Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: Pentecost, The Paraclete Arrives, Birthday of The Church
Volume 7 No. 419 June 2, 2017
IV. Featured: The Pentecost

Questions and Answers On Pentecost

by Fr Andrew

1. Would you say that Pentecost is the most important feast after the Nativity of Christ?

I think if you want to start an argument among Orthodox, this question might be a good way!

First of all, there is the feast of feasts, Pascha or Easter, the Feast of the Resurrection, which is higher than all other feasts.

Then there are other feasts, like the Nativity of Christ, or Christmas, the Baptism of Christ, or Theophany, and Trinity Day, or Pentecost. I am not sure what the order of importance is, but since the Nativity of Christ is the Feast of the Incarnation and Pentecost is the Feast of the Holy Trinity and the Holy Spirit, perhaps that is a good order of importance. After all, the two most important revelations to us are the Incarnation of the Son of God and the Holy Trinity.

Nevertheless, perhaps you could argue that the Annunciation, that is the Conception of Christ, is the true feast of the Incarnation. Although it is a feast of the Mother of God, it should therefore precede the Nativity of Christ in importance - the Nativity could not have taken place without the consent of the Mother of God at His Conception. However, in the end, such considerations, though of interest, are certainly not vital for our salvation. The main thing is to come to church for all of these feasts and take part in them, rather than go into such detail.

2. What does the word Pentecost mean?

First of all, I should say that the most common name for this feast is 'Trinity Day', rather than the more formal 'Pentecost'. This is because this feast is the revelation of the Holy Spirit, and therefore the revelation of the fullness of the Holy Trinity, for until today, we had only known the Father and the Son. The Son had promised us the 'Comforter' and today He is here, in fulfillment of that promise.

Pentecost is simply the Greek word for fifty. Pentecost comes 50 days after Easter. The significance of this is that even in the Old Testament (Leviticus 25), the number 50 was special. This is because seven is the number of fullness or completion (God rested on the seventh day, after the six days of Creation). 7 x 7 is therefore a particular sign of fullness and 50 is of course 7 x 7 + 1. Therefore, in the Old Testament, every fiftieth year was called a Jubilee year. The Jubilee year was not only the end of the old Jubilee period, but also the beginning of the new one. Thus, there were forty-nine years between each Jubilee year.

By adding one to seven, we reach eight. Eight is seen as the number of what is beyond the fullness of this world, beyond Creation, beyond created time and space, what is part of the age to come, 'the eighth day'. Thus, Pentecost, the Descent of the Holy Spirit to earth, is the fullness of the revelation of the Holy Trinity. This is why it is called Trinity Day. The Descent of the Holy Spirit from heaven is the sign of the other world, the age to come, 'the eighth day', penetrating into this world. That is why baptisteries were, and still are, octagonal. They symbolize the person baptized entering into the other world, becoming a citizen of the Kingdom to come, 'the eighth day'.

3. Why do we decorate the church with flowers and hold flowers during the service?

Flowers and greenery denote life and as we say and sing in the Creed: 'I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life…', and again in the prayer 'Heavenly King' which we should all know by heart, we call the Holy Spirit 'the Giver of Life'. This is why the clergy usually wear green vestments. Green means life, and without the Holy Spirit, we are spiritually dead.

4. In today's Epistle, it is said that the apostles seemed to be drunk when they received the Holy Spirit. And yet in the Church we always talk about spiritual sobriety. Why the difference?

First of all, I don't think we should dare to compare ourselves with the apostles. They had with their own eyes seen the Crucifixion, seen the Risen Christ. When they received the Holy Spirit, they saw visible tongues of fire. This was a unique event. We commemorate it, but since we are not saints, we cannot expect to see tongues of fire or to be 'drunk' with Spirit, as they were. To think that we can experience what they did would be incredibly pretentious on our part. This is like the illusion that some people have that 'they are saved'. Not a single one of us who has the slightest dose of humility can possibly think that we are already saved. It would be towering pride to think such a thing.

In general, we have to be wary of emotions, emotionalism and physical excitement. There are people who work themselves up into exalted physical and emotional states and imagine that they're almost saints. In the nineteenth century, this was called revivalism among Protestants, later the term 'Pentecostalism' was used, nowadays it is called the charismatic movement. This always happens among Protestants or the Protestantized. For example, there is a strong charismatic movement in Roman Catholicism and the people concerned are very protestantized. It is not Orthodox, because it is not spiritual. It is a very dangerous thing to confuse movements of the body or emotional sensations with spirituality. The two are quite different things. Some bodily sensations and emotions can be demonically inspired. We must take care.

The danger of all this emotion and physical excitement is that it creates self-induced states of illusion, of spiritual pride. The way of combating these is in sobriety, which is why there's such an emphasis on that in the Orthodox Church. That is why we do not laugh in church, we do not make jokes, why we are serious. At a meal afterwards, that is another story, we are freer. At a parish feast, we may all tell jokes and laugh. But any child (or adult) who has a fit of the giggles in church needs to leave at once, calm down and come back when they are ready to pray. It is unbecoming. The church is the house of God. There is a time and a place for everything.

5. On the day of Pentecost, it is written that the apostles spoke in tongues. Why do we not see this today in the Orthodox Church?

The first part of my answer is the same as to the previous question. Because we are not the apostles. We are unworthy, we are not on their level. Just imagine if one of us began truly to speak in tongues, how proud we would become. It will not happen to us, because the sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit is not pride, but of course humility and modesty, absence of sin. That we do not have today.

However, I think there is a second reason too. This is that the apostles needed to speak in tongues to make themselves understood. Nowadays, if we want to learn a language, we can go to school, take lessons with someone from another country, buy a CD, book or translator, learn from the Internet. But the Apostles depended on the Spirit to communicate. Many of them, as we sing in the troparion of the feast, were simple fishermen, made 'most wise' by the Holy Spirit. Nowadays, in our international times, I am not sure that the most useful gift of the Spirit is speaking in tongues. Rather, it might be just the gift to keep practising our faith at a time when hardly anyone does. Our churches are relatively empty. The witness of the Spirit is in the few who still come. Don't tell me that people who do not go to church are Christians. They are not.

On this question of speaking in tongues, I was told many years ago of someone who was at a charismatic meeting and they had a session of speaking in tongues. Some people stood up and began making strange, almost animal-like noises, like barking. Then one person stood up and began speaking in an unknown language. Then another stood up and shouted out: 'Stop him, he's blaspheming the Mother of God'. Apparently, the man who had interrupted had worked as a scientist in South America and had recognised the language the other person had spoken in as an Amazonian native language. Indeed, the person speaking it had been blaspheming the Mother of God. Here there is a clear case of demonic interference, a demon taking over a human-being in order to blaspheme.

I think there is a very important point here. How do we distinguish human-beings from animals? One of the most important things is speech. Human-beings have the word. This is because we are made in the image and likeness of the Word, that is Christ. Animals are not. To reduce human-beings to a wordless state, or Word-less state, is a demonic action. We are not animals, though constantly at the present time, we see some human-beings behaving bestially to each other.

I don't want to sound priggish, but we really should take care of our language, the way we speak it, the way we write it. This is more than a matter of safeguarding human culture, it is a matter of safeguarding the divine spark within us, our divine origins and destiny. Thus, when human-beings are reduced to animal-like states or trances at a so-called charismatic meeting, I do not want to be there. I have even heard it said that many people who have been through the charismatic movement have been made mentally ill by it, that is, they have been deprived of their reason, their 'logos' or 'word'.

The demons want to take away from us 'the Word'. Imagine how they mock human-beings who crawl around on all fours and bark, and who at the same time actually believe that they are praising God. Such illusion was known to the Latin Fathers as 'illusio' (from where we have the English word illusion), to the Greek Fathers as 'plani', to the Slav Fathers as 'prelest'. It is very difficult to escape from this state of illusion, once you have been caught by it, because you are so convinced, however ridiculously you behave, that you are right and even virtuous. It is pride of mind.

6. Who is the figure in red in the black space, beneath the apostles, at the bottom of the icon of The Descent of the Holy Spirit?

Pentecost: Descent of the Holy Spirit-Orthodox Icon
Pentecost: Descent of the Holy Spirit
Orthodox Icon

If you look carefully, you will see, usually in Greek letters, the word 'The Cosmos' above him in the black. This crowned figure symbolizes all the knowledge of the universe, 'the Cosmos'. This includes all the knowledge of the ancient world, of the pagan Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Indians, the Chinese, all the knowledge that was in the world up until the Descent of the Holy Spirit. Much of that knowledge was in itself purely neutral and concerned technologies to grow food and obtain water, make clothes and tools, build boats and houses, care for the human body, write records and stories, create calendars, wonder about God etc. On the day of Pentecost, all such useful knowledge was sanctified and became useful to the Church and the construction of an Orthodox Christian civilization.

Thus, our whole civilization began with Pentecost, the revelation of the Holy Trinity, the coming of the Holy Spirit to mankind. From that day on, our whole civilization became Trinitarian. As one religious writer put it: 'There is nothing between the Holy Trinity and hell'. If we reject the Holy Trinity, revealed on the day of Pentecost, then we reject the whole of our civilization and our life becomes hellish, infernal. There's something for us all to think about.

Source: St John's Orthodox Church, Colchester

Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit
Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit
  1. Wisdom
  2. Understanding
  3. Counsel
  4. Fortitude
  5. Knowledge
  6. Piety
  7. Fear of the Lord

"There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. " (Isaiah 11:1-3)

The moral life of Christians is sustained by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These are permanent dispositions which make man docile in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit (CCC §1830)

The Twelve Fruits of the Holy Spirit

  1. Charity
  2. Joy
  3. Peace
  4. Patience
  5. Kindness
  6. Goodness
  7. Generosity
  8. Gentleness
  9. Faithfulness
  10. Modesty
  11. Self-control
  12. Chastity

"The fruits of the Spirit are perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory" (CCC§1832)

Tongues as of Fire

by Fr. Jack Peterson, YA

Gospel Commentary on JN 14:15-16, 23B-26

Something enormously significant happened to Jesus’ followers 50 days after the Resurrection. St. Luke recounts that day in the Acts of the Apostles by using intense images and language.

“And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit.”

In the same way that our limited minds will never be able to fully grasp the vastness of space (for example, the energy in the stars, the complexity of black holes, the number of galaxies and the distances between them), so our brains will never fully understand how incredibly important the Holy Spirit is in the life of the Christian.

We do get glimpses of the importance of the Holy Spirit in Scripture and Tradition, in personal prayer and in our efforts to live the Gospel way of life on a daily basis. I shall limit this reflection to four glimpses, rooted in our Scriptures for today.

1. The Holy Spirit is the means by which God chooses to come and dwell in our hearts and souls. God made us because of His great love and He desires to be in relation with us on a personal level in order to share the enormity of His life and love with us. The goodness of this gift is beyond comprehension. Jesus says in our Gospel for today, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” St. Paul speaks of the same reality in his letter to the Romans, “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you.”

2. The same Spirit, the Advocate, is one who actually makes faith in God possible for the Christian. St. Paul, in the letter to the Corinthians, proclaims that we can’t even believe in Jesus without the assistance of the Holy Spirit: “Brothers and sisters, no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” In Romans, he says something very similar regarding our faith in God, the Father: “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, “Abba, Father!” The Holy Spirit is God’s precious gift to us that enables us to believe in the Father and the Son.

3. The Holy Spirit sends us out to bear witness to the Risen Christ in our world. The Book of Acts goes on to describe the Pentecost event by noting that people from every nation on earth were staying in Jerusalem and heard the disciples of Jesus speaking in their own language about the mighty acts of God. Each of us has been filled with the same Holy Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation. By means of our unique personality, our God-given talents and interests, and with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, we are able to speak to people of today about Christ and His mighty works in a way that can pierce them to the heart. There are people in our lives who may never hear about Christ in a positive and encouraging way if we do not speak about Him.

4. The Holy Spirit is guaranteed guidance for the church. Christ’s teaching was a critical part of His saving work. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus established the church for a variety of reasons, one of which was to preserve, protect, and to pass down the truths necessary for our salvation as well as to apply those truths to new cultures and future realities down through the ages. The church needs clear guidance for this part of her mission. The Holy Spirit, poured out upon the church, is the guarantee of that guidance. Jesus refers to this role of the Holy Spirit when He says to his disciples: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”

This promise of the Holy Spirit, working through the Magisterium of the Church, is an immensely important gift of Jesus to the church. It gives us confidence that the church will always teach without error regarding faith and morals. It gives the church the capacity to stand up against the winds of changing culture, the latest philosophical trends, and clever talk show hosts with the truth of Jesus.

Come Holy Spirit. Fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth Your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth. O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

About The Author:

Fr. Peterson is assistant chaplain at Marymount University in Arlington.

Source: Arlington Catholic Herald

The Byzantine and Orthodox Hymns for Pentecost Feast
Blessed are You, O Christ our God,
Who has shown the fishermen to be all wise,
by sending down to them the Holy Spirit,
and through them You have caught the whole world in Your net.
O Lover of Mankind, glory to You.

(Troparion, Tone 8)

When the Most High descended, confusing tongues,
He divided the nations;
but when He distributed the tongues of fire,
He called all to unity;
and, with one voice,
we glorify the Most Holy Spirit.

(Kontakion, Tone 8)

An Everlasting Picture: Pentecost and the Story of Ruth

Walk Thru the Bible

[The following is an excerpt from A Walk Thru the Book of Ruth: Loyalty and Love a small group study guide from Walk Thru the Bible and Baker Books.
© 2009 by Walk Thru the Bible]

Of all the megillot - the five scrolls read at feasts throughout the Jewish year - the favorite of many is the scroll read in the congregation on Shavuot. It's the Feast of Weeks, the harvest festival that falls fifty days after the feast of Firstfruits. Traditionally, it's also the holiday that commemorates that earthshaking day when God gave the Law to Israel on Mount Sinai, the day when the congregation of God's people made a commitment: "We will do everything the Lord has said to do" (Exodus 19:8). The sages saw it as Israel's betrothal to her God. The symbolism, many feel, is irresistible.

So congregants listen closely and savor the second megillah - the book of Ruth. It's no mystery that this is the scroll congregations have always read during Weeks. It's a story of a commitment to God, an abundant harvest, and a betrothal. It represents everything a marriage is meant to be: holy, heaven-sent, and heartwarming.

The Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot, is also known as Pentecost. Jews from around the empire were gathered in Jerusalem one Pentecost long ago, and the Spirit of God fell on a group of believers gathered to worship and wait for the Messiah. The good news these believers proclaimed in various languages would mark the beginning of a vast and rapid expansion of God's people that would include Gentiles as well as Jews.

It's no coincidence that the Spirit came at a harvest festival; and it's fitting that the book Jews still read today at that festival is Ruth - a story of an impoverished Gentile who became one of God's people by betrothal to a man with an inheritance in the land. The message? Marry into this family of God. It's as if God was creating a picture over the centuries to represent his ultimate plan for the nations. He would bring a multi-ethnic harvest into his inheritance through a romantic redemption.

The Gentile Light

Even from the beginning of Abraham's story and the promise God gave him, God's chosen people were to be a light to the nations. Throughout scripture, God-fearing people everywhere were drawn to Israel's faith. There were Egyptians who left with Israel in the Exodus, a harlot of Jericho who joined God's people in the conquest of Canaan, Gentiles who served God during the ministries of Elijah and Elisha, a queen who came to Jerusalem to marvel at Solomon's wisdom and wealth, Assyrians who repented at Jonah's preaching, and Romans who aligned themselves with Jewish synagogues. The international, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual message of God's kingdom was not a New Testament innovation. God has always been relentless about drawing the world to himself.

God calls and equips his people to be fruitful. Jesus made that clear through numerous parables and principles. His kingdom is in a long harvest season of gathering sheaves of grain from the fields. Like Ruth, we're invited into his fields to work. He makes sure we're protected from those who would harm us or send us away, and he leaves plenty of gleanings so we can gather with him.

The Bride

God's ultimate purpose for his people is like Boaz' ultimate purpose for Ruth: marriage and children. We see that at a great wedding at the end of Revelation. One gets the impression that God orchestrated the remarkable events of Ruth all along - across cultures, geographical boundaries, and adverse circumstances - in order to bring Boaz and Ruth together as a match made in heaven. And one gets the impression from the Bible as a whole that he's been doing the same in bringing us to Jesus. Scripture is clear that God is preparing a bride for his Son; this is what all of history is leading up to. Like Ruth, the bride of Christ begins as a foreigner from an immoral land steeped in idolatry; but in our desolation, we commit to him and he takes us in. We go from forsaken widow to beloved bride, and the blessings of the kingdom are ours to enjoy.

The book of Ruth is a romance with a very happy ending - just as scripture is as a whole. It's a cosmic story played out on a very personal scale in a seemingly random story in the Old Testament. Ultimately, the book of Ruth is our story too. It's the story of any human being who leaves everything behind to believe in Israel's God and the Redeemer he has provided. That's a choice that is filled with blessing and grafts us forever into the family of God.

© 2009 by Walk Thru the Bible
Source: Today's Topical Study Bible


Malankara World Journal is published by
Copyright © 2011-2019 Malankara World. All Rights Reserved.