Pentecost (2011)

Now 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. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitudes came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans?”And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? “Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, “Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and  proselytes, “Cretans and Arabs; we hear them speaking in our own tongues the  wonderful works of God.”  (Acts 2:1-11)

“We believe that in the Church the Old Testament prophecy has been fulfilled: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declare, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh’ (Acts 2:17). God pours out his Spirity not upon just a certain member but upon all His people. All are charismatics since all have received the Spirit as a ‘pledge’ (arrabôn) of the new age to which the Church belongs while still abiding in this old age. The Church is the beginning of the ‘last days’ (eschatai hemerai).
Upon entering, the believer is set apart for ministry in the Church through the sending down of the Spirit. ‘The fullness of grace’ (omnis gratia) has an absolute but not relative, a permanent but not temporary, character, for only charismatics can be members of the Church. The gift of the Spirit that every member of the faithfull receives in the sacrament of initiation is the charism of royal priesthood. In the Church there are no gifts of the Spirit without ministry and there is no ministry without gifts. Through the charisma of the royal priesthood the Christian is call to priestly ministry in the Church.” (Nicholas Afanasiev, The Church of the Holy Spirit, pg. 3)

Remembering the Kingdom Which is to Come

Philosopher George Santayana famously warned us that ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’

Orthodox Christianity is a religion that each year runs through a cycle of Feasts and saints which remembers the past, though its goal is not to keep us there but to ever push us toward the future restoration of all things by God our Creator.  We never forget the past and do repeat it yearly through our liturgical cycle.

Unfortunately sometimes Orthodox seem to forget our goal is to be ever-moving toward the eschaton – the coming of God’s Kingdom – and instead forever want not only to remember but even to relive the past – the glorious past where things were so much more Orthodox, at least in the selective memory of the few.  Reviewing the past is safe – we cannot make any mistakes in the past, and frequently we have at least learned from our mistakes.  But the temptation is to stay in the past because somehow we imagine that will prevent us from making mistakes in the present.  And for the Orthodox – the right thinking and correct believing Christians – nothing is worse than being wrong.  So we withdraw to the fantasy of a safer past in which we do not make mistakes.

We do not remember the past in order to become focused on the unchanging past, but rather our yearly commemorations are meant to keep us ever focused on what is yet to come – the Kingdom of God.

“Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on for the goal toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 3:13-14)

We will soon remember the events of Pentecost, when God poured forth His Holy Spirit upon the earth.  We remember an event which is not geared toward the past but rather directed toward the future – toward the coming Kingdom of Heaven.

The coming of Christ into the world and then the coming of the Holy Spirit are not events intended to focus us on the past.  Both are events that gear us toward the future.   We are not trying to go back in time, but are always striving to move forward.

Pentecost is not just about remembering what happened to Christ’s disciples 2000 years ago.  For Pentecost is the empower of all disciples to go into the all the world and proclaim the Good News of God’s kingdom.

Certainly St. Paul is called by God to “get the show on the road” – get Christianity beyond Jerusalem and into all the world.

Note how often the Apostles are playing catch up in the Book of Acts – they hear about a new congregation and have to send someone to investigate –  God is way ahead of the chosen apostles calling them into the future.  The apostles are the chosen leaders of the church and yet they are watching where the church is going as it is led by the Holy Spirit.  For throughout the Book of Acts, those apostles are being sent into all the world at the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  They are watching the Kingdom of God break into this world in order to prepare us all for the next.

In Orthodoxy we remember the past and repeat it annually, not to become focused on it, but to use it as the talent (Matthew 25:14-30) given us to bear fruit for God and to have something to offer Christ when He comes again.