Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Having started with the Nativity Fast and with the Incarnation of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ according to the Flesh, having traversed the desert sands of the Fast of Great and Holy Lent, having entered the city of Jerusalem with our Lord and endured His Passion, His Death, and His Extreme Humiliation, and having drunk deeply of the wine of Great and Holy Pascha and its 50 day celebration, we now come to the Feast of Great and Holy Pentecost, that is, to the fullness of our salvation. The liturgical calendar of the Church may seem little more than a series of stops along a rather lengthy and tedious bus route, stops we must endure if we wish to arrive at our destination and get off the bus, stops that we could pass by if we were in the driver’s seat.
But, thank God, we are not. The liturgical cycle is salvific, communicating to us the very Christ and His life, allowing us to participate with Him and to drink of His saving and sanctifying grace. It is as the Apostle says elsewhere, “If we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him” (2 Tm. 2:11-12). It is always our apostolic hope and prayer that we, too, “may know [Jesus Christ] and the power of His Resurrection, and the fellowship [communion] of His Sufferings, being conformed to His Death, . . . .” (Pp. 3:10). St. Paul reminds us in another of his writings that we who are called according to the purpose of God are “predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son” and ultimately to be glorified in Jesus Christ, through Jesus Christ, with Jesus Christ, crucified and risen (Rm. 8:28-30). “Or do you not know,” St. Paul asks,
that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His Death? Therefore we were buried with Him through Baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life (Rm. 6:3-4).
It is this “newness of life” our Lord offers us today on this great day of the feast, the day of Great and Holy Pentecost. “’But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,’” Jesus tells His Church (Ac. 1:8). “’Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you’” (Lk. 24:49). The whole purpose of our Lord’s ascension from earth to Heaven was to make this a reality! “’Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper [Paraclete] will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you’” (Jn. 16:7). “’And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper [Paraclete], that He may abide with you forever – the Spirit of Truth, Whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you’” (Jn. 14:16-17).
It has been the goal of God since creation to share with us His divine and Eternal Life, to partake of us that we might, in turn, partake of Him. In the words of St. Athanasius the Great, “’God became man so that we might receive the Holy Spirit.’” This indeed is what our Lord fulfills today for His Church and we who are her sons and daughters who believe the Truth. “’If any man thirst,’” our Lord cries out on “the last day, that great day of the feast [of Tabernacles],” “’let him come unto Me, and drink. He that believeth in Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly [heart] shall flow rivers of living water.’” This is what Jesus had likewise promised the woman by the well in Samaria, if you recall their conversation. Jesus, being wearied from His journey, says the Evangelist, sat down by Jacob’s Well and asked of the woman a drink. She is taken aback that a Jew would ask her, a Samaritan woman of all people, for a drink of water to which our Lord replied, “’If you knew the gift of God, and Who it is Who says to you, “Give Me a drink,” you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.’”
Needless to say, she is intrigued by the prospects of this this living water offered by Jesus, but she is only hearing Him on a superficial level. “’Whoever drinks of this water [from Jacob’s well] will thirst again,’” our Lord says, “’but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into Everlasting Life’” (Jn. 4:6-14). To which we could easily add the Evangelist’s words already heard this morning, “But this [Jesus] spoke concerning the [Holy] Spirit, Whom those believing in Him would receive; . . . .”
Pentecost, beloved, is the ultimate fulfillment of the divine intent and promise. The Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life (Nicene Creed), is sent by the Father at the behest of His Son to enliven, empower, and to indwell the Church and her baptized. What the Church receives her baptized partake of. Sacred Scripture uses a multiplicity of images for the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of holiness, the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of Him Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the Spirit of Christ. Fire and water, two seemingly contradictory images, yet paradoxically they co-exist perfectly together – one not diminished by the other. These are used in today’s Holy Gospel, a sure sign of the Messiah as foretold by the Forerunner and Baptist, John. “’I baptize you with water,’” says the Forerunner, “’but One mightier than I is coming, . . . He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire’” (Mt. 3:11; Mk. 1:8; Lk. 3:16). The Holy Spirit is Life and Light for the Church and her faithful. Without Him, we dwell in darkness and we remain dead and lifeless. He – in His mighty power – imparts to us the grace of our Lord’s Resurrection. He rouses us to new and Everlasting Life. He makes us to partake of and to participate in the divine nature – for that is why we were first fashioned by the hand of God and placed in Paradise in the first place (WS 2:23; 2 Pe. 1:4). Without the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, we are hollow . . . . . . corpses. Fire burns, consumes, purges, and cauterizes; water slakes the parched desert wilderness scorched by the sun’s heat, it makes our dry and sticky throats to sing again, it cools and refreshes our tired and sweaty bodies, and it kills by way of drowning us.
We see a Church, once gathered in fear behind locked doors, suddenly, inexplicably made courageous, boldly preaching Jesus Christ, defying the orders of the authorities to cease and desist. A Church that fears God more than she fears any man, woman, or beast. A Church that rightly knows allegiance must be to God and not to “princes and sons of men in whom there is no salvation” (Antiphon). “’We ought to obey God rather than men’” (Ac. 4:19-20; 5:29). This coming from Peter who once was quick to deny his Lord not once, nor twice, but thrice, even after having been forewarned by Jesus! Such courage, such faith, such obedience is nothing but the fire of the Holy Spirit received in the waters of the Font and the oil chrismated upon the brow. The Spirit of God leads us into the depths of God’s holiness without which none of us can dare to hope to see God for He is the Spirit of holiness – the Holy Spirit (Hb. 12:14).
What Jesus promises in today’s Holy Gospel is this ever-flowing river of Life running through us – not only for us and for our personal salvation – but for the salvation of the whole world. If the Spirit of God so freely bestowed on this day to the Church in her worship in the Name of the crucified and risen Lord should ever become our private possession, then we will become just like the Dead Sea. Do you know why the Dead Sea is called the Dead Sea? It is because water flows in but never flows out! It is quite literally a sea of salt! If the Spirit of God is solely for us, our little private possession to be hoarded and protected, and does not flow through us outward into the world, we become pillars of salt, just like Lot’s wife whom our Lord exhorts us to remember for our own good (Gn. 19:26; Lk. 17:32). The river of the Holy Spirit welling up unto Eternal Life is indeed for us, but He must be allowed to run through us, cleansing and purging as He flows, enlivening and empowering as He goes, putting to death and giving Life, and then from us into the highways and the byways so that Jesus Christ might be made known in all the world. Having been made alive by the Spirit and purified, we are made vessels of God’s saving and sanctifying grace, conduits of His blessing and His Life – God’s Sacraments in the midst of this old, dry-rotted world!
“On the last day, that great day [of the Feast of Tabernacles], Jesus stood and cried out, . . . ‘I AM the Light of the world. He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the Light of Life.’” In Him, with Him, and through Him is the water and the light of Paradise fulfilled.
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
VIGIL PROPERS: PROPERS:
Nm. 11:16-17, 24-29 Ac. 2:1-11
Jl. 2:23-32 Jn. 7:37-52; 8:12