Sermon – Feast of Pentecost 2021
The Sunday of Pentecost
By V. Rev. Timothy Baclig
June 20, 2021
On this day, the fiftieth day after Easter, we celebrate the Feast of Holy Pentecost. The descent of the Holy Spirit occurred ten days after the Ascension following a period of time when the Disciples, in obedience to the instructions of our Lord, waited for Him while praying and fasting. As the fiftieth day after the Jewish Passover, the Feast of Pentecost is a remembrance of the Old Law. The Israelites received the Ten Commandments after a period of fifty days from the time of the crossing of the Red Sea. And so, we also celebrate fifty days after Pascha, receiving the One who gives us the Law, the All-Holy Spirit; He who guides us in all truth and teaches us what is pleasing to God.
The Holy Spirit’s descent in the form of tongues of fire upon the Apostles is a demonstration that He is not separate from the living Word; also to empower the Holy Apostles with the use of words in teaching the multitudes as they brought them to Christ. The descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of fiery tongues was to show, on the one hand, that God is a consuming fire, while on the other hand, our need of purification. His grace rested upon the Apostles in tongues so that they could gather those of different languages who were scattered throughout the world. This all took place on the Day of Pentecost because it was fitting that the grace of the Spirit be poured out at the same time that the Old Law had been received, just as Christ was the new and true Pascha in place of the old Passover.
In festal hymn of the Kontakion we hear: When the High One descended, confusing tongues, He divided the nations. And when He distributed the fiery tongues He called all to one unity. Wherefore, in unison we glorify the most Holy Spirit.
The image that this hymn presents us with is the event of the building of the Tower of Babel by a people who were of one mind and one language; a people whose aim was “making a name for themselves” (Genesis 11:4). In verses 6-9 of Genesis 11 it is recorded: The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible to them. Come, let us [Note: God is spoken of in the plural] go down and confuse their language so that they will not understand each other.” So the Lord scattered them over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world…[scattering] them over the face of the whole earth.
In the Vespers service of Pentecost we hear a commentary on this passage with a verse from the Aposticha: Of old there was confusion of tongues because of the boldness of the tower-builders. But those tongues have not uttered wisdom for the glory of divine knowledge. There God condemned the infidels to punishment, and here with the Spirit Christ illuminated the fishermen. At that time, the confusion of tongues was designed for vengeance, and now the unison of tongues hath been renewed for the salvation of our souls.
You may recall that at the “Vespers of Love” on Holy Pascha the Gospel is intentionally read in many languages to also signify how the message of the forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed to all nations. Similarly, on Holy Pentecost, we hear the account in today’s Epistle that all who gathered in the international city of Jerusalem heard the good news in their own language as the Apostles were given utterance by the Holy Spirit.
Pentecost is the Feast that is the culmination of Holy Pascha (Easter). It is the completion of God’s plan of salvation. For you and me, the working of the Holy Spirit in our life brings about many things. First and foremost, the Spirit reveals Christ, deepens and renews our commitment to Christ and his teachings. The Spirit of God also illumines and brings back to one’s remembrance the teaching of Christ and His Apostles. The descent of the Holy Spirit brought illumination. The Spirit of Truth aided the Apostles in their reflection and remembrance our Lord’s teaching. Moreover, the Spirit enabled them to perceive things differently. Their lives not only took on a new sense of purpose, death itself acquired a new meaning.
Second, the Holy Spirit is a sanctifying power. He enables a Christian to remain steadfast in truth and to earnestly desire purification of sins, by a living a repentant life. It is what empowers one to remain faithful. The Spirit’s coming also motivated and empowered the believers to do many things that they otherwise would not thought of doing by themselves or of their own strength. However, the Holy Spirit that came upon them was not a force that was imposing or intrusive. He empowered them to demonstrate initiative with humility. The All Holy Spirit transcended, transformed, and even dissolved any might that was opposed to love, bringing an end to any animosity and contention. There was unity among the Apostles with a bond of peace. And the power that was manifested through them was the power of forgiveness; a forgiveness that they experienced and began to proclaim.
Third, life in the Spirit manifests the fruit of the Spirit, namely, love, joy, peace, long-suffering, patience, kindness, goodness, meekness, and selfcontrol. The Spirit enables a Christian to practice forgiveness from the heart, as one having experienced the forgiveness of sins. It is the central message of the Gospel at Easter, the message that Christ proclaims to the Apostles at the Ascension, and today, it is the message that is heard by the Disciples by the many who heard it in their own language. In the words of the Holy Apostle Peter in verse 38 of chapter 2 in the Book of Acts, he proclaims to all who curiously gathered in Jerusalem having heard the noise in the upper room: Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. And so, finally, the Holy Spirit whose work is to glorify Christ empowers a Christian to be a strong witness to Jesus as Lord, as a living example by word and deed.
May the All-Holy Spirit, Christ’s own Spirit, sent from the Father illumine us with the light of piety and understanding that we may all remain steadfast in His love.