“When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.
Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven.
And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language.
Then they were all amazed and marvelled, saying to one another, Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?
Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs &endash; we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:1-11).
Tradition says that to fulfil the prophecy of Joel (Joel 2: 28-29), the Holy Spirit descended not only on the twelve chosen Apostles, but also upon all those who were with them “with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1), that is, on the whole Church.
This is why in Icons of Pentecost there are represented Apostles not belonging to the twelve – Apostle Paul (sitting with Apostle Peter at the head of the circle of Apostles), and among the seventy, Luke the Evangelist and Mark the Evangelist (Ouspensky and Lossky, The Meaning of Icons, Rev Ed, SVS, NY, 1982, p208).
And there appeared to them divided tongues as of fire … and they were filled with the Holy Spirit
So that by gradual increase … and progress from glory to glory, the light of the Trinity might shine upon the more illuminated … for this reason it was, I think, that He gradually came to dwell in the disciples.
He measured Himself out to them according to their capacity to receive Him: at the beginning of the gospel, after the Passion, after the Ascension, making perfect their powers, being breathed upon them and appearing in fiery tongues …
You see lights breaking upon us, gradually, and knowledge of such order of theology, as is better for us to maintain, neither proclaiming things too suddenly nor yet keeping them hidden to the end …
He said that all things should be taught us by the Spirit Himself, made clear at a later time, when, such knowledge would be seasonable and capable of being received after our Savior’s restoration; when it would no longer be received with incredulity because of its marvelous character.
For what greater thing than this did either He promise, or the Spirit teach … If He is not to be worshiped, how can He deify me by baptism?… And indeed from the Spirit comes our new birth, and from the new birth our new creation, and from the new creation our deeper knowledge of the dignity of Him from whom it is derived …
Look at these facts: Christ is born; the Spirit is His forerunner. He leads Him up. He works miracles; the Spirit accompanies them. He ascends; the Spirit takes His place (St. Gregory the Theologian, Fifth Theological Oration, 26-29).
The Promise of Pentecost
“On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “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.
Therefore many from the crowd, when they heard this saying, said, “Truly this is the Prophet”.
Others said, “This is the Christ”, but some said, “Will the Christ come out of Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?”
So there was a division among the people because of Him.
Now some of them wanted to take Him, but no one laid hands on Him.
Then the officers came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why have you not brought Him?”
The officers answered, “No man ever spoke like this Man!” Then the Pharisees answered them, “Are you also deceived? Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him? But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed”.
Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them) said to them, “Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?”
They answered and said to him, “Are you also front Galilee? Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee” (John 7:37-52).
Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).
If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink…
Those who come to the divine preaching and give heed to the faith must manifest the desire of thirsty people for water, and kindle in themselves a similar longing; so they will be able, very carefully, to retain what is said …
For to show that we ought ever to thirst and hunger, He said ‘Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness’ (Matt.5:6) … Elsewhere He calls it, ‘eternal life,’ but here, ‘living water.’ He calls that ‘living’ which ever works: for the grace of the Spirit, when It has entered into the mind and has been established, springs up more than any fountain, does not fail, never becomes empty …
He has represented its abundance by the expression ‘springing’ …Consider the wisdom of Stephen, the tongue of Peter, the vehemence of Paul: how nothing bore, nothing withstood them, not the anger of multitudes, not the risings up of tyrants, not the plots of the devils, not daily deaths, but as rivers borne along with a great rushing sound, so they went on their way hurrying all things with them …
When He was about to send them (after the crucifixion) He said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ (John 20:22) … and then they wrought miracles (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 51 on John 7).
In Praise of Salvation and Creation
“0 God, You are my God; early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and Your glory. Because your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise You. Thus I will bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise You with joyfuI lips. When I remember You on my bed. I meditate on You in the night watches. Because You have been my help, therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice. My soul follows close behind You; Your tight hand upholds me” (Psalm 63:1-8).
The Holy Spirit provides every gift: He inspires prophecy, perfects the priesthood, grants wisdom to the illiterate, makes simple fishermen to become wise theologians, and establishes perfect order in the organization of the Church. Wherefore, 0 Comforter, equal in nature and majesty with the Father and the Son, glory to You… (from The Bible and Holy Fathers for Orthodox ed. J. Manley, Monastery Books, Menlo Park, 1990, pp. 136-9).
In the days of old, pride brought confusion of tongues to the builders of the tower of Babel, but now the diversity of tongues enlightenend the minds and gave knowledge for the glory of God. There, God punished infidels for their sin, while here Christ enlightened fishermen through the Spirit; there the confusion of tongues was for the sake of vengeance, while here there was variety so that voices could be joined in unison for the salvation of our souls (Stichera of Pentecost for Vespers, pp. 891, 894).
Pentecost – The Descent of the Holy Spirit
In the Old Testament Pentecost was the feast which occurred fifty days after Passover. As the passover feast celebrated the exodus of the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt, so Pentecost celebrated God’s gift of the ten commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai.
In the new covenant of the Messiah, the passover event takes on its new meaning as the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection, the “exodus” of humanity from this sinful world to the Kingdom of God. And in the New Testament as well, the pentecostal feast is fulfilled and made new by the coming of the “new law”, the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of Christ.
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed as resting upon each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:1-4).
The Holy Spirit, that Christ had promised to his disciples, came on the day of Pentecost (see John 14:26, 15:26; Luke 24:49; Acts 1:5) The apostles received “the power from on high”, and they began to preach and bear witness to Jesus as the risen Christ, the King and the Lord. This moment has traditionally been called the birthday of the Church.
In the liturgical services of the feast of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit is celebrated together with the full revelation of the divine Trinity: Father and Son and Holy Spirit. The fulness of the Godhead is manifested with the Spirit’s coming to humanity, and the Church hymns celebrate this manifestation as the final act of God’s self-disclosure and self-donation to the world of His creation.
For this reason Pentecost Sunday is also called Trinity Sunday in the Orthodox tradition. Often on this day the Icon of the Holy Trinity – particularly that of the three angelic figures who appeared to Abraham, the forefather of the Christian faith – is placed in the center of the church.
This Icon is used with the traditional pentecostal Icon which shows the tongues of fire hovering over the Virgin Mary and the Twelve Apostles, the original prototype of the Church, who are themselves sitting in unity surrounding a symbolic image of “cosmos” (the world).
On Pentecost we have the final fulfillment of the mission of Jesus Christ and the first beginning of the messianic age of the Kingdom of God (mystically present in this world in the Church of the Messiah).
For this reason the 50th day stands as the beginning of the era which is beyond the limitations of this world, fifty being, that number which stands for eternal and heavenly fulfillment in Jewish and Christian mystical piety: seven times seven, plus one.
Thus, Pentecost is called an apocalyptic day, which means the day of final revelation. It is also called an eschatological day, which means the day of the final and perfect end (in Greek eschaton means the end). For when the Messiah comes and the Lord’s Day is at hand, the “last days” are inaugurated in which “God declares: … I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh”.
This is the ancient prophecy to which the Apostle Peter refers in the first sermon of the Christian Church which was preached on the first Sunday of Pentecost (see Acts 2:17, Joel 2:28-32).
Once again it must be noted that the feast of Pentecost is not simply the celebration of an event which took place centuries ago. It is the celebration of what must happen and does happen to us in the Church today. We all have died and risen with the Messiah-King, andwe all have received His Most Holy Spirit. We are the “temples of the Holy Spirit”.
God’s Spirit dwells in us (see Romans 8; 1 Corinthians 2-3, 12; 11 Corinthians 3; Galatians 5; Ephesians 2-3). We, by our own membership in the Church, have received “the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit” in the sacrament of chrismation. Pentecost has happened to us.
The Divine Liturgy of Pentecost recalls our baptism into Christ with the verse from Galatians again replacing the Thrice-Holy Hymn. Special verses from the psalms also replace the usual antiphonal psalms of the liturgy.
The epistle and gospel readings tell of the Spirit’s coming to humanity. The kontakion sings of the reversal of Babel as God unites the nations into the unity of his Spirit. The troparion proclaims the gathering of the whole universe into God’s net through the work of the inspired apostles.
The hymns ‘O Heavenly King’ and ‘We have seen the True Light’ are sung for the first time since Easter, calling the Holy Spirit to “come and abide in us”, and proclaiming that “we have received the heavenly Spirit”.
The church building is decorated with flowers to show that God’s divine Breath comes to renew all creation as the “life-creating Spirit”. The word for Spirit, breath and wind in Hebrew is ruah.
Blessed are You, O Christ our God, who has revealed the fishermen as most wise by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit: through them You did draw the world into Your net. O Lover of Humanity, Glory to You (Troparion).
When the Most High came down and confused the tongues, He divided the nations. But when He distributed the tongues of fire, He called all to unity. Therefore, with one voice, we glorify the All-Holy Spirit! (Kontakion)
The Great Vespers of Pentecost evening features three long prayers at which the faithful kneel for the first time since Easter. The Monday after Pentecost is the feast of the Holy Spirit in the Orthodox Church, and the Sunday after Pentecost is the feast of All Saints.
This is the logical liturgical sequence since the coming of the Holy Spirit is fulfilled in the faithful by their becoming saints, and this is the very purpose of the creation and salvation of the world. “Thus says the Lord: Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I your God am holy” (Leviticus 11:44-45; I Peter 1:15-16).
Fr Thomas Hopko
SOURCE: The Orthodox Faith, v. 2, pp. 113-7