The Feast of Pentecost is often an under-appreciated Feast, given its high ranking. However, it is also often misunderstood. For example, we see that some call Pentecost “the birthday of the Church.” However, the Church teaches us otherwise. The Synaxarion states the following: “Some erroneously hold that Pentecost is the ‘birthday of the Church.’ But this is not true, for the teaching of the holy Fathers is that the Church existed before all other things.”
The Synaxarion goes on to tell us that the Shepherd of Hermas correctly points out that the Church is the aged woman, that “she was created before all things; therefore he is aged, and for her sake the world was framed.” St. Gregory the Theologian speaks of “the Church of Christ as it subsisted both before and after the Incarnation (PG 35:1108-9). St Epiphanius of Cyprus writes that “the Catholic Church, which exists from the ages, is revealed most clearly in the incarnate advent of Christ” (PG 42.640). St. John of Damascus tell us that “the Holy Catholic Church of God, therefore, is the assembly of the holy Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Evangelists, and Martyrs who have been from the very beginning, to whom were added all the nations who believed with one accord (PG 96; 1357c). St. Clement of Rome tells us that the Church existed from the creation of the angels, and St. Gregory the theologian that “the Prophets made the Church of firm establishment, the Apostles conjoined it, and the Evangelists set it in order” (PG 35; 589a). Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos states: “With the creation of the angels and men we have the first phase of the Church. Then through the fall of men we had the fall of the Church. Nevertheless a small remnant of the Church remained in the persons of the Prophets and the righteous men (i.e. persons) of the Old Testament.”
So then, what is Pentecost with relation to the Church? As Metropolitan Hierotheos further points out, it is only “through the Incarnation of Christ” culminating “with the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of the Pentecost” that “the Church of the Old Testament, which was spiritual, now became fleshly, the Body of Christ.” (A visual Catechism of the Orthodox Church, 84, section 26). The Church became a deified Body, the Lord’s deified Body, and the abode of the Holy Trinity.
It was at Pentecost that in full, the Church became the priestly kingdom of God the Father, the Body of Christ, and the temple of the Holy Spirit. It became not any longer just a people but an indwelled people, and indeed the indwelled people, as the Church is the dwelling place of the Holy Trinity by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is at Pentecost that the truth of Christ is able to be shared with all. It was on Pentecost that Christ was made present everywhere, not only according to divinity any longer, but also humanity. The Lord who is on the throne with the Father in humanity and divinity at the Ascension is at Pentecost made present by the power of the Holy Spirit in the Mysteries of the Church (which also have an epiklesis, a calling down of the Holy Spirit). Just as the Holy Spirit descended upon the Church on Pentecost to make it Holy, so also He descends on the waters of Baptism to sanctify them, the Chrism to make them Holy, Communion to consecrate, the ordained to set them aside for their calling, the penitent to forgive, the husband and wife to make the two one. On Pentecost it became the Household of the Faith. It was at Pentecost that the Church was empowered to growth the Church, and it is the fruit of this that Christ is also enthroned in divinity and humanity on the Holy Tables from Antarctica to northernmost Alaska, from Asia to Europe, to Africa to the Americas, and to Oceana and Australia in the Eucharist.
It was not only the final establishment of the Royal Priesthood by the Holy Spirit but also the ordained Priesthood: "After the visitation of the Comforter, the Apostles became High Priests" (St. Sophronius of Jerusalem, PG 87, 3981B). As the Synaxarion points out, on this day commenced the celebration the Sacred Mystery of the Eucharist by which we become "partakers of the Divine Nature" (II Peter 1:4). After the Ascension, it is said of the Apostles and disciples remained in "prayer and supplication" (Acts 1:14), but after the coming of the Holy Spirit they persevered in the Communion of the breaking of bread “and in the prayers" (Acts 2:42).
We must not take for granted our participation in the grace of Pentecost. We must always prepare ourselves and have a spirit of repentance in Christ. As we read in the prayer behind the Amvon for Pentecost:
After Your suffering and Resurrection, O Christ, You ascended into the heavens, the heavens which You had lowered before to descend and to take flesh from the Virgin for our sakes. You confirmed Your promise made on earth by sending down Your comforting Spirit upon Your disciples. In them You sustained a firm and all-holy unity and through them the Church by belief in You in the steadfast presence of the Spirit and His many gifts.
Do not take His grace from us, as our sins deserve, but put to death all carnal desires in us that would prevent the coming of the Spirit. Drive out from us any thought, word or deed that would grieve Him, and any hindering evil passion that would make our souls dark with the loss of His light. Make us cleansed vessels of His glory, that we may represent the upper room in Zion, full of His brightness. Show us to be thrones of His Spiritual fire and life to Your Apostles who received His first-fruits. For by His strength, we will be led into the holy earth of Your immortal and blessed promise. The whole world, then, is full of joy in You and continually glorifies You.
(priest) For You are most glorious, together with Your co-eternal Father, and Your co-eternal, all-holy, good and life-creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.
May the good Lord guide us to true repentance. May we indeed strive to put to death all carnal desires that prevent the coming of the Spirit. May He make and show us to be thrones of His Spirit fire and life. A spiritually prosperous Feast Day to all!
Fr. Harry Linsinbigler