The Holy Spirit
By: Monica Gerges
This Sunday marks the end of the Holy Fifty days after the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead; but as you are all likely aware, it also marks the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Holy Apostles and essentially, the birth of the Holy Church. The feast of the Pentecost is one of the major feasts of the Lord and although it signifies the end of the fifty gluttonous non-fasting days, it should also act as a reminder of, not only God’s abundant love for us shown through the sacrifice of His Son for our salvation but also that, as Christians, the Holy Spirit dwells and works within each of us.
Interestingly, the day of Pentecost and the gift of Holy Spirit to the Apostles from God un-coincidentally falls on the day that the nation of Israel received the 10 commandments from God on Mount Sinai and manifest the establishment of their covenant with God. The incarnation and crucifixion of the Son signified the beginning of the new covenant between God and his creation which was to replace the old Mosaic covenant. However, despite the new covenant beginning at the crucifixion, I don’t believe it was truly professed to the world until the day of Pentecost and as such, its declaration should provoke us to recall what the covenant Jesus established for us truly entails – love – and since Jesus is God and God is love, I’ll let him explain:
“Greater love has no man than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
Here, Jesus explicitly explains the greatest form of love and beyond this, He shows us this great love when He is hung on the cross for each of our sakes. In any case, giving up one’s life for a friend speaks volumes but the fact that the one and only, pure and blameless God humbled himself, was incarnated and took the form of man just to lay down his life for you and I is something I find completely incomprehensible.
“You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven: for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:43-45)
Again, Jesus give an instruction and leads by example when he says “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do?” (Luke 23:34) as He was on the cross. This too is one of the greatest displays of love; Jesus’ love for those who crucified Him was so fierce that He not only asks for their forgiveness but excuses them of their sins. This is the extent of God’s love for us! He chose, by His own will, to come and save us from our sins and despite the fact that we fail to please Him time and time again His love for us never dwindles or fails. He gives us hope that, despite our weaknesses and our imperfections we are strengthened and purified through Him. And though the affliction of sin may be heavy, we will always find rest in Him.
This is the message of the new covenant established by Jesus on the cross and finally proclaimed on the day of Pentecost. For the Jews, the feast of the Pentecost commemorates the establishment of their covenant with God, but for us it signifies the replacement of one covenant with a better one – a one where salvation and eternal life is already won, where forgiveness is unbounded and love is infinite.
From the day of the ascension to the day of Pentecost, the Apostles waited in prayer and prepared themselves for the coming of the Holy Spirit. St Isaac the Syrian says:
“The power to bear Mysteries, which the humble man has received, which makes him perfect in every virtue without toil, this is the very power which the blessed apostles received in the form of fire. For its sake the Saviour commanded them not to leave Jerusalem until they should receive power from on high, that is to say, the Paraclete, which, being interpreted, is the Spirit of consolation. And this is the Spirit of divine visions. Concerning this it is said in divine Scripture: ‘Mysteries are revealed to the humble’ [Ecclus 3:19]. The humble are accounted worthy of receiving in themselves this Spirit of revelations Who teaches mysteries.”
So we see that for the Holy Spirit to truly dwell within the apostles, they had to reflect Christ in both humility and purity. Likewise, we too aim to purify and humble ourselves this Sunday in preparation for the coming of the Holy Spirit. (It’s important to mention that the Holy Spirit already dwells in those who have been baptised and the feast of the Pentecost can be considered more a resurgence of the Spirit within us.)
The Church in her wisdom has appointed for us the Prostration prayer to be prayed following the Divine Liturgy on Sunday. After the purification of our hearts by the Divine Liturgy we are physically humbled in prostration, the combination of which provides optimal conditions for the revival of the presence of the Holy Spirit within us. The prostration prayer is made up of 3 prostrations, one for each member of the Holy Trinity. This, in some ways, is comparable to the sacrament of baptism which involves 3 immersions into water, one for each member of the Holy Trinity. This similarity is significant because it is during the sacrament of baptism that the Holy Spirit comes and dwells in the individual and hence the prostration prayer itself is an imitation of the Holy sacrament of Baptist. So let us be imitations of Christ that the Holy Spirit may work in us as it did in the Holy Apostles that we may be lights unto the world.
Glory be to God forever. Amen