Give us hearts of flesh!

…I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.  I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you….  -Ezekiel 36

It was a day for rejoicing in my parish, as three men were baptized, and another became a catechumen. Many of us stood scattered over the large patio and lawns outside the church, and roughly in the center of our gathering was the baptismal font that had been newly refurbished. Up the steps of the sunken font they emerged in turn to receive chrismation with that divinely scented oil, the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit. The rest of us prayed with them and a few sang into our masks, glad with the newly illumined souls that their period of waiting and preparing has been fulfilled. One of the men had been a catechumen for two years, through many delays and interruptions.

It’s Holy Trinity Day, the Feast of Pentecost, the Descent of the Holy Spirit.

We commemorate the day when the Holy Spirit fell on the apostles and they finally experienced what Christ had promised, when He said that He must “go away,” but He would send the Comforter. But Pentecost is not so much a historic event as it is a present reality.

The icon called “Descent of the Holy Spirit” is full of theology. I prepared a small lesson on it for my church school class today and learned about things I’d never paid attention to before. This example shows an empty seat in the center of the semicircle of the apostles, which is for Christ, the invisible Head of the Church, Who is present always through the Holy Spirit.

But some of the Pentecost icons have Christ’s mother Mary, the Theotokos, in that spot; it’s not because we consider her the head of the church. If she is there, it is as another member of Christ’s body, and the supreme earthly example for the rest of us of how a person filled with the Holy Spirit ought to live; in that case her place is called the Teacher’s Seat. The Apostle Paul is in the icon and he was not even present.

The twelve apostles in the icon represent the whole Church throughout time. They sit not in a closed circle but in a semicircle whose openness invites us to be part of that Body. We each experience the descent of the Holy Spirit at our baptism, in the Eucharist, and through all the ministries of the Church, which is why we begin every prayer and every work with, “O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, come and abide in us… ”

…and we might add, do give us those hearts of flesh!

7 thoughts on “Give us hearts of flesh!

  1. I love that passage from Ezekiel also in a more modern version: “I will give you a new heart and a new mind. I will take away your stubborn heart of stone and give you an obedient heart. I will put my spirit in you and will see to it that you follow all the commands I have given you…You will be my people and I will be your God.”
    Beautiful words that bless.

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  2. Beautifully expressed! I was so pleased when I saw (during my study in Meditations for Pascha by Fr. Vassilios Papavassiliou in preparation for Pentecost) that verse from Ezekiel. It took me back 35-40 years to when I first began to follow Jesus . . . that verse became a prayer for me way back then, asking God to give me a heart of flesh instead of stone . . . and then I was a bit overwhelmed to consider all those years between then and now and see just how far He has brought me in response to that early prayer . . . all the way to the fullness of the Orthodox Church from those early “Jesus Movement” days! And it’s still my prayer for me and everyone else . . . may God bless us all!

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  3. I’m learning from you how little I know of the Orthodox faith. For example: if I were to become Orthodox, would re-baptism be required? I smiled at the two-year catechumenate, too. My Methodist catechism instruction filled an entire six weeks!

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  4. What a lovely piece of Scripture to think on, and I enjoyed your explanation of the rich symbolism in the icon as well. I’m glad that your congregation was able to celebrate these joyful events! We’re still trying to work with our state’s government…God willing we will be allowed to meet in some fashion soon. The Pentecost reminder is a great one for my frustrations, though- that even though we’re separated from our church family, we’re still joined by the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith into that Body of Christ. Thanks for that reminder!

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