With Pentecost we are at a beginning; it is a new creation. In the Gospel of John, Jesus breathes upon the Apostles and gives them the Holy Spirit. The same verb “to breathe” is used twice in the Old Testament: in Genesis for the story of the creation, and in Ezekiel [37:9] for the resurrection of the dead. What we celebrate today is the fullness of Pascha: we are renewed from on high as a people redeemed from sin.
It does not stop there. We have now a mission to fulfill. On his Ascension, Christ said: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to me to the end of the earth.” The mission of Christ was one of reconciliation, that is to say re-establishing communion with God. We, as bearers of the Gospel, are to participate in this work of reconciliation by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is through our lives that we shall be faithful witnesses of the Gospel.
You will notice that this mission does not put us in charge of anything: on the contrary, we are called to be at the service of our brothers and sisters. We are asked to love as God loves us.
However, do we always fully understand this gift of God? Have you ever thought how the world and our life would be if there was no love, no reconciliation, no forgiveness? Are we thankful for this gift? Do we wonder if we are worthy of this divine gift?
Open your hearts and listen to this story which was told by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourogh. It happened in Russia, during the revolution. In a town besieged by the Bolsheviks, there lived a woman with her two children. She was the wife of a well-known officer of the White Army. She knew that once the Bolsheviks enter the town she would be killed. If she were to escape, they would go after her. There was no hope. One night a young unknown woman knocked at the door. “My name is Natasha”, she said. “Run away at once with your children: the Soviets will be here by the morning. I will take your place. I have no one who will miss me.” The woman fled with her two children. The day after, Natasha was arrested and killed by the Bolsheviks in the stead of the woman. Metropolitan Anthony knew the two children when they were living in London. They always strived to have a life worthy of the sacrifice of Natasha. They had a life where there was no place for wasting time, no place for grudge or resentment, no place for pettiness or feeling sorry for themselves. Someone had given her life for them.
What about us? Are we also striving to have a life worthy of the death of Jesus? You see, this is what makes the whole difference between the Old Testament and the New. The Old Testament describes us the virtues and victories that God gave to His people. With the New Covenant God gives himself to us in order to give us life. The divine persons of the Holy Trinity are both giver and gift. Christ is the One who offers and is offered, who gives and is given. The two actions cannot be separated. There is no true love if we do not give ourselves totally. Whatever you call it: oblation, self-emptying, self-denial or self-sacrifice (kenosis in Greek) this is the mystery of divine love. And we shall glorify God if we live according to that.
One of the characteristics of a life of true love is that we become bonded to each other. The Spirit is set as a bond between God and man, and also between all the faithful. This is called “communion.” At the beginning of the anaphora the priest says: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father and the Communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” The Holy Spirit is the One through whom Communion is achieved. In other words, the Holy Spirit gathers the people who are divided.
This gathering of the divided people is called the Church. At the consecration, the priest acting as the icon of Christ asks for the Holy Spirit to come both upon the faithful and the offerings of bread and wine. This means that through the Eucharist we are consecrated as Body of Christ or if you prefer “Communional” Body of Christ, that is to say the Church. In a way, the Eucharist is a permanent Pentecost. The Church, which is Communion, exists only if the Holy Spirit is present.
Again, do we always fully understand what this is all about? Have you ever asked yourself if we are in communion with each other? It is evident that at the level of the Churches we are not. And this is a sin. But we long for unity and work towards it. At the level of our communities and parishes, is there always communion between us? You know it: there are divisions. And this is a sin. We have to fight against ourselves; we must strive to be like Christ and eat at the table of the sinners rather than be self-righteous with the Pharisaic Jews. Guard your heart for the danger of pharisaism is always there; it is pernicious and destroys Communion. Moreover, at the personal level, are we divided within our own self? Do we have a double heart? Do our lips praise God while our heart is far away?
The time of Pentecost is a time of rejoicing. This does not mean that it is a time of relaxation. In effect, it is a time of test, like Lent. But a different one. We are asked now to glorify God by a spirit of Communion. This is done thanks to the Holy Spirit. However, this is not magic; we have to work for it. If we say that we turn to the Lord and ask him to come, but do not live the unity of love in the Spirit, we lie. Never forget that if we want to be in truth the bearers of the Spirit, this requires work: conversion of heart, humility, giving up our own self to love better and deeper. This is the only path to communion.
May the Holy Trinity dwell in you and teach you divine love. Amen.
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