Descent of the Holy Spirit

My Christian brethren, today is the great Feast of Pentecost, the Descent of the Holy Spirit. This was also celebrated in the Old Testament. It was the Passover of the Jews, or the crossing of the Red Sea—the exodus from the Egyptian bondage—and on Pentecost they celebrated 50 days after the crossing of the Red Sea when the law of Moses was given on Mount Sinai. Well, we now have the great and true Passover, the old celebrations being a foreshadowing of the new one. The Jews passed from the Egyptian bondage to the Promised Land; the Savior passed from death to life, and He took us with Him in His passage.

So Pascha is the transition from death to life, and at Pentecost we do not receive the Tablets of the Law but the Most Holy Spirit through whom the Law was written.

This is not only a historical event but also a cosmic one. It is the first time the Holy Spirit poured out on mankind, fulfilling the Father’s promise. The descent of the Holy Spirit is the Father’s promise through the Prophet Joel in the Old Testament, 800 years before the Savior: “After this it shall come to pass that I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh; your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions” (Joel 3.1). We read in the book of Acts: “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” (2.1–5). Because it was a great feast, multitudes came to Jerusalem from all over the world. “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 marveled, 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?” (6–8).

The Descent of the Holy Spirit, mosaic, Hosios Loukas Monastery, Distomo, Greece, c. 1025

First, let us talk about this gift of tongues which somehow the Pentecostals appropriated, distorted, and trivialized. The gift that the apostles had then—to speak in their own language but to be understood by the others in theirs—is a special work of the Holy Spirit meant for preaching. But there are many gifts of the Holy Spirit. Speaking in tongues is just one of them. As St. Paul says: “God has appointed these in the Church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues” (I Corinthians 12.28). We each have a gift of the Holy Spirit, and all of us received the grace of the Holy Spirit at baptism. When we are baptized, we receive the mystery of Chrismation, of the Holy Spirit. So speaking in tongues is not a sign of the Holy Spirit’s coming. It was manifested so at that time because those people needed to understand the apostles. But there are many gifts of the Holy Spirit, and each of us is called to work out our own gift. For example, we as priests receive a special grace from the Holy Spirit by the hierarchs’ placing the hands, the grace of the priesthood, through which we can serve in the Holy Altar. Yet we do not change on the outside. We work the same as before, we are not different from other people; but when the time comes to celebrate services, we can perform them by the grace bestowed on us, which is activated during such services. The rest remains as if we did not have it. If anyone looks at us from the outside, he does not know that we are priests, but the grace is there. It is the same with all Christians. We are all anointed, we are all “Christs.” Christ means “anointed.” So we are Christians, Christs—that is, we are anointed with the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Chrismation, and we are called to act on it. It becomes active with every deed of ours. It is what the fathers mean when they say, “Give your will and you’ll get power.” Or in the words of Father Arsenie Papacioc: “You move, so does grace. You idle, so does grace.”

We have those images depicted by the Savior about the kingdom of heaven. That it is akin to the dough that the woman leavened (cf. Matthew 13.33) or to the seed the gardener scattered in the ground and tended, seed which bore fruit though the gardener did not know how (cf. Mark 4.26-29). There are many similarities, but they all share this core: We receive a seed, something delicate—that is, this grace of the Holy Spirit—and by our fruitfulness, by what we know how to do, we must grow it in ourselves. And slowly, gradually we will uncover it within ourselves. Then we will be able to feel it. It is inconspicuous, mysterious, but that does not mean it does not exist: it exists and it grows. Our work is that we must make room for it in ourselves. It must leaven us. Similarly to the saints. I always like to talk about [our Romanian elders’] pictures: Father Cleopa, in that picture in which he looks sideways, is full of the Holy Spirit— it exudes through every pore. The fathers kneaded their human nature, rendered it proper for the Most Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit rested in them. Our Fathers were God bearers. This is everyone’s goal.

There are many gifts, not just speaking in tongues or the gift of prophecy. It is this vision, in the sense that the saints see the state of man. A nun who recently went on a pilgrimage to Greece, to the monastery of a great contemporary saint, Jacob Tsalikis, spoke with his disciples, who shared some things about this saint, about how he was. For example, during confession he would say to them: “Perhaps on that day you did this or that …” And they had really done what the Saint said. In the end, he would say all their sins.

The gifts are many and each of us has his own. But we must activate it. That is, we ought to work it in good conscience. Let us start with what we know we need to do. We know that we must do good; that we must help; that we must be patient and endure more, obey, and keep silent. Small things, really, but if we do these, we increase the grace in us. Indeed, all these leaven us.

Much can be said about today’s holiday. We spoke but scarce and poor words. Yet let us remember that we have the grace of the Holy Spirit and that we must multiply it, we must work it, we must activate it through everything we do, through hard work, through sacrifice, through tears, through prayers, through love, through everything. And we ought to remember that even if something bad happens, we should not be discouraged because our hearts, humbled in this way, become much more apt to receive the Holy Spirit and are leavened for His coming. May God help us renew ourselves as indwelling places of God, temples of the Holy Spirit. We already are but let us become fuller with God’s aid! Amen!