Before Christ ascended into heaven he commanded his disciples to return to Jerusalem after His Ascension and to remain there until they were empowered with power He would send from heaven. (Lk 24:49) He promised to send them the Holy Spirit.
They did as He commanded and remained in Jerusalem in quiet prayer in the “Upper room for the ten days. (Lk 24:53)
This promise was realized 50 days after Pascha and 10 days after His Ascension.
This event is what we celebrate as Pentecost.
Why is this such a significant event?
The incarnation of Christ was aimed at victory over death and the coming of the Holy Spirit into the Hearts of men. On this day the Apostles received the Holy Spirit in their hearts and were empowered to carry the Good News to all nations without fear. This was their Baptism. Christ said right after his resurrection: “For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5). When the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles it baptized them. This is when they became members of the Body of Christ. This is why it is one of the twelve major feasts of the Orthodox Church. It is the last of the divine Economy. It competes the The Apostle began to establish Churches so we all could be healed of our sinfulness, awake the Holy Spirit in our hearts and become like God and join in union with Him.
Why is it called Pentecost?
The Holy Spirit was Sent to the Apostle on a Sunday and during the Jewish feast of Pentecost. Pentecost was a Jewish Feast commemorating Moses’ receipt of God’s Law on Mt. Sinai. It was forty days after the Jewish passover when Moses went up on Mt. Sinai and received the Law. For the Jews, Pentecost was also an expression of their thankfulness for the first harvest of the year. It was when they offered the “first fruits’ of their harvest in the temple. It was called the Feast of Weeks (Ex. 34,22, Lev 23, 15, 16,17, Num 28, 26,31, Deut 16, 9-19) in the Old Testament.
This was a most appropriate time for this Christian event to take place. Jewish Pentecost became for Christians the New Testament Pentecost. Moses received the Law and the disciples received the Holy Spirit. Instead of the first fruits of the harvest being offered as a sacrifice, the disciples of Christ were offered to God as the “first fruits” of the Incarnation.
The New Testament event is quite different from Old Testament one. When Moses received the Tablets with the Ten Commandments, the mountain was “completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole people quaked greatly” (Ex19,18) Also they were given the commandment that no one should touch the mountain or else they would die. (Ex. 19,12) The experience the Disciples had was quite different. They were filled with joy and were transformed from the fearful and cowardly men we saw at the time of the Crucifixion, to charismatic, courageous and fearless men destined to convert the world to Honor the triune God of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They now were given the gifts to carry on the work of Christ for the salvation of all peoples.
The law of the Old Testament was given on stone tablets. The new law of the New Testament was engraved on the hearts of the Apostles by the Holy Spirit. Paul says, “clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.” (2 Cor 3:3) It fulfilled the prophecy of the Prophet Jeremiah as Paul tells us, “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (Heb 8:10, Jeremiah 31:33).
How did this happen?
The event is recorded by Luke 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. (Acts 2:1-4)
All the disciples (about 120) including the Mother Mary spent ten days in Jerusalem together in quiet prayer and fasting awaiting the Holy Spirit to be sent to them by Christ.
This is a lesson for us. Saint John Chrysostom reminds us, “Observe, how when one is continuing in prayer, when one is in charity, then it is that the Spirit draws near.” It was with intense preparation that Christ sent the Holy Spirit to the disciples.
Holy Spirit came as a “rushing mighty wind.”
This shows that the Holy Spirit conquers all things.
Tongues as of Fire
The first perceptible manifestation of the Holy Spirit came in the form of tongues. Why tongues? To show union with the Word of God. Nothing is more closely related to the word than the tongue. It shows the Holy Spirit’s work does not differ from the Word of God. One of the gifts they were given is to speak in different languages so they could carry the news of salvation to people of all nations. This was important as at this festival the pious from all places came to Jerusalem. The visitors to Jerusalem were amazed to hear the Apostles speaking in their language of each country. There were Parthian, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Egyptians. There were people from Pontus, Cappadocia, Judea, Asia, Lybia, Cyrene, Rome, Crete and Arabia. Such a gathering was ideal for the spread of the message of Christ’s Teaching, death and Resurrection.
Why were they “as of fire”? It does not say “tongues of fire but “as of tongues of fire. This is not a physical incarnation of the Holy Spirit any more than the fire Moses faced at the burning bush. This fire was not created but uncreated in nature. This uncreated fire shows the Holy Spirit’s consubstantiality with the Father and the Son, for God is a “consuming fire.” (Heb 12:29) Shows that the Holy Spirit has the same nature and energy as the Father and the Son. It also shows the double nature of the Apostles teaching. Fire gives light and inflames. Just like Christ’s teaching which illuminates those who obey and punishes those who disobey.
It also says that “one sat on each of them.” This shows us that each receives god’s grace with different gifts. Paul says, "the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: 8 for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills." (1Cor 12:7-11) No one has the whole of divine grace except for Christ. Each person has a different gift, not all gifts. It is when we join together in the Church were we have the fullness of Grace and we function just like our body with its different parts coordinated by the head which in the case of the Church is Christ Himself.
Clothed with Power
We mentioned earlier that Jesus commanded the Disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they were “clothed with the power from on high” (Lk 24:49) which they did (Lk 24:53).
But what does it mean to be “clothed in”? Christ is not simply saying they would receive the Holy spirit, but that they would be clothed with it. This implies some kind of spiritual armor that will help them fight the enemy. He was not talking about an enlightenment of their minds, but a transformation of their whole being. They would receive it in a way that they would be abel to act anew in the world without fear.
A Christian’s clothing in the Holy Spirit is not outward and superficial but is inward. All who receive the Holy spirit feel that it fills their heart, brings new acuteness to their senses, counteracts thoughts, brings new insights.
Saint John Chrysostom says, “For wherever the Holy Spirit is present, He makes men of gold out of men of clay.”
That day they baptized 3000. All the Apostles went out to spread the Word. All were martyred except of John who lived to be an old age.
Example for Us on How to Acquire Holy Spirit
Church Fathers teach that the holy Spirit is active and the whole of creation and all people, each person partakes of its energies in accordance with his receptivity.
St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite on how we acquire the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Apostles give us an example. Obeying Christ’s commands they returned to Jerusalem and waited there continually until they received the Holy Spirit. This is the way we too can participate in the energy of the Holy Spirit. We must disregard all the things of this world and when our nous returns to the heart, as to a temple, we can pray without ceasing in accordance with the words of the Apostle Paul “pray continually (1 Thes 5:17). We must rise above what is earthly and all sensuality an all the passions and be in the upper room all the time. Then the heart will be rid of passion and the soul will be at peace form blasphemous, evil and disgraceful thoughts.
St Basil says that it is impossible for us to become capable of receiving divine grace unless we put all evil passions our of our soul. “What was there before must be poured out in order to be able to contain what is brought in.”
When the deified attain a state of spiritual life, they share in Pentecost and become apostles of Jesus Christ. Pentecost is the high point of glorification and deification.
Even if he has been baptized the grace of baptism remains inactive and thus he is a dead member of the Church. No one belongs to Christ if he does not have the Holy Spirit, with the preconditions which we have seen before.
A purpose of the incarnation of the Son of God is for me to receive the Holy Spirit and become members of the Body of Christ,and thus to become the dwelling places of the Triune God.
Birth of Church?
It is also thought of as the beginning of the Church. But, Holy Fathers tell us that the Church existed before Christ’s incarnation. It existed since the creation of angels and man. In spite of the existence of the Church the rule of death is till in force. By His incarnation Christ assumed “flesh of the Church. (St John Chrysostom.) Clement of Rome says, that in the beginning the Church was spiritual and was created by the appearance of the angels, but later by the incarnation of Christ “it was manifested in the flesh of Christ”, it became flesh, the Body of Christ.
It was the beginning of the establishing Christian communities throughout the world. The Apostles traveled far and wide and established helpers by ordaining deacons, Presbyters and Bishops in each city where the went. They initiated the Orthodox Church as we now know it. Even though Christ ascended, He gave His disciples through the Holy Spirit the gifts they needed to carry forward his mission of the salvation of all peoples.
Chrismation - Our personal Pentecost
As Orthodox Christians we each receive the seal of the Holy Spirit when we are chrismated into the Faith. This is our personal Pentecost. This feast reminds us of our apostolic calling as baptized and chrismated members of the Church—to spread the Gospel in word and deed wherever we happen to find ourselves in the world.
Dismissal Hymn. Sunday of Pentecost
Come people, let us worship God in Three Persons, the Son who abides in the Father together with the Holy Spirit ... one Power, one Essence, one God, whom we worship saying: Holy God who has created all things through the Son and in the Holy Spirit! Holy Mighty, through whom we have known the Father and the Spirit has come to the world! Holy Immortal, Comforter and Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and rests in the Son. Holy Trinity, glory to You!
Apolytikion (Plagal Tone Four)
Blessed are You, O Christ our God, who made fisherman all-wise, by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit, and through them, drawing all the world into Your net. O Loving One, glory be to You.
Kontakion (Plagal Tone Four)
When the Most High came down and confounded tongues of men at Babel, He divided the nations. When He dispensed the tongues of fire, He called all to unity, and with one voice we glorify the Most Holy Spirit.
The Feasts of the Lord by Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos
Saint John Chrysostom - Homily IV. on Acts II. 1, 2
Saint Gregory Palamas - Homily Twenty-Four: On how the Holy Spirit was manifested and shared out at Pentecost
St. Gregory Of Nanzianzen - Oration 41 - On Pentecost