Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Devotional Thoughts for The Feast of Pentecost

Feast of Pentecost: Towards an Organic Communion

by Fr. Dr. Jacob Mathew

One season is ending; another is beginning. The season of Resurrection is giving way to the season of Holy Spirit. Yes, the advent of Holy Spirit on the feast of Pentecost is here. Some questions are relevant in this context. "Who is God, the Holy Spirit? Why does the Church pay such heavy importance to the Holy Spirit? What does He do?" It is good to understand the answers of these questions on this great feast.

The Nicene Creed defines God the Holy Spirit as "holy and living Lord, the giver of life of all, who proceeds from the Father, worshiped and glorified along with the Son, spoke through the prophets and the apostles". Our faith is basing on this symbol confirmed in the Ecumenical Council of 150 Fathers at Constantinople in 381. Fathers have come to this conclusion only from the biblical precepts and those biblical precepts are laid down in front of us to understand on this day of the great feast of the advent of "the Comforter, the Paraclete (Jn 14:26)".

Holy Spirit is the spirit of truth (Jn 16:13). Holy Spirit guides the children of God into and in truth (cf. Jn 16:13). Therefore, the big question here is, 'what is truth?' Pontius Pilate also asks the same question in Jn 18:38. Pilate could not see the truth standing in front of him and his eyes were not receiving the light radiating from the truth, namely, Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 14:6). Therefore, the answer to the first question, who is Holy Spirit, will sound like "He is the spirit, who guides the children of God to see the truth and then guide them into truth. Once reached the truth, God, the Holy Spirit, will keep them firm in truth, namely, in Jesus Christ." Even when adversities rise up against the children of God and forces them away from truth, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit will hold them in Him. Jesus is using the imagery of a vine shoot and branches (Jn 15:1ff) to explain this mystery. Jesus is the vine and the faithful are the branches. Just as a branch is firm on the vine, the faithful are firm in Jesus Christ. Strong wind of trials and temptations can blow upon them and even very powerfully though. The branch can be sifted in the stark wind from here to there, up and down and back and forth. However, the connection between the branch and the vine will remain unsevered, because the Holy Spirit is the firm link that connects the branch with the vine. Holy Spirit is the comforter to the faithful, whom the devil troubles, tramples, even sifts like wheat (cf. Lk 22:31) in one's journey towards the kingdom of God. In other words, Holy Spirit facilitates a faithful to remain stable, withstand without yielding to the attacks of the devil, and thereby 'abide in Jesus' so that Jesus abides in him/her. Said otherwise, Holy Spirit leads the faithful into truth and holds them in truth, namely, in Jesus Christ.

"Abiding in Jesus" is highly a profound concept. The verb 'abide' in this context means to remain, stay, continue, live, exist, to be in, and to carry on. Therefore, abiding in Jesus would imply the unlimited communion with God. This is the same idea that St. Paul is teaching the faithful by the term 'in Christ' in Rom 8:1 and II Cor 5:17. The idea of 'in Christ and abide in Jesus' is not to be understood in a time bound fashion though. That is forever and unto the eternal life (cf. Jn 10:28).
Jesus is defining the concept 'abide' in various ways. In the gospel of John chapter 15, Jesus says that just as Jesus kept the commandments of His Father, keeping His commandments will help one to abide in Him. Jesus kept the commandments of the Father and thus remained in His love. Therefore, if one keeps the commandments of Jesus, one will remain in the love of Jesus and will abide in Him. ln I Jn 2, John the evangelist elaborates the concept "abide in Jesus" as keeping Jesus' words and walking the same path He walked. In other words, emulating the incarnate Lord will help one to abide in Him. This is the understanding of theosis or deification, which the Orthodox fathers have repeatedly emphasized. When one is in the path of deification, one becomes alien to sinning and that is abiding in Him (cf. I Jn 3:6). In return, Jesus will abide in him/her, who abides in Jesus.

Abide in Jesus and Jesus abiding in the faithful has another practical connotation too for the faithful. We read in Jn 6:56, where Jesus admonishes His hearers to eat His flesh and drink His blood. Then Jesus will abide in him/her and he/she will abide in Jesus. The imagery of Jesus, namely, the vine and branches, has a parallel in the writings of St. Paul. In his letter to Romans (11:13-24), St. Paul speaks about the agricultural technique of grafting. The gentiles are compared with the wild olive branches and the Hebrews are likened to the natural branches of a cultivated olive tree. Because of their disbelief and reconciling with the world, the natural branches, the Hebrews, were cut off. The wild olive branches were grafted into the cultivated olive tree, which is Jesus Christ, so that the grafted branches can be part of the cultivated root and stem. St. Paul is using another parallel here to make the concept more vivid. "For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches." (Rom 11:16). In other words, the grafted branches are holy by virtue of the act of grafting. The sap that flows into the branch is from the holy trunk and that makes the branch share the holiness of the trunk. The roots draw water and food and send them to the branches. Similarly, the Holy Eucharist, the flesh and blood of Jesus, which the faithful receive to welcome Jesus to abide in him/her is the food and drink that one needs to remain and abide in Jesus Christ. This imagery has a master parallel, which we see in Jn 14:10, 11. Jesus says that He is in the Father and the Father is in Him.

In continuation, Jesus exhorts the disciples on the continuity of the equation between Him and the Father, namely, Father in Jesus, Jesus in the faithful, the faithful in Jesus and again, Jesus in the Father. Similar to the sap that flows between the branch and the trunk in the imagery of the olive tree, the principle that proceeds from the Father, goes to the Son and from the Son to the faithful, the all-uniting norm between these three instances, is the Holy Spirit, who advents to the faithful on this feast of Pentecost. That is precisely what the Holy Spirit does, namely, He is the Spirit of divine unity.

It is in this context that Jesus says to the disciples that He will not leave them orphans (cf. Jn 14:18). When the Spirit of comfort, the Spirit of truth comes, the happiness of Jesus will remain in the faithful. Happiness, word and love of Jesus, which He shares with the Father and Holy Spirit, are making faithful the children of God. Such a faithful will lead a life of holiness, with three mystically converging parallels in eternity, namely, faith for the soul, chastity for the body and truth for the tongue, says St. Gregory Nyssa. Keeping all these facts in mind, the Church pays extreme importance to the uniting and teaching principle of Godhead, the Comforter and Counselor, the Holy Spirit.

This vertical relationship of the faithful with God has a horizontal dimension too. Every faithful is a branch that is attached to the vine or the trunk. The sap that flows into every branch is the same and from the same source. Therefore, the life in every branch or every faithful is the same. Seen in this angle, every faithful is sharing in the life in Jesus. This mystery is called communion with God. When every faithful is in communion with God, there is communion between every faithful as well. Said otherwise, the communion between every faithful is the reflection of their communion with God. The Orthodox Church understands the concept of 'koinonia' or communion only in this fashion. Exactly here lies one of the major differences between the Oriental/Eastern Orthodox and Western/Catholic/Protestant Churches. For the Orthodox, communion between the faithful is organic, dynamic, intrinsic and animate, just like the communion between the faithful and God as facilitated by the Holy Spirit. It is beyond an inorganic, human-centered, objective-driven fellowship. In a 'fellowship', each individual is existing as an individual 'fellow' and then is trying to find out some common grounds in the other 'fellow' to discover a fellowship between them. Therefore, the selfless love one sees in God and in the Orthodox understanding of communion is missing in every fellowship. Therefore, our parishes need to grow from being a mere fellowship to a more organic, dynamic, intrinsic and animate communion between our members. May this feast of Pentecost help us understand the meaning of communion, namely, Jesus abiding in us and we in Jesus, in a more vivid manner and lead us deeper into the spirit of divine communion! Let us open ourselves to God, the Holy Spirit, so that He can organically and lively work among the faithful and in our parishes on this feast of Pentecost!

About The Author:

Fr. Dr. Jacob Mathew is with St. Paul's Orthodox Church of Greater Orlando, Florida. He is not related in any way to Dr. Jacob Mathew, Chief Editor and Founder of Malankara World.

See Also:

Pentecost Supplement in Malankara World

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