Sunday, May 31, 2015
Homily on the Feast of Pentecost, by Metropolitan Avgoustinos Kantiotes
The Great and Holy Feast of Pentecost (source)
By the mercy of God, my beloved, we have reached the end of the feasts of Pentecostarion. The first feast is the Resurrection of the Lord, which is the greatest in the Orthodox Church. And in this way we differ from the [West], which celebrates Christmas with more grandeur. The Orthodox of the East, as the Queen of Feasts have Pascha. For forty days we hear “Christ is risen”. After the Resurrection, is the Ascension of the Lord, which we celebrated ten days ago. What meaning do these feasts have? In the Resurrection: Christ lives and reigns. In the Ascension: “Let us lift up our hearts.”
And today, my beloved, we have Pentecost, the great feast which is the fulfillment of the work of the divine economy, and signified the descent of the Holy Spirit. If you go to Mount Athos, in the Byzantine churches, you will see how Pentecost is depicted.
Byzantine iconographers, not like those today who are merchants of Christ, were artists who painted with faith and mixed their paints with their tears, and fasted in order to depict the icon of Christ and the Panagia, creating wonderworking icons. Out of ten-thousand icons today, I doubt if we would find one which is wonderworking. Every icon of course has its worth, due to whom it depicts, but another grace comes from the eye and hand of a sanctified iconographer.
Therefore, in the Byzantine icon of Pentecost, you will see that in the center is depicted a prophet, the Prophet Joel. He is depicted holding a scroll, on which is written the phrase: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh...” (Joel 3:1-2)
I wish to speak, but I hesitate. For what benefit is there from the feasts? For many now, a feast is a party, a gathering, a dance... We do not lessen our sins, but increase them. And for the Church a feast is joy and spiritual exaltation, while we celebrate according to a Judean or idolatrous manner. That terrible prophecy of God is fitting for us, when He says: “Your feasts, my soul hates.” (Isaiah 1:14)
I hesitate furthermore, for Pentecost is a feast which is the most difficult for a preacher among all the other topics. For what are we? Nature, worms, unclean animals, lowly-people, sinners, “having unclean lips among a people of unclean lips.” (Isaiah 6:5) How can we speak today regarding the Holy Spirit, in an age which is known for its atheistic speeches, heresies, and generalized corruption?
In my place should be one of the Holy Fathers, whose spirits were intangible, and had not a molecule of carnality, and who, when they were praying, did not walk on the earth. And you, my listeners, should be purified, so that our spirits would be in harmony, and so that we be exalted above the heavens, like the Holy Apostles, so that the Holy Spirit would come upon us as well.
Behold why I hesitate to speak. But one phrase from today's prayers from the Kneeling Vespers helps to remove my hesitation. Believe me, I would not have even broached the topic, unless those words had strengthened me: “For in fear I stand before You, casting my soul's despair into the sea of Your mercy.” (From the Third Prayer of the Kneeling Vespers) I stand, it says, with fear before you, O Lord, and I the sinner, throw my soul's despair into the abyss of Your mercy.
I therefore throw myself into the incomparable mercy of God, and calling upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, I dare to utter a few words. For more properly, I don't speak myself; I become a microphone so that the opinions of the Fathers of our Church can be heard.
Pentecost! “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh...” The pouring out of the grace of the Holy Spirit, my beloved, in the Holy Scriptures and according to the Fathers of the Church, is characterized by many names. From all of this, I will take one alone, the name “gift”. Why is it called this? Because it is the culmination of everything that God has granted and continues to grant to us.
The grace of the Holy Spirit is not the only good thing which mankind has received from God. “In Him we live and move and have our being”, says the Apostle Paul (Acts 17:28), borrowing a phrase from the ancient poet (Aratos). We swim within the abyss of the energies and the gifts of God. What is there that we don't have as a gift from God!
I leave the gifts of the earth and the sea. I bring to mind the greatest gifts which come from on high, from heaven.
The first [great gift] is light, those countless rays of the sun, which travel at breakneck speeds, covering unimaginable distances. As one Saint said, every ray of the sun which shines upon a flower, a child, an old man, a beggar, a condemned man, upon the face of every person, what is it? It is an embrace by the heavenly Father. The hour when you sense the ray of the sun enlighten and warm you, it is as if God is saying: “O man, I love you.” How much would we pay for how many millions of kilowatts of energy from the sun? And instead of saying thank you, instead of “Glory to You Who has shown forth the light” (The Doxology), God receives blasphemies! And regardless, He sends His light “upon the thankless and sinners” (Luke 6:35).
Another [gift] is water, the rain which comes from the clouds, and falls upon the soil and makes it to grow all those things which nourish us. Every corner is a field. What could we pay for, and what does God receive for all of this water? The hen, when she drinks a sip of water, lifts up her head to heaven, as if to say: “Thank you, O Lord.”
Another is the air. Like the fish which swim in the water, and couldn't live outside of it, thus does man life within the ocean of the air. And only Earth has this atmospheric air. If we removed the atmosphere, we would die of asphyxia. Because of this, the astronauts carry with them Oxygen tanks. And think of how much it would cost if the Oxygen were sold by pharmacists. Only a few rich people could afford it. And for this, again there is thanklessness and ingratitude that our good God receives.
Besides these ordinary gifts of God, however, there are also extraordinary gifts, such as in the Old Testament, the manna, that sweet water, which was received by the mouths of the Jews who desired them. And those thankless ones watered the Son of the Virgin “with gall instead of mana” (hymn from Holy Friday). This is what man is.
Listen, my beloved, that up till now all of these gifts benefit me here. I told you understandable and simple things that we all know and can experience, and which penetrate our lives.
But man is not designed for here alone, for only this natural sphere, for the life of the body. He is not just a body. He is also a spirit, and primarily a spirit. He therefore, has another life, a life in the sphere of the spirit. And there, in the sphere of the spirit, he has need of other provisions. How can I make you understand? I seek the grace and the power of God.
Above all physical gifts which we sense, because we live with them and depend on them, is another great and uplifted gift. All of those gifts, ordinary and extraordinary, are small. Today's great gift is the Holy Spirit. “Taste of the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38) Great and necessary for our life is the light, the water, the air, but all of these are simply icons and symbols of that great gift, which is called the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit has come! God has fulfilled His promises. It was prophesied of in the Old Testament by the Prophet Joel. It was the promise of Christ to His disciples, before He ascended into the Heavens. It was the completion of the work of the divine economy, the grand work of God for the salvation and glory of fallen man. Without the gift of the Holy Spirit, the work of the divine economy would be imperfect and incomplete. Today, this work is completed. Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit!
On the Monday of the Holy Spirit, 1961.
(amateur translation of text from source)
The Holy Spirit descending upon the Disciple at Pentecost (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!