Feast of Pentecost
Father Peter Farrington
On this blessed and glorious feast of Pentecost we celebrate the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. We should not imagine that Pentecost is an optional extra, something not really connected with the events we remembered in our prayers over the Holy Week, on Good Friday and in the Feast of the Resurrection. The incarnation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Word of God become man for our salvation, is not fulfilled in the resurrection on Easter Sunday, but in the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church and the World, and the renewal of this divine life of the Holy Spirit in mankind.
It was for this purpose that the Word became man. Not simply to bring about the forgiveness of sin, and the destruction of the power of death, but to bring us to life in union with God, so that we might be filled with God Himself, the Holy Spirit, and experience each one of us, the transfiguration and transformation of this humble clay of our humanity, into silver and gold, fit for eternity.
This presence of the Holy Spirit within us is the fountain of life which our Lord Jesus spoke of to the woman at the well, when he said…
Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst again; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.
The Fathers of the Church are clear that the Lord Jesus is speaking here of the Holy Spirit, who becomes a source of life within us. The water of the world will not satisfy us for long, the refreshment found in the attractions of the things of this life. But the Holy Spirit will not fail in us and will provide a lasting source of spiritual refreshment and cleansing of our sins, preparing us for the life to come, if we desire this and seek after it.
The Lord Jesus intends us to be filled with the Holy Spirit in this manner. It was for this purpose that he endured the death of the cross, and the descent to Hades, and the destroying of death. It was so that we might receive the Holy Spirit and be united with God and live by the life of God.
This is what we teach in our prayers and sacraments. When we anoint a new Christian after their baptism we pray…
May the Lord Jesus Christ bless you; and in His Name RECEIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT.
What does this mean? It means that the Orthodox Church does not believe that it is possible to live the Christian life without the Holy Spirit. It is not possible to make a proper beginning without receiving the indwelling Spirit who is our true life. This is why the Fathers speak of the Christian life as being one of seeking to acquire the Holy Spirit above all else. Not just once and for all in baptism and chrismation, but as the determined purpose of our life to be united with the Spirit of God, to find grace and strength, to be transformed from glory unto glory.
If we consider the liturgy, in this regular weekly service of prayer we are also seeking the filling and indwelling with the Holy Spirit.
At the consecration I pray silently…
O Lord our God, we ask that your Holy Spirit would descendupon us and upon these gifts.
And I pray silently, considering my own unworthiness and say…
Because of my own sins and the abomination of my heart, do not deprive Your people of the grace of Your Holy Spirit.
We insist on the Pentecostal aspect of the Eucharist. It is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, and without his divine presence, sent from the Father, the body and blood of Christ, the Word of God, would not be received by those who gather for the forgiveness of their sins and eternal life.
We are to be sanctified by the coming of the Holy Spirit. Not by the mere celebration of religious rites. Orthodoxy has never taught that. Our salvation is found in our reception of the life-giving Holy Spirit, who dwells in us as we seek and desire to be sanctified. How do we receive this Holy Spirit? Orthodoxy teaches and has always taught that it is especially in the sacraments of baptism and chrismation, and in the regular and devout participation in the Eucharist. These sacraments are worked out in our life. They are fulfilled in our daily spirituality and service to others.
We rely on the Holy Spirit from the moment we wake, to the moment we sleep, and throughout the hours of rest. But the sacraments matter. It is in them that we receive our own experience of Pentecost and find that experience renewed week by week.
In our daily prayers we retain that strong sense as Orthodox Christians that we depend entirely on the Holy Spirit. In the prayers prayed in the middle of the morning, when we think especially of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, our daily prayer is this…
Your Holy Spirit, O Lord Whom You sent forth upon Your holy disciples and honoured apostles in the third hour, do not take away from us, O Good One, but renew Him within us. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence. And do not take Your Holy Spirit away from me.
And we even address prayer to the Holy Spirit himself in these daily prayers…
O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, who is present in all places and fills all, the treasury of good things and the Life‑Giver, graciously come, and dwell in us and purify us from all defilement, O Good One, and save our souls.
The Holy Spirit is a constant presence in the life of the Orthodox Christian. It is not possible to become a catechumen without looking forward to receiving the Holy Spirit. The very substance of the Orthodox sacraments of Baptism and Chrismation are to allow the candidate to receive new life, forgiveness of sins and the indwelling Holy Spirit. The regular spirituality of the Eucharist is linked explicitly with a sense that those gathered are waiting to receive the Holy Spirit who is poured out upon them as they worship. And finally, even in our daily prayers we do not cease to ask for the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit, uniting such hope and expectation with the desire for holiness of life and faithfulness to Christ.
This has certainly been my experience in increasing measure as I have sought to make the spirituality of the Orthodox Church my own. I have come to understand that it is not a religion with complex rites and rituals, but it is the means by which we enter into a life–giving relationship with the Holy Spirit who is our own true life in Christ and the gift of our Heavenly Father.
I have seen such peace and joy and a sense of the light of the Spirit in some of the best and most spiritual of those among the Orthodox. They are an inspiration to me to seek a deeper and richer and more transforming experience of the Holy Spirit in Orthodoxy for myself.
May this be the experience of all, as we seek the fulness of the Holy Spirit above all else. Amen.