Today the church is decorated with green–ferns, birch branches, palm fronds, hanging from the chandelier and draped over everything. Lilies frame the icon that portrays the pouring out of the Holy Spirit 50 days after the Resurrection. The vestments and other cloths are green now as well. This passage from Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World explains why we Orthodox take so much trouble for the sake of the appearance of our temple:
The liturgy [Communion service] is, before everything else, the joyous gathering of those who are to meet the risen Lord and to enter with Him into the bridal chamber. And it is this joy of expectation and expectation of joy that are expressed in singing and ritual, in vestments and in censing, in that whole “beauty” of the liturgy which has so often been denounced as unnecessary and even sinful.
Unnecessary it is indeed, for we are beyond the categories of the “necessary.” Beauty is never “necessary,” “functional” or “useful.” And when, expecting someone whom we love, we put a beautiful tablecloth on the table and decorate it with candles and flowers, we do all this not out of necessity, but out of love. And the Church is love, expectation and joy. It is Heaven on earth, according to our Orthodox tradition; it is the joy of recovered childhood, that free, unconditioned, and disinterested joy which alone is capable of transforming the world. In our adult, serious piety we ask for definitions and justifications, and they are rooted in fear–fear of corruption, deviation, “pagan influences,” whatnot. But “he that feareth is not made perfect in love “(I John 4:18). As long as Christians will love the Kingdom of God, and not only discuss it, they will “represent” it and signify it, in art and beauty. And the celebrant of the sacrament of joy will appear in a beautiful [robe], because he
is vested in the glory of the Kingdom….
Today is Pentecost, or Holy Trinity Sunday, so named because all the Persons of the Trinity are remembered–Christ sent the Holy Spirit from the Father. This event is, as our rector reminded us, the seal and crown and joy of Pascha, and our salvation. It is a feast second only to Pascha, to the Resurrection itself, and there is so much to celebrate that we have another Divine Liturgy tomorrow, on Holy Spirit Day.
During the time between Pascha and Pentecost, we withheld the prayer about the Holy Comforter from our daily selections, as we entered into a period of “waiting” for the Spirit to be given. Now its restoration imparts the reality of Pentecost as a historic event which has been given to us in Christ, and we pray:
O Heavenly King,
The Comforter, The Spirit of Truth,
Who art everywhere present and filleth all things,
Treasury of Blessing, and Giver of Life,
Come and abide in us,
And cleanse us from every impurity,
And save our souls, O Good One.