All Saints: What We All Should Strive to Be

Hebrews 11:33-12:2                     Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38, 19:27-30

Today in the Church, the first Sunday after Pentecost, we honor all the saints of our Church.  Last Sunday we commemorated the coming of God’s Holy Spirit on the world, and today we commemorate all those who were transformed by the Holy Spirit and who are the holy ones of God – the saints.

Saints are models of transformation.  They are people just like all of us, who lived in this world.  They show us it is possible to follow Christ, to be a Christian, even fully united to and transformed by Christ in this world, in our lifetime – despite the world and the times we live in!

The icons of saints, which we see in our churches and homes,  do not offer to us picture perfect portraits of these men and women as they would have been seen in this world, but rather offer us a glimpse of these Christians as deified humans, as humans residing in the Kingdom even when they are portrayed on earth.  They help us to see people as God sees them – holy, in God’s image and likeness, spiritual and spirit-filled.  Icons are reminding us that there is far more to any human than what the eye can normally see.  For the saints are humans who shine with the divine light, who reveal to us the image of God, who show us what it means for a human to be united to God, to attain theosis.

Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)  The answer is revealed in the lives of the saints, who lived for Christ and who revealed the kingdom in this world in their lives.  For Christ is the One who deifies humanity.  What the saints lived for, struggled with, suffered for, tells us who they believed Jesus to be –  the incarnate Lord, God and Savior.  The saints reveal Christ not only in what they taught but in their very being and in how they lived and died.

Christ’s question, “Who do you say that I am?”,   gives rise to a second – “Who do you say you are?”  or  we can turn the question around and ask our self, “Who am I?”  For in answering the question about who we think Christ is, we come to the answer for the second, who am I?  – a disciple of Christ, a child of God, a member of the Body of Christ, one of God’s chosen people, one of the redeemed, someone united to God.

In the saints we see people from all walks of life united to Christ – males, females, children, even teenagers!  Housewives, businesspeople, students, soldiers, government officials, laborers, leaders, teachers, doctors, merchants, farmers, slaves, wealthy, poor, the educated and the illiterate. Christ dwelling in people with diverse personalities, differently gifted and educated, with various talents and differing incomes.  People deified by Christ, and those just beginning to follow Him.  Terrible sinners who repented and people who had spent a lifetime devoted to Christ.  [Just to challenge us Americans a bit: though saints come from every walk of life with every kind of personality, as far as I know, no Democrat or Republican has been declared a saint.  We won’t find sanctity in our politics, and we won’t bring holiness to America through political parties or polarities.  Of course, maybe some day someone will be declared a saint even though they have a political identity, left or right.]

Each and everyone of you is capable in your own life of being a Christ-bearer, of having Christ dwell in you.  Christ does not wait until you are morally perfect before uniting Himself to you.  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).   You can at any time invite Christ into your hearts – you are capable of making room in your hearts for Christ today and at every moment of your life.  In fact we are all and always either making room for Christ in our hearts or expelling him from our hearts by what we think, say and do.   And none of that is dependent on the status of your life – those things laid upon you at birth over which you had no control – gender, skin color, native language, wealth, social status, IQ, or personality.  Christ stands at the door of every heart and seeks entry into our hearts.  It is our decision as to whether we let Him in or not.

God’s love is extended to everyone, and to all people, even to people we don’t like.

The goal of the Christian life is not to make the world more ‘believer friendly’ but to build up in ourselves a willingness to serve God and live faithfully no matter what the cost to ourselves, no matter how others may view us.  Our challenge is to be able to pass along to the next generation the Faith and the desire to take up the cross to follow Christ (Mark 8:34).  We have to show some joy and zeal for being disciples and bearing our crosses so that those who observe us will want to join us and have in their hearts what we have in ours.

Our spiritual warfare happens not mostly in church or when we are at prayer, though it does happen there too.  Our spiritual warfare is most real when we are watching entertainment on our computers or TVs, or when we listen to music, or are tempted by pornography, or lured by political trash talking.  Holiness exists when we choose how to spend out time or what to fill our hearts and minds with.  Where our treasure is there will be our heart (Luke 12:34).

To whom do we give our allegiance?  Who is the Lord whom we obey?  This is the real spiritual warfare.  And this battle occurs wherever we are – at home, at work, at school, on the beach, in a restaurant.    Will I accept any thought that comes into my head, or will I let Jesus Christ be Lord of my heart, mind, thoughts and feelings?  Will I be willing to repent of those things in my heart which are so dear to me and define my sense of self but which Christ defines as sin?  Will I believe everything I think, or will I submit all to the judgment of our Lord Jesus Christ?

The spiritual life is a life of accountability.  We have to give account to God for all we think, do, believe, say, watch, listen to, repeat, copy, imitate.  We should be giving account to one another – to our spouses, to our father confessor, our sponsors and godparents, our brothers and sisters in Christ, our fellow parishioners.  We are responsible for the health of the parish – when one suffers, we all suffer and when one is glorified we all are glorified (1 Corinthians 12:26) .

We are not called to be a political force in the world.  [A good challenge to those whose identity as Republicans and Democrats comes before seeing themselves as Christian.]  We are called to witness to the presence of the Kingdom of God in our lives.  The battle between good and evil is not really out in the world, in our politics, or philosophical proclivities.   As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote:  “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” The battle between good and evil takes place in your heart!  It is not a war that we read about in some distant land, we feel it within ourselves.  The battle is won or lost in each of our hearts, on a daily basis.

Look at your calendars and your schedules on your cell phones.  What time have you intentionally planned for God in your daily lives?  How is God present in your home, in your dining room, in your bedroom, in your office?    We train ourselves to use computers and technology, to be better cooks, engineers, parents, we learn about health and physical fitness.  What are you doing to be a better disciple of Christ?

What time do you devote to repentance?  For Jesus called all of us to repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.  This is how we become the saints of God.  Holy things are for the holy ones, and you are to change your lives to be the holy ones of God.  Holiness is not just something imposed on you from heaven, it emerges from the battle in your heart, and then emanates to the world through how you live, what you say and what you do.

Saints: Dedicated to God

If you want to learn from the lives of the saints what complete dedication to the love of the Lord means and from Holy Scripture inspired by God, look to Job. How he gave up all he possessed, so to speak: children, wealth, livestock, servants, and everything else that he had, stripping himself completely to escape and save himself. He even gave up his very clothing, throwing it at Satan; yet all the time he never blasphemed in word, neither in his heart nor with his lips before the Lord. But on the contrary he blessed the Lord saying: ‘The Lord gave; the Lord has taken away. As it has pleased the Lord, so be it. Blessed be the name of the Lord‘ (Jb 1:21). Although it was true that he had many possessions, but tested by the Lord, he showed that God alone was his possession.

Just as the bodily eyes see all things distinctly, so also to the souls of the saints the beauties of the Godhead are manifested and seen. Christians are absorbed in contemplating them and they ponder over them. But to bodily eyes that glory is hidden, while to the believing soul it is distinctly revealed. This is the dead soul the Lord raises to life out of sin, just as he also raises up dead bodies as he prepares for the soul a new heaven and a new earth (Rv. 21:1; Is 65:127) and a sun of righteousness, giving the soul all things out of his Godhead.

(Pseudo-Macarius, The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, p. 71 & 203)

Ignore Evil. Look to Christ.

God has placed power in man’s soul. But it is up to him how he channels it – for good or for evil. If we imagine the good as a garden full of flowers, trees and plants and the evil as weeds and thorns and the power as water, then what can happen is as follows: when the water is directed towards the flower-garden, then all the plants grow, blossom and bear fruit; and at the same time, the weeds and thorns, because they are not being watered, wither and die. And the opposite, of course, can also happen.

It is not necessary, therefore, to concern yourselves with the weeds. Don’t occupy yourselves with rooting out evil. Christ does not wish us to occupy ourselves with the passions, but with the opposite. Channel the water, that is, all the strength of your soul, to the flowers and you will enjoy their beauty, their fragrance and their freshness.

You won’t become saints by hounding after evil. Ignore evil. Look towards Christ and He will save you. Instead of standing outside the door shooing the evil one away, treat him with disdain. If evil approaches from one direction, then calmly turn in the opposite direction. If evil comes to assault you. Turn all your inner strength to good, to Christ. Pray, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.’ He knows how and in what way to have mercy on you. And when you have filled yourself with good, don’t turn any more towards evil. In this way you become good on your own, with the grace of God. Where can evil then find a foothold? It disappears!

(Elder Porphyrious, Wounded by Love, p. 135)

God: The Cause of Our Wonder

You make darkness, and it is night…   (Psalm 104:20)

…even the darkness is not dark to you;

the night is as bright as the day,

for darkness is as light to you.  (Psalm 139:12)

He bowed the heavens, and came down;

thick darkness was under his feet.

He rode on a cherub, and flew;

he came swiftly upon the wings of the wind.

He made darkness his covering around him,

his canopy thick clouds dark with water.  (Psalm 18:9-11)

 

And so it proves to be for each one who follows the spiritual Way. We go out from the known to the unknown, we advance from light into darkness. We do not simply proceed from the darkness of igno­rance into the light of knowledge, but we go forward from the light of partial knowledge into a greater knowledge which is so much more profound that it can only be described as the “dark­ness of unknowing.”

Like Socrates we begin to realize how little we understand. We see that it is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progres­sively aware of a mystery.

God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder. Quoting Psalm 8:1, “O Lord, our Lord, how wonderful is thy name in all the earth”, St Gregory of Nyssa states: “God’s name is not known; it is won­dered at.”

(Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, p. 16)

Fire-Starter

Christ has been called a “fire-starter.” He came “to baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Mt. 3:11; Lk 3:16). He once said: I came to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled” (Lk. 12:29). On the day of Pentecost, the fullest moment of divine revelation, the Holy Spirit was poured out on Jesus’ followers. Divine grace came to rest on them like “tongues of fire” (Acts 2:3). Christianity began as a spiritual movement through baptism by divine fire.  

What is the Orthodox way of life? How can we live it with full awareness? . . . the essence of the Orthodox Tradition is the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church.   Authentic Orthodoxy, not as an abstraction but as reality, is not merely a religion of rituals, rules and regulations, but the personal self-disclosure of the living God, His self-giving to us in love.

(Theodore Stylianopoulos, The Way of Christ, p. 174)

Acts 2:1-11

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. And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude 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.”

Pentecost: The Fullness of the Feast of Feasts

34358291504_beaf717427_nIn the Creed which we recite at every Liturgy, we confess our belief that Jesus Christ became incarnate… for us [humans] and for our salvation.”  The Creed professes a belief that all that Christ did was for the salvation of all humans, not just for Christians or for the Orthodox.  We repeat this same line on feast days in the Orthodox Church  when at the final dismissal the priest blesses the congregation saying, “may He who for us (humans) and our salvation, Christ our true God…”   Orthodoxy is very clear that Christ Jesus did everything for the life of the world, for the salvation of all humans – for all who are created in God’s image and likeness, whether everyone believes that  or not.

This sense that everything is moving us toward this salvation is also clear in the Church’s celebration of PaschaAscensionPentecost.  All three events are for our salvation and necessary for our salvation.  In the resurrection, Christ unites even the dead to God, filling all things with Himself, even the place of the dead.  Christ raises the dead with Himself, and then ascends bodily into heaven, bringing our created nature into the Kingdom, into God’s presence.  Then Christ sends the Holy Spirit upon all flesh at Pentecost, restoring the Holy Spirit to humanity.  We are thus not saved just by the death of Christ on the cross, but by the continuous work of Christ who lifts us from Hades to Heaven.  Both the incarnate Word and the Holy Spirit restore humanity’s union with divinity.   We sing about all of this throughout the Pascha-Pentecost cycle of services.  On the Monday of the Holy Spirit, one hymn proclaims:

COME, O FAITHFUL, LET US CELEBRATE THE FEAST OF THE FIFTIETH DAY,
THE DAY WHICH CONCLUDES THE FEAST OF FEASTS;
THE DAY ON WHICH THE PRE-ORDAINED PROMISE IS FULFILLED!
THE DAY WHEN THE COMFORTER DESCENDS UPON THE EARTH IN TONGUES OF FIRE;
THE DAY OF THE DISCIPLES’ ENLIGHTENMENT!
THEY ARE REVEALED AS INITIATES OF HEAVENLY MYSTERIES,
FOR TRULY THE LIGHT OF THE COMFORTER HAS ILLUMINED THE WORLD!

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Salvation, the restoration of human communion with God, fully occurs in all of the events of Pascha-Ascension-Pentecost and as we participate in these events through life in the Church, especially through baptism and the Eucharist.  In Christ, we are saved from sin and death and by the Holy Spirit we are enlivened and enlightened.  We are thus saved – restored to being fully human – by both the work of the Son/Word of God and the Holy Spirit.

With Pentecost we see a full restoration of what was lost by our sins.  In Genesis 6:3, the grieving Creator says of us humans, the focal point of His creation:

“My spirit shall not abide in man for ever, for he is flesh, but his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.”

God withdrew the Divine and Holy Spirit from us, and with this separation from God’s Spirit, death became part of our condition on earth.

With the coming of Christ, this ‘curse’ is lifted from us as John the Baptist bears witness:

The next day John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but for this I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness, “I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”  (John 1:29-35)

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In the incarnate Word of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit also remains on a human, which was the sign for John the Baptist that Jesus is the Savior of the world.  At Pentecost, that Spirit which came to dwell in Jesus and remain on Him, comes to dwell on all humanity.  The curse from Genesis 6:3 is lifted, and humanity is restored to full communion with God.  The salvation of us humans is brought to completion in this complete cycle of incarnation, resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit to humanity.

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The Holy Spirit as a Dear Mother

The Day of the Holy Spirit

“O Merciful Lord, teach us all by Thy Holy Spirit

to live according to Thy will that we may

everyone of us in Thy Light know Thee, the true God,

for without Thy Light we cannot comprehend

the fullness of Thy love.

Enlighten us by Thy grace,

and Thy grace will kindle our hearts to love of Thee.

O gracious Lord, mercifully seek out Thy creation, and shew Thyself to Thy people in the Holy Spirit, as Thou shewest Thyself to Thy servants.

Rejoice every afflicted soul, O Lord, by the coming of Thy Holy Spirit. Let all who pray to Thee know the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is very much like a dear mother. A mother loves her child and has pity on it; and the Holy Spirit likewise has pity on us, forgives and heals us, enlightens and rejoices us. And the Holy Spirit is to be known through humble prayer.

The man who loves his enemies soon comes to know the Lord in the Holy Spirit, but of the man who does not love his enemies I have no wish to write. Yet he is to be pitied, for he is a torment to himself and others, and will not know the Lord.

(St. Silouan the Athonite, p. 291, 293-294)

Pentecost (2019)

8186711792_27ba77f8d5_q-1Thus says the Lord God: . . .  A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. You shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.  (Ezekiel 36:26-28)

Pentecost is said to be the birthday of the Christian Church.  From the time of the crucifixion of Christ until Pentecost, the Apostles had not gone into the world with the Good News.  Despite the Resurrection of Christ, the Apostles were mostly in hiding, avoiding any public attention.  But then the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11) occurred and many diverse peoples in Jerusalem took notice – people, non-believers heard the same noise of the Holy Spirit which the Apostles heard (Acts 2:6).  The Apostles could no longer stay in seclusion as the Holy Spirit revealed them to Jerusalem and the world.

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 and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.  (Acts 2:2-6)

The sound of the Holy Spirit was not just heard by the Apostles in the upper room, it was heard by a great crowd of people in Jerusalem who became part of the Pentecost event.  The pouring forth of the Holy Spirit was a cosmic event, not limited to the Apostles.  The Apostles are filled with the Holy Spirit, the mass of people who witness the event are bewildered.   All those who heard the force of the Spirit became witnesses that something happened in Jerusalem which changed the Apostles into preachers of the Gospel.  The world itself, not just the Apostles and believers, was changed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  And all of these peoples heard the Apostles speak in their own languages as the world itself was being changed by the Holy Spirit.

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Our parish was also born at Pentecost.  This is true because we are also part of that outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the world that began 2000 years ago on the first Pentecost and continues to be at work in the world to this day.  Additionally, our Parish was born on Pentecost.  We were conceived as a mission, but that mission grew and was born as a parish. On Pentecost Sunday, 33 years ago I came here to help give birth to the parish.  The parish was born as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit inspiring people to want to continue the work the Apostles in spreading the Gospel.   You all are here as a result of the birth of the Church 2000 years ago, and the birth of the parish 33 years ago.  On the grand scale of the Church, our parish is still in its infancy.  We have to continue to nurture and grow the parish.  Our purpose has not changed.  We have much work to do and much yet to accomplish for the Lord.  And we will need to do what the Apostles first accomplished in continuing their work in the world.  We are here to speak to any and all who will listen to us, who will hear the Gospel as the Holy Spirit inspires them.

We hear in today’s Apostolos reading:     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?   …  we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.”

We Christians inspired by the Holy Spirit are to speak today in the languages that people can hear and understand.  We need to speak as 21st Century Americans, we need to speak to teens, to Generation x, to post-moderns, to imimigrants, hillbillies, PhD’s, feminists, engineers, retirees, mothers, computer scientists, blue collar workers, and to Democrats and Republicans.

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Our task is daunting.  We will only accomplish it if we stay faithful to Christ, and do not allow ourselves to get caught up in all the values and concerns of the world.  Our country is like the people of Babel after God came down and visited Babel to get a closer look at what the people were doing.  We speak a multitude of languages, even when we all use English!  The Holy Spirit allows us to speak to all of the people present around us.  There is no language, no culture, no political view which cannot hear our message in terms which they can understand.  When we reach out to the victims of the tornadoes, we speak the language of love.  We can find ways to convey the Gospel to all people around us.

In today’s Gospel lesson (John 7:37-52, 8:12) the people say of Jesus:  No man ever spoke like this Man!”  . . .  Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf we are faithful to Christ and offer the Gospel message rather than a political view of the left or right, people will hear Christ and say, “No one has spoken like this man, Christ!”  They will be convicted by the One who is the Light of the world.  Today as we celebrate Pentecost, the birthday of our parish and of the entire Church, we rejoice in all that has been accomplished here, and we commit ourselves to continuing the work of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

We have the words of St Paul to contemplate and inspire us:

For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law—though not being myself under the law—that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law—not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ—that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.   (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

I  do not believe any of us can accomplish this alone. I don’t know how to be all things to all people. But when we act together as the body of Christ, then we have a better chance of fulfilling St Paul’s own words.  Together we can speak to all people in the universal language of God’s love.  We will each find that we speak to some portion of the people in our surrounding community.  But to do this, we have to continue to work together and be committed to one another and to Christ.

Jesus said:   You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. This I command you, to love one another.  (John 15:16-17)

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We have been commanded by Christ to continue to bear fruit, to continue to grow in the faith, to bring new people into the Church.  And when we are faithful to our spiritual calling we fulfill the words of St. Peter:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.   (1 Peter 2:9)

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It is the Holy Spirit who makes us Holy, the Holy ones of God, the saints.  Holiness comes in community, just as the Holy Spirit came on all believers.  God’s Holy Spirit creates communion between people.  Only in community can we experience love for one another, peace with one another, service to others, forgiving one another.

The Holy Things are for the Holy ones.  God’s spiritual gifts are for us.

Christ is in our midst!

Pentecost and Babel

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 and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.  (Acts 2:1-4)

The description of the day of Pentecost reminds me of Ezekiel 43:1-5.    It is not that Acts quotes Ezekiel, but more there is an echo, a parallel between the passages. Adolfo Roitman notes:

“… fulfilling Ezekiel’s prophecy concerning the return of the Divine Presence to the Temple, originally enunciated during the Babylonian Exile: ‘And there, coming from the east with a roar like the roar of mighty waters, was the Presence of the God of Israel, and the earth was lit up by His presence . . .  The Presence of the Lord entered the Temple by the gate that faced eastward.  A spirit carried me into the inner court, and lo the Presence of the Lord filled the Temple’ (Ezek 43:1-5).”  (ENVISIONING THE TEMPLE, p 87)

What Ezekiel hears  is something “like the roar of mighty waters” (see also Psalm 93).  The rushing of water was perhaps one of the noisiest and mighty sounds known in the ancient world before machinery became common place.  Ezekiel wants us to understand that the sound he heard was a mighty roaring which would have drowned out all other sound.  For the Apostle Luke, writing in Acts, he describes the sound to be a mighty, rushing wind, the howling tempest.  He too uses the word “like” – he is searching for a proper comparison, but we get the idea of this mighty sound which accompanies the Presence of God entering His temple, and also entering His disciples.  In the Acts account, it is now the disciples who represent the temple of God, as really does the entire world, for Pentecost is the outpouring of God’s Spirit on the world.  Ezekiel also describes the earth being “lit up by His presence“- so too in Acts there is the distribution of the tongues of fire.  Ezekiel and Luke are both looking for the proper metaphors to help us understand what God’s returning to His temple, coming upon His disciples, filling the world with His Spirit is like.  They both are making comparisons but not necessarily telling us literally what happened.  Words will not suffice for what was experienced (like trying to explain snow to people living at the equator  who don’t even know refrigeration or have never experienced anything freezing – what is snow like?).

And if we think comparing Ezekiel 43 and the Temple with Acts 2 and the Apostles is far fetched, we only need to remember that the Orthodox Church for centuries has read Ezekiel 43:27-44:4  and its description of the Temple as a reference to Mary, the Theotokos, and we read it at three of the Feasts of the Theotokos –her Nativity, Entrance into the Temple, and Dormition.  The Theotokos becomes the Temple of the Lord.   Add to that St. Paul’s own words: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? . . . For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) and  “For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people’” (2 Corinthians 6:16).   The New Testament is clear that the Jerusalem Temple is to be replaced: “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb”  (Revelation 21:22).

The Pentecost experience is not only described in terms comparing it to what it is like (Acts – Ezekiel, Temple – Apostles), but also it is contrasted with the narrative of the account of Babel in Genesis 11, an event that also involved a cacophony of sound.

“The account of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 is frequently used in the Liturgy for Pentecost as a foil.  Babel is the ‘anti-Pentecost’ whose effects can only be undone by Holy Spirit-empowered Pentecost.  The first is a curse, the second a healing.  … The survivors of the flood … said ‘Let us build for ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens…’ (11:4).  The Lord saw their pride and unwillingness to do as He had told them and said,

Look, they are one people. And they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do . . . let us go down and confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech (11:6-7).

And so the Lord scattered them.

This confusion of language has often been seen as a curse: God punishing the people for their act of defiance, for setting themselves up like gods and trying to reach the heavens.  This may have been the people’s grand wish, but it is tiny in comparison with an all-powerful God, who had to ‘come down’ from heaven to get a closer look at the tower being built by the people (11:5).  The people may have thought they were becoming immortal, but God knew they were not even close.

The Pentecost liturgy takes a slightly different tack.  With its ‘When the Most High came down he confused the tongues, divided the nations; but when he parted the tongues of fire, he called all to unity…’, it instead hints at the confusion of language being an act of caring discipline by God.  It was a scattering  so that He could unite them in His own time and plan.  The people of Babel were trying to create their own unity, but had left God out of that unity.”  (Kathryn Wehr, “Notes and Comments: The Pentecost Liturgy as a Call for Unity and Mission”, SVTQ Vol 59 #2  2015, pp 236-237)

Biblical scholar N T Wright comments further:

“… the story of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11).  Human arrogance reaches a height, quite literally, with the building of a tower to make a name and create security.   God comes down to look at the puny little tower (the passage is full of ironic humor), and confuses human languages so that the human race won’t be able to carry out its arrogant ambitions.

What is God doing about evil?  On the one hand he is confronting it, judging it and doing something to stop it from having its desired effect.  On the other hand he is doing something new, beginning a new project through which the underlying problem of the curse and the disunity of the human family will be replaced by blessing.  How Abraham’s family will reverse the curse of Babel is not clear . . .  When the promise of Genesis 12 comes through into the New Testament we discover its effect, of course, not least on the day of Pentecost. (EVIL AND THE JUSTICE OF GOD, pp 48-49)

Finishing the Race

 Better is the end of a thing than its beginning; and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.  (Ecclesiastes 7:8)

But he who endures to the end will be saved.   (Matthew 24:13)

Jerome said:

‘Christians will not be asked how they began but rather how they finished. St. Paul began badly but finished well. Judas’s beginning was praiseworthy but his end was despicable.”

‘Many start the climb but few reach the summit.’

Gregory said:

‘The value of good work depends on perseverance.

‘You live a good life in vain if you do not continue it until you die.’

Isadore said:
‘Our behavior is only acceptable to God if we have the strength of purpose to complete any work we have undertaken.

‘Virtue is not a matter of starting well but of carrying on to the very end.

‘The reward is not promised to the one who begins, but rather to the one who perseveres.’”

(Defensor Grammaticus, Drinking from the Hidden Fountain, p. 171)