Feast of Pentecost

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
We have put on Christ
Feast of Pentecost
15 June, 2008
Acts 2:1-11 ; John 7:37-52, 8:12

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today, we are singing as we do on this Feast of the Descent of the Holy Spirit : “As many as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). When we are singing this, we are proclaiming how we are living, and what is the reality of our life as Orthodox Christians.

To be an Orthodox Christian is not just like joining a club or being a member of a club. It is a way of life. The way of the Orthodox Christian is to have “put on Christ”. So, when we are living our lives, our lives are supposed to be reflecting Christ. In order to reflect Christ, we have to know Who He is, ourselves. Our lives have to be all intertwined with the Lord, somehow. Our Lord says to us that He is the “'light of the world'”, and we who are participating in Him will have the same light and life. He means it. This is not just some sort of abstract statement. When He says that out of us “'will flow rivers of living water'”, He is not making an abstract statement.

Our Saviour does not make abstract statements. Our Saviour is very straightforward and practical in His words of life. Therefore, when He says something, He says what He means directly. You can tell that many Orthodox cultures really have understood this by the way people, themselves, speak. Orthodox people from our inherited Orthodox cultures normally will say directly what they mean. They do not usually “pussyfoot around” in the way most Canadians do. Canadians are stereotyped as pussyfooting around here, and around there, making these circular motions in-and-out, just “beating around the bush”. They say : “Well, maybe this, and maybe that”, and around and around they go. This beating around the bush, and this sort of circular motion has been pointed out to me by many Orthodox Christians as resembling the shape of a circus. This beating around the bush that we Canadians have the habit of doing, is, in fact, reflecting the behaviour of “You-know-who-down-below”, “Big Red”. The father-of-lies is what he was called by our Saviour, Himself (see John 8:44). Mr. Father-of-lies, "Big Red", goes around and says : “Maybe this, and maybe that”, but he does not go straight down the middle saying what is truly the case. Our Lord always says straightly what is the truth of things. It is good for us that we can grow into this honesty, this straightforwardness, and this truth because, of course, Jesus Christ is the Truth.

An example of the “cuckoo-ness” of the society in which we live is that our society is now saying that there are all sorts of truths. There is a truth for you and a truth for me, and a truth for someone else. Even philosophically and logically, this is “out to lunch”. When we are talking about truth, there can only be one Truth about anything. The one Truth about all of life, all of existence is Jesus Christ, Himself, who says : “'I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life'” (John 14:6).

On this Feast, the Grace of the Holy Spirit is poured out on the disciples and apostles. They are going forth, speaking all sorts of languages that they had never learned. The Holy Spirit comes down upon them like tongues of fire with the sound of rushing wind, and the disciples and apostles are filled with the Grace of the Holy Spirit. They go out onto the street, speaking these different languages, and the people who had gathered from all over the Empire hear the apostles speaking in their various languages (which the apostles had never learnt) about the greatness of God and His wonderful works.

What does this mean ? It means that the Truth of the Lord, the Truth of life, the Truth of hope, the Truth of the Kingdom of God – that Truth is for everyone. It is not just for the Jewish people. It is for everyone. Our Saviour has clearly indicated this to us by His life. The Apostle Paul proclaims this, also, at the end of the Acts of the Apostles which we read yesterday (see Acts 28:28).

The difficulty that the Jewish people had was that because they were so persecuted and oppressed one way or another, they closed in on themselves. They kept the Truth that they had learned from God (the Ten Commandments, and so forth), but they kept it inside, whereas the Lord had been telling them all along that they must shine with this Truth, and share it. However, they had difficulty sharing it. Ultimately, they were protecting it, and not sharing it. What is occurring here, today, on the Feast of Pentecost, is the breaking down of those walls. The love of God is spreading out to everyone. The Apostle Paul said that this word is flowing out to the Gentiles, because the Gentiles (that is us, non-Jewish people) are going to receive it (see Acts 28:28). We have received the truth about the love of God, and the truth about Him, who is the Truth, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

However, it is really important that we Orthodox Christians, here, now, in Canada, remember this same lesson. We have been falling into this trap of closing in on ourselves because people outside tend not to understand us very well. When they hear about Christ (and when they might react negatively), they can sometimes be quite hard on us. They have definitely been hard on us for 100 years and more in Canada. However – were we easy on Jesus Christ Himself ? Were we, human beings, easy on Him ? Our Lord could say to us : “Cry Me a river”, but He does not, because He is merciful. Instead, He keeps leading us gently and carefully, helping us come to our senses.

Today, I said the prayer from the Psalms which the bishop always has to say at this service : “Lord, Lord, look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine which Your right hand planted, and establish it” (Psalm 79:15). This really means : Make it grow. The bishop is asking God to water this plant and make it grow. I said this prayer from the Psalms today in many languages because we are reflecting many languages and many heritages here. People have come from all sorts of different Orthodox cultures. At the same time, we cannot (and the Lord will not let us) stay closed in on ourselves. We must share this hope that is ours. We must share it with people around us. We must do, and be good to people around us. We must be joyful around people, and encourage people around us with the hope in which we have been baptised. We say that we are Orthodox Christians. People look at us, and say to themselves : “Well, you are supposed to be serious Christians – all right – I will test you, and see how serious you are”. They “give us the gears” to see how serious we are about the Orthodox Christian way, and to see why it is different from everything else around that is so disappointing and disheartening. They say : “Why should I treat you any differently or expect anything better from you since I have been disappointed by so many ?”

The response is that it is because we have been baptised into Christ : we have put on Christ, and we have received the Grace of the Holy Spirit. Thus, we are going to be able to live in the way that our Lord wants us to live. He wants us to shine with the light of His love, His joy, and His hope. We will be able to help the people who are around us just by being who we are (and not bashing them over the head with a Bible). It is best that we just be who we are – participants in Christ. When we come into the presence of other people, we spread joy. We spread life. We spread hope, even if they do not wake up and come and be part of us, Orthodox Christians. People are usually stubborn. Even if they do not wake up and come and be part of us, nevertheless our existence, living this love, this joy, and this hope, will help them. It will give encouragement to them. At least they will know that there is light shining in the world. Maybe they will, themselves, in the difficult lives all human beings have to live, be able to carry on with a little bit more determination than they would have had if they had not encountered in us the love of Jesus Christ. However, some of them will come to us by our being faithful Orthodox Christians, faithfully showing Christ and His love to them. Wherever we go, because we are baptised into Christ, because we have put on Christ, and because we have been given the Grace of the all-holy Spirit, no-one can meet us without meeting Christ, too.

People will measure Christ by us, so it is important that we Orthodox Christians be faithful. We have to keep turning to our Saviour and to His love every day, not only asking Him for the strength to continue, but also giving thanks to Him for the love that He continually pours out upon us. Brothers and sisters, on this day when we are celebrating the Descent of the Holy Spirit, let us give thanks to God sincerely from our hearts that He has poured out this same Holy Spirit upon us. Even if we are not given the gift of speaking all these languages, maybe we have been given the gift to show love. We have been made participants in Him through the Grace of the Holy Spirit. We can, in Him, by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, live a life that is productive, healthy, life-giving, joyful, bright, strong, and even powerful.

Let us ask the Lord to give us renewed Grace this morning so that we can truly be faithful to Him, truly shine with His light, and in the course of our lives glorify Him, our Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, gracious, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.