, and water are powerful images of realities beyond our full control and which we certainly did not create.  At Pentecost they convey the profound mystery of how we may participate in the divine life in ways that transcend even the best rational definitions. We do not receive the Holy Spirit as isolated individuals using religion on our own terms to get what we want or think we deserve, but as members of a Body who are together finding healing and restoration that infinitely transcend what even our favorite earthly agendas can hope to provide.
In order to celebrate this great feast with integrity, we must mindfully open ourselves as fully as possible to the sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit.   We will do so by living faithfully each day through the spiritual strength that we gain from participating in the sacramental and ascetical life of the Church.  The Holy Spirit came upon Christ’s followers as they were gathered together in obedience to the Lord’s command, and we must never fool ourselves into thinking that the spiritual life is an individualistic endeavor that caters to our preferences, prejudices, or feelings, no matter what they may be.  Pentecost calls us to get over the pride that divided the tongues of humanity in the first place and to gain the humility to find our true personhood as members together of the Body of Christ, where the distinctive beauty of our souls will shine evermore brightly as we partake of the same living water as did the Apostles.

Pentecost is a time for turning away from whatever separates us from full participation in the life of our Lord in His Body, the Church.  It is a time for kneeling in humility before God in prayer and living in humility as we forgive our enemies and do what we can to heal broken relationships.    That is the only way to become radiant with the gracious divine energies poured out abundantly for the salvation of the world.  This great feast calls us to nothing less than that.


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