Blessed art Thou, O Christ our God,
Who has revealed the fishermen as most wise.
By sending down upon them the Holy Spirit;
Through them Thou didst draw the world into Thy net.
O Lover of man, glory to Thee!
In the Old Testament, Pentecost was the feast which occurred fifty days after Passover. As the passover feast celebrated the exodus of the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt, so Pentecost celebrated God’s gift of the ten commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai.
In the new covenant of the Messiah, the Passover event takes on its new meaning as the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection, the “exodus” of men from this sinful world to the Kingdom of God. And in the New Testament as well, the Pentecostal feast is fulfilled and made new by the coming of the “new law,” the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of Christ.
When the day of Pentecost had come they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed as resting upon each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…(Acts 2:1-4).
The Holy Spirit that Christ had promised to his disciples came on the day of Pentecost (Jn 14:26, 15:26; Lk 24:49; Acts 1:5). The apostles received “the power from on high,” and they began to preach and bear witness to Jesus as the risen Christ, the King and the Lord. This moment has traditionally been called the birthday of the Church.
In the liturgical services of the feast of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit is celebrated together with the full revelation of the divine Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The fulness of the Godhead is manifested with the Spirit’s coming to man, and the Church hymns celebrate this manifestation as the final act of God’s self-disclosure and self-donation to the world of His creation. For this reason Pentecost Sunday is also called Trinity Day in the Orthodox tradition. Often on this day the icon of the Holy Trinity – particularly that of the three angelic figures who appeared to Abraham, the forefather of the Christian faith - is placed in the center of the church. This icon is used with the traditional Pentecostal icon which shows the tongues of fire hovering over Mary and the Twelve Apostles, the original prototype of the Church, who are themselves sitting in unity surrounding a symbolic image of “cosmos,” the world.
On Pentecost we have the final fulfillment of the mission of Jesus Christ and the first beginning of the messianic age of the Kingdom of God mystically present in this world in the Church of the Messiah. For this reason the fiftieth day stands as the beginning of the era which is beyond the limitations of this world, fifty being that number which stands for eternal and heavenly fulfillment in Jewish and Christian mystical piety: seven times seven, plus one.
Thus, Pentecost is called an apocalyptic day, which means the day of final revelation. It is also called an eschatological day, which means the day of the final and perfect end (in Greek eschaton means the end). For when the Messiah comes and the Lord’s Day is at hand, the “last days” are inaugurated in which “God declares: ...I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.” This is the ancient prophecy to which the Apostle Peter refers in the first sermon of the Christian Church, which was preached on the first Sunday of Pentecost (Acts 2: 1 7; Joel 2: 28-32).
Once again it must be noted that the feast of Pentecost is not simply the celebration of an event which took place centuries ago. It is the celebration of what must happen and does happen to us in the Church today. We all have died and risen with the Messiah-King, and we all have received his Most Holy Spirit. We are the “temples of the Holy Spirit.” God’s Spirit dwells in us (Rom 8; 1 Cor 2-3, 12; 2 Cor 3; Gal 5; Eph 2-3). We, by our own membership in the Church, have received “the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit” in the sacrament of chrismation. Pentecost has happened to us.
The Divine Liturgy of Pentecost recalls our baptism into Christ with the verse from Galatians again replacing the Thrice-Holy Hymn. Special verses from the psalms also replace the usual antiphonal psalms of the liturgy. The epistle and gospel readings tell of the Spirit’s coming to men. The kontakion sings of the reversal of Babel as God unites the nations into the unity of his Spirit. The troparion proclaims the gathering of the whole universe into God’s net through the work of the inspired apostles. The hymns “O Heavenly King and We have seen the True Light are sung for the first time since Easter, calling the Holy Spirit to “come and abide in us”, and proclaiming that “we have received the heavenly Spirit.” The church building is decorated with flowers and the green leaves of the summer to show that God’s divine Breath comes to renew all creation as the “life-creating Spirit.” In Hebrew the word for Spirit, breath and wind is the same word, ruah.
Blessed art Thou, O Christ our God, who hast revealed the fishermen as most wise by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit: through them Thou didst draw the world into Thy net. O Lover of Man, Glory to Thee! (Troparion)
When the Most High came down and confused the tongues, he divided the nations. But when he distributed the tongues of fire, he called all to unity. Therefore, with one voice, we glorify the All-Holy Spirit! (Kontakion)
The Great Vespers of Pentecost evening features three long prayers at which the faithful kneel for the first time since Easter. The Monday after Pentecost is the feast of the Holy Spirit in the Orthodox Church, and the Sunday after Pentecost is the feast of All Saints. This is the logical liturgical sequence, since the coming of the Holy Spirit is fulfilled in men by their becoming saints, and this is the very purpose of the creation and salvation of the world.
From the series "The Orthodox Faith, Volume II - Worship" by Fr. Thomas Hopko.
Copyright © 1981 Department of Religious Education - Orthodox Church in America.
On the day after every Great Feast, the Orthodox Church honors the one through whom the Feast is made possible. On the day following the Nativity of the Lord, for example, we celebrate the Synaxis of the Most Holy Theotokos (December 26). On the day after Theophany, we commemorate St John the Baptist (January 7), and so on.
Today we honor the all-Holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, Who descended upon the Apostles at Pentecost in the form of fiery tongues in fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to send the Comforter to His disciples (Jn 14:16). That same Holy Spirit remains within the Church throughout the ages, guiding it “into all truth” (Jn 16:13).
One of the hymns at Vespers on Saturday evening tells us that the Holy Spirit “provides all things. He gushes forth prophecy, He perfects the priesthood, ... He holds together the whole institution of the Church.”
At Vespers on the day of Pentecost, we hear that the Holy Spirit is “the Fountain of goodness, through Whom the Father is known, and the Son is glorified.” He is “the living Fountain of spiritual gifts” Who “purifies us from our sins.” It is by the Holy Spirit that “the prophets, divine Apostles, and martyrs are crowned.” He is the source of life and of sanctification.
In the services of this day, we sing the same hymns as on Pentecost, except the Canon of the Holy Spirit, which is sung at Compline. The Vigil is not prescribed for the eve of today’s feast. We sing the Great Doxology at Matins, but not the Polyeleos. The Irmos of the Ninth Ode (“Hail, O Queen, glory of mothers and virgins...”) is sung in place of the Song of the Theotokos (“My soul magnifies the Lord...”).
At the Liturgy, the priest or deacon chants the Entrance Verse (“Be exalted in Thy strength, O Lord. We will sing and praise Thy power.”) as on the day of Pentecost. “Holy God” replaces “As many as have been baptized....” The dismissal of Pentecost is also used.
This whole week is fast-free, and the Leave-taking of Pentecost occurs on Saturday.
Fr. Steven Kostoff
June 10, 2014
Pentecost Sunday is also called “Trinity Sunday.” The One God is the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. One God, therefore, worshipped in three Persons. Pentecost is the final realization of that truth, following many "hints" of God's Trinitarian nature in both the Old and New Testaments. We are not Unitarians, but we believe in, worship and adore the “holy, consubstantial, life-creating, and undivided Trinity.” To believe otherwise about God is to place oneself outside of the Orthodox Faith. Although primarily concentrating on the nature of the Holy Spirit, the following sticheron from the Vespers of Pentecost magnificently reveals God’s Trinitarian nature:
The Holy Spirit was, is and ever shall be
Without beginning, without an end,
Forever united and numbered with the Father and the Son.
He is Life, and life-creating,
The Light, and the Giver of Life,
Good in Himself, the Fountain of goodness,
Through whom the Father is known and the Son glorified.
All acknowledge one Power, one Order,
One worship of the Holy Trinity.
And then, even more explicitly, we hear another profound hymn to the Trinity in one of the aposticha for the Vespers of Pentecost:
Come, let us worship the Tri-Personal Godhead,
The Son in the Father with the Holy Spirit.
The Father timelessly begets the co-reigning and co-eternal Son.
The Holy Spirit was in the Father, glorified equally with the Son,
One Power, One Substance, One God-head!
In worshipping Him, let us all say:
Holy God: who made all things through the Son,
With the cooperation of the Spirit.
Holy Mighty: through whom we know the Father,
Through whom the Holy Spirit came into the world!
Holy Immortal: the comforting Spirit,
Proceeding from the Father and resting in the Son.
O Holy Trinity: glory to Thee!
A hymn such as this one offers us an inexhaustible text for reflection and meditation upon the mystery of the Trinity. It also offers a superb commentary on the Trisagion Hymn that is an essential component of our liturgical and personal prayer on a daily basis; meaning that not a day goes by on which we do praise and glorify the Holy Trinity. Thus, glorifying and praising the Holy Trinity is such an organic and indispensable element of our ongoing prayer life. As St. Gregory the Theologian wrote: "When I say God, I mean the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." And that holds true for every Orthodox Christian to this day.
Christ referred to the Holy Spirit as the “Paraklete” (Gk. Paráklētos) often translated as the “Comforter” (other translations include “Counselor” and “Advocate”). The Holy Spirit comforts and consoles our restless hearts with the presence of the Risen Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom we ascend to the Father. The Holy Spirit comforts us with the peace and joy of God in a world filled with much sadness and anguish. He comforts us with a living sense, here and now, of a bright and glorious world – the Kingdom of God – that awaits us when we leave this one. The Holy Spirit is the “pledge” of our future inheritance. As the Apostle Paul put it:
"In him (i.e. Christ) you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory" (Eph. 1:13-14).
We need to make room for the Holy Spirit in our hearts, by cleansing our hearts from any evil presence. Just as no one would pour a precious ointment or perfume into a jar that reeks with a stale odor; so God does not send the Holy Spirit into hearts that reek with sin and the stench of innumerable passions. Actually, the Holy Spirit assists us in that very cleansing process, if we so desire that purification with our entire being. We pray on a daily basis to the Holy Spirit, the “Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth” that the Spirit would “come and abide in us and cleanse us from every impurity.” The Holy Spirit will make us “Spirit-bearers” and not merely “flesh-bearers” if we seek the Spirit’s presence with faith, hope and love. The Holy Spirit overcomes our weaknesses on our behalf:
“The Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself interceded for us with sighs too deep for words.” (Rom. 8:26)
Ultimately, we pray to the Holy Spirit: “and save our souls, O Good One!”
Reprinted with permission
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