Pentecost and the Holy Spirit

Pentecost and the Holy Spirit May 31, 2020

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During the Feast of Booths, Jesus promised his followers that he gives to him the gift of the Holy Spirit:

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, `Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'” Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified (Jn. 7:37 -39 RSV).

After Christ’s ascension, Christians came together and stayed together until, on Pentecost, they received the promised gift of the Holy Spirit:

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 RSV).

The Holy Spirit sanctifies Christ’s followers, giving them the grace which they need in order to participate in the divine life. Fallen humanity, fallen creation, was restored to its original integrity in Jesus. But humanity was made, not just for the earthly paradise it had been given at its inception, but for theosis. Humanity is to be raised up and made greater than it was before sin disrupted its relationship with God. Thus, as Vladimir Lossky explains, with Pentecost we have a new era, the era of the Holy Spirit, one in which humanity, now freed from the limitations of sin, can open itself up to God, and receive not only the liberty it lost due to sin, but deifying grace which allows it to participate in the kingdom of God. But humanity must actualize the gift given to it in order to do so:

Then, with Pentecost, begins a new period when human persons, supported by the Holy Spirit, must freely acquire this deification that their nature has received, once and for all, in Christ. In the Church liberty and grace collaborate Through respect for human liberty, God allows the age of sin and of death to continue; for He does not want to impose Himself on man. He wants the answer of faith and love. Yet our situation is incomparably superior to the paradisiacal state: in fact we no longer risk losing grace; we can always participate in the theandric fullness of the Church. [1]

Even though we have received grace, we must cooperate with it. We must turn turns its potential in us into an actuality. It is up to us to do so. The Holy Spirit does not take us over. It does not possess us, making us less than we were without it. Rather, it lifts us up, giving us the means not only to actualize the potential we had at our creation, but to transcend it.  The Holy Spirit remains with us, as does the gifts which it has given to us, even when we continue to falter and stumble around and sin. Likewise, the Holy remains connected with the church even when those within the church, especially those in leadership positions within the church, sin.

Because the presence of the Holy Spirit with the church does not depend upon us, we do not have to fear losing the gifts of Christ given to us when the earthly manifestation of the church falters. Christ’s victory over sin and death remains, and the church continues to be the mediating vessel from which the fruit of Christ’s victory is spread throughout the world. Thus, in and through the church, according to its essence, the kingdom of God is made present on earth and the graces of God continue to be shared to the whole world. This is because it is the Holy Spirit, not the people in the church, which makes this possible; it is the Spirit of Christ in the body of Christ, the church, which directs the church to work as Christ worked in the world. And so, as Christ was a comforter to all those in need, so the Holy Spirit continues to provide comfort to those in need today, making it another Comforter:

And therefore He came after Christ, that a Comforter should not be lacking unto us; but Another Comforter, that you might acknowledge His co-equality. For this word Another marks an Alter Ego, a name of equal Lordship, not of inequality. For Another is not said, I know, of different kinds, but of things consubstantial. And He came in the form of Tongues because of His close relation to the Word. And they were of Fire, perhaps because of His purifying Power (for our Scripture knows of a purifying fire, as any one who wishes can find out), or else because of His Substance.[2]

It is another Comforter, one which blows as it wills, one which inspires people to continue to act as God’s hands in the world. It enlightens us. It inspires us. It guides us. It directs us. It purifies us. It makes us ready for our work in the world, but only if we open ourselves to it and cooperate with it. We can resist it, and suffer the consequences of our resistance; but it will be there, ready to give us the comfort and grace which we need when we decide to return to it once we understand the sorrows we can experience if we ignore it and its prompting in our lives. If we want its comfort, we must let it come upon us.

The Holy Spirit’s presence in us will purify us like a fire. It comes around us, destroying all that is sin. But as our nature is good, as our foundation is good, we know that it will not annihilate us. Thus, as St. Hildegard explains, the burning bush which Moses saw can be understood as symbol of the Holy Spirit:

The fire that appeared to Moses from the middle of the bush – flaming but not burning – should be believed to be the Holy Spirit; the sparks leaping up are the gifts of different virtues. Indeed, the varying appearance of this fire by no means came down from the lightning of the higher elements but from the fire that is life. The living fire does not burn up and destroy the things that adhere to it but strengthens them by giving them life.[3]

But, as St. Gregory Palamas explained, when the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost, it demonstrated its desire to bring us together, to unite is, that is, to realize our integral unity “ The fact that the divine Spirit sat upon them is proof not just of His lordly dignity, but of His unity.”[4] In this way, we can also understand how the Holy Spirit remains in and with the church, even when people within the church sin. For it reveals itself in the way it integrates people, even sinners, so that they can come together; it overcomes the disintegration of sin by keeping and preserving an element of that unity so that sin cannot and will not utterly subvert God’s desire that all things come together as one in union with him. The Holy Spirit strengthens us, and preserves within us that element of love which we need, so that we can transcend the unlove of sin and truly find the comfort of the kingdom of God, even after we have sinned.

We must seek for and acquire the full realization of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We must desire the comfort which it can and will bring to us once we cooperate with it. Then, as we open ourselves to it with all our love, we will realize our own holiness, activated by the Holy Spirit, can only be understood as the fruit of love.



[1] Vladimir Lossky. Orthodox Theology: An Introduction. Trans. Ian and Ihita Kesarcodi-Watson (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1989), 85.

[2] St. Gregory of Nazianzus, “Oration XLI: On Pentecost” in NPNF2(7): 383.

[3] St. Hildegard of Bingen, Solutions to Thirty-Eight Questions. trans. Beverly Mayne Kienzle, Jenny C. Bledsoe and Stephen H. Hehnke (Collegeville, MN: Cistercian Publications, 2014), 54 [#11].

[4] St. Gregory Palamas, “On Pentecost” in Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies. trans. Christopher Veniamin and the Monastery of St. John the Baptist Essex, England (Waymart, PA: Mount Thabor Publishing, 2009), 194.


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