Feast of Pentecost

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The Holy Spirit is shining amongst us and in us
Feast of Pentecost
7 June, 2009
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.

As we are celebrating today the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples and the apostles, we are celebrating also the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the whole Church. This gift of the Holy Spirit is not limited only to the disciples and apostles, but is given to every baptised and chrismated member of the Body of Christ.

In the Old Testament times, the Holy Spirit was given to certain prophets at a particular time, and for a particular need. However, not all the prophets always had this gift of the Holy Spirit, and they did not always have the gift of prophecy. The Lord came to them when the people needed to have the voice of the Lord spoken clearly to them. In contrast, since this Day of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, the gift of the Holy Spirit, Himself, has been given to all baptised and chrismated members of the Body of Christ. Every time a person is baptised, this person is anointed with oil, and this oil is for the receiving of the Holy Spirit. We do receive the Holy Spirit at the time of our baptism, and at the time of our chrismation. In the course of our lives, we are responsible to allow the Holy Spirit to develop in us in accordance with God’s will.

When our Saviour is speaking today in the Gospel reading about His light shining, He is also speaking about His light shining in us and through us. He is the Light of the world, and we are His agents. We have been given the Grace of the Holy Spirit so that we can bring to the world by our lives in a concrete way (much more than by our words alone) the love, joy, peace, hope and everything else that goes with the Presence of Christ for the sake of people around us. It is those people round about us, who have been sent to us, who need to receive this same gift, this same hope, this same light. The Holy Spirit is shining amongst us and in us.

Always, as in the case of any Person of the Holy Trinity, all the other Persons of the Holy Trinity are involved in every act, every thought, every deed of each other Person. For instance, in the creation of the world, the Father is the Creator ; His Only-begotten Son speaks everything into existence, and the Holy Spirit gives life to everything that is coming into existence. All Three Persons are always active together. When the Holy Spirit is poured out upon us, the Person, the Presence of Christ, Himself, is poured out upon us, also. He is present with us. The Father likewise, who loves us, is with us. The whole Holy Trinity is with us. At Pentecost, with the visible and audible Descent of the Holy Spirit, we are given another experience of all Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. It is right that this parish, named for the Holy Trinity, celebrates on this day its Temple Feast.

This feast is one of the visible moments in which we can clearly see the Holy Spirit being active. How ? First, there is the sound of a rushing, mighty wind. Second, there are tongues of fire that descend one by one on the apostles. Let us not forget that the Mother of God is there today amongst all these disciples and apostles, receiving the Holy Spirit. The Church from the very beginning of this Feast has always portrayed her as being there with the disciples and apostles.

The tongues of fire descend upon the disciples and the apostles. Then they start to speak all sorts of languages that they had not known before (and did not necessarily know afterwards). We do know clearly from the Acts of the Apostles that when the disciples and apostles go onto the street, they are proclaiming the wonders of God in all these languages. On this Feast-day of Pentecost, there were people in Jerusalem from all over the empire, and at this time they hear God being glorified in their own languages. So they say : “‘Look, are not all these who speak Galileans?’” (At that time, to say that one comes from Galilee is like saying that one comes from Manning, Alberta as compared to Edmonton or Calgary, for instance. It is so long since I have been in the north, that I suppose Manning has grown by this time). So people say, in effect : “How can it be that these Galileans (who do not have access to education and every sort of language that the empire speaks) are declaring the glory of God in these obscure languages from Iraq and North Africa, and all over the place ?”

This was because the Holy Spirit gave that particular gift to the apostles in order to declare the glory of God. He gave the gift also in order to show that God’s Grace is greater than human logic (it always is, no matter how we try to pin God down). Perhaps even most important, our purpose as Christians from the very beginning, from this Day of Pentecost, this Day of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, is to share the wonders of the glory of God with every nation on the earth, with every people on the earth and in every language on the earth. We have a three-fold purpose in this Event.

This gift of speaking in different languages still exists sometimes in the Church. Sometimes it is used correctly, and sometimes it is not. The Apostle Paul very clearly says that if anyone is given this gift of speaking different languages, if it is used in a public place, it must have an interpretation. Someone must be there who understands. It must be translated, the Apostle Paul said, because no language is given for no purpose (see 1 Corinthians 14:27, 28). Just to blather nonsensical sounds means nothing. To say : “Jesus is Lord” means something to people who understand. In fact, it means very much to people who understand. That is why the Apostle said that other Spirit-given languages must never be used unless people are able to understand them. Otherwise, people would think that one is crazy (and maybe they are right). In fact, no gift is given from the Holy Spirit just for “me”. If God gives any gift of the Holy Spirit to me, it is for me to use for the glorification of God, and for the helping, strengthening and nurturing of other members of the Body of Christ. No Orthodox Christian, indeed no Christian is alone. We are all together. The Apostle Paul says that we are all members of the Body of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 12:12).

Any gift that the Lord gives us, He gives us so that other people may be strengthened, healed, corrected, enabled to repent. Sometimes the Holy Spirit gives the ability to a person to speak another language precisely in the same way as on this feast-day today. I have heard, myself, of some occasions when there were people who were in a difficult position where they had no hope, and somehow the Lord gave the gift to be able to speak and to understand an exchange between people in a foreign language which was life-giving and saving. Afterwards, the apostles did not necessarily retain the ability to speak these languages. It was probably given for the occasion only.

The Lord is merciful. He cares for us. He loves us. He gives us everything we need in order that we may live our lives for Him, and in order that we may be healthy in doing so. He helps us to become healthy, balanced, stable – at peace in Him, glorifying Him in everything. The Holy Spirit is given to you and to me so that we will have strength to live our lives in Christ. The Holy Spirit is given to you and to me so that we will have the boldness to do and to say what must be said and done from time to time when it is necessary. The Holy Spirit gives Grace to you and to me so that we will be able to hear the Lord speak to us and that He might direct or correct us in whatever way that may be necessary. Words of encouragement come from all sorts of unexpected places because of the Grace of the Holy Spirit.

You and I have been given the Grace of the Holy Spirit. In having this gift of the Holy Spirit, we are going to be able to do what our Saviour asks us to do : to shine with His light in this world ; to proclaim His glory in this world in multiple languages and in multiple cultures ; to embrace people of every culture, of every language, and love them into the Body of Christ ; to share with them our joy, our hope, our wholeness, and give them, with us, the opportunity to glorify the all-holy Trinity always.

This congregation has been here for over 100 years. The centennial celebration today is not the celebration of the absolute beginning. This community was already here for some years before this Temple was erected and everything was established. This community has been a living witness for the glory of our Saviour all those years. I remember that when I was little, in Edmonton, I heard about this far-away parish. It is not as if this parish is just sitting here in this town “vegetating”. It is not. This community of believers, this family of Orthodox believers, has been having a steady effect for good on people all over the place. Probably, if everyone touched by the love of this community were to show up here, there would be no room in the Temple for the people of the town.

It is important that we give thanks to God for all the good that He has been doing amongst us throughout all these years, and, at the same time, to ask Him to give us the Grace and the strength to prepare for the next 100 years of work in His Kingdom that must be done here. Our work only increases. It does not decrease, because His love only increases. His love does not decrease. Let us ask the Lord to give us the heart to follow Him with the loving zeal and dedication of our forefathers and foremothers. Let us love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, putting Him first in our lives so that when we come to the end of our lives, the Lord will welcome us into His Kingdom and say : “Well done, good and faithful servants”. We will continue then, as we are now, glorifying the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.