It took me becoming Eastern Orthodox for me to appreciate the Feast of Pentecost. As a former Pentecostal pastor, I never gave much thought to the actual Feast of Pentecost, even though it was the Pentecostal event in the life of the Early Church that we, as Pentecostals, looked back on as the foundation for our particular brand of religious experiences.
But as an Orthodox Christian, I now see the Feast as much more than an excuse for ecstatic religious experiences.
Now the Feast takes on its escatalogical dimension as the continuation of God's divine redemption of His creation, His continual work in untieing the knots of the Fall.
It is no mistake that the Pentecostal Feast marks a time of harvest. The words of Jesus to his disciples before His ascension that they would be witnesses to the whole world tie right in to His teaching that the fields are "white unto harvest" and we are to pray that the Lord of the harvest would send laborers into the ready field of souls. (see John 4) In this manifestation of the Holy Spirit coming upon the disciples of Christ and constituting the "ecclesia," the Lord of the harvest is empowering His laborers to do exactly that, reap the harvest of ready souls for the eternal kingdom of God.
The Feast also manifests again God graciously undoing the tangle of sin and rebellion. Just as the tongues of men were confused as they pridefully built the Tower of Babel, so God undoes the confusion at Pentecost and every man heard the Good News in his own language (Acts 2:7). The prideful men were thrown into confusion, and the humble men were given the ability to communicate with everyone. Another knot untied, another sad result of sin and rebellion overturned.
The Feast also empowers the fearful. St. Peter clearly ties this unusual event to the prophesies of Joel and the coming of the "terrible" Day of the Lord. Yes, the same Peter who was coward in front of the woman at the fire outside the house of the high priest, the same Peter who hid himself along with the other disciples after the Crucifixion, and the same Peter who, when he saw the risen Lord repented and was restored, that same Peter standing up with the other disciples on Pentecost shows no fear as he declares both the foolish guilt of the people of the day who with "lawless hands" crucified Christ, but God raised Him up again. This same Peter, infused with the Presence of the Risen Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit preaches to the city and sees 3000 repent and receive the new Christian Gospel. What a difference the Holy Spirit makes!
As we approach this wonderful Feast, we Orthodox need to do more than just remember a dusty, ancient event. We need to appreciate and enter into our own personal Pentecost, given to each of us at our Chrismation, and allow that same Spirit to enliven us and empower us to be witnesses to our families, our communities, and our world.
The Spirit Descends and the World will never be the same again. Come, Holy Spirit!
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