Tag Archives: Pentecost

Pure words and healing.

Current events had got me musing about words, silence, speech, and idle talk, even before my dear friend Myriah came to visit. She and I grant each other the exercise of free speech, even civil discourse, but I found that more than those are required by the law of  love. I hope to write further on these topics soon, though I feel woefully inadequate. Meanwhile…

After Myriah had gone home, she wrote to thank me, and to apologize for what she thought was her own “noise” as she “tried to make sense of everything.” She said, “I came home and planned to curl up and read the Bible.” But family demands prevented her. I realized that I had robbed her of what should have been a respite from confusion, talking as I had as though raging and clanging could be truly rational. Probably we should have spent some part of our two-day visit reading the Gospel together. (The garden did rescue us several times.)

These were my thoughts this Saturday morning, as I prepared to attend Divine Liturgy for the Leavetaking of Pentecost. I was present to receive Communion, but I had read the Gospel for the day at home. It washed over me as a healing balm, not because its subject matter or meaning are any more pertinent than they have ever been, but because I know the Speaker to be Truth and Love incarnate, and His speech is in stark contrast to the loudest human sounds that accost our ears and eyes. I remembered this verse:

The words of the LORD are pure words,
like silver refined in an earthen furnace,
purified seven times.
-Psalm 12:6

The Psalmist does not mean that God has to make seven rough drafts before He speaks, but that even our most refined and precious earthly things are only “something like” the Logos. These words of Christ from what is called “The Sermon on the Mount” were the Gospel reading for the day:

Give to the one who asks you, and do not reject the one who wants to borrow from you. 

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  

For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they?

So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

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!

Now you are light in the Lord.

The Monday after Pentecost Sunday, we Orthodox celebrate Holy Spirit Day.

When He came down and confused the tongues,
the Most High divided the nations;

but when He distributed the tongues of fire,
He called all people to unity.

Therefore, with one voice, we glorify the most-Holy Spirit.

(Hymn of the Feast)

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.  And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore He says:

“Awake, you who sleep,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.”

(From the epistle for the day, Ephesians 5)

The earth herself awakens.

Anglican priest Fr. Malcolm Guite has written a cycle of sonnets for the church year, several of which I have posted in the past. You can read and listen to this one for Pentecost on his site. I like the theme of the four elements which he weaves into his poem. From the blog:

“Throughout the cycle, and more widely, I have been reflecting on the traditional ‘four elements’ of earth, air, water and fire. I have been considering how each of them expresses and embodies different aspects of the Gospel and of God’s goodness, as though the four elements were, in their own way, another four evangelists.

“In that context I was very struck by the way Scripture expresses the presence of the Holy Spirit through the three most dynamic of the four elements, the air, ( a mighty rushing wind, but also the breath of the spirit) water, (the waters of baptism, the river of life, the fountain springing up to eternal life promised by Jesus) and of course fire, the tongues of flame at Pentecost. Three out of four ain’t bad, but I was wondering, where is the fourth? Where is earth? And then I realised that we ourselves are earth, the ‘Adam’ made of the red clay, and we become living beings, fully alive, when the Holy Spirit, clothed in the three other elements comes upon us and becomes a part of who we are.”

PENTECOST

Today we feel the wind beneath our wings
Today  the hidden fountain flows and plays
Today the church draws breath at last and sings
As every flame becomes a Tongue of praise.
This is the feast of fire, air, and water
Poured out and breathed and kindled into earth.
The earth herself awakens to her maker
And is translated out of death to birth.
The right words come today in their right order
And every word spells freedom and release
Today the gospel crosses every border
All tongues are loosened by the Prince of Peace
Today the lost are found in His translation.
Whose mother-tongue is Love, in  every nation.

-Malcolm Guite