Tag Archives: Pentecost

The most fragrant dispensation.

Since Pascha I have been reading The Eucharist by Father Alexander Schmemann. It is so much more than I expected; I don’t know what I did expect — maybe with such a simple title I imagined something “dry and scholarly”? We can count on Fr. Alexander to be scholarly, but we can also count on his words to be infused by the Holy Spirit and to convey his own obvious joy in the Holy Spirit.

My priest was graced to hear these words as seminary lectures; the author died before he could finish the English edition of his book, but use was made of the original Russian and the French translation in the publishing of the edition I am reading, in 1987.  It’s another of those many lasting gifts that Fr. Alexander has given us.

Much in the section on “The Sacrament of the Kingdom” is especially fitting for the celebration of Pentecost this week, so I share from the riches I’m receiving:

…Through his coming on the “last and great day of Pentecost” the Holy Spirit transforms this last day into the first day of the new creation and manifests the Church as the gift and presence of this first and “eighth” day.

Thus, everything in the Church is by the Holy Spirit, everything is in the Holy Spirit and everything is partaking of the Holy Spirit. It is by the Holy Spirit because with the descent of the Spirit the Church is revealed as the transformation of the end into the beginning, of the old life into the new. “The Holy Spirit grants all things; he is the source of prophecy, he fulfills the priesthood, he gathers the entire church assembly” (hymn of Pentecost). Everything in the Church is in the Holy Spirit, who raises us up to the heavenly sanctuary, to the throne of God. “We have seen the true light, we have received the heavenly Spirit” (another hymn of Pentecost).

Finally, the Church is entirely oriented toward the Holy Spirit, “the treasury of blessings and giver of life.” The entire life of the Church is a thirst for acquisition of the Holy Spirit and for participation in him, and in him of the fullness of grace. Just as the life and spiritual struggle of each believer consists, in the words of St. Seraphim of Sarov, in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, so also the life of the Church is that same acquisition, that same eternally satisfied but never completely quenched thirst for the Holy Spirit.

I can imagine that there are writings about the Holy Spirit that are “dry,” if the writer is not skilled, or has not experienced life in Christ. But the Holy Spirit himself cannot be dry — he is sent to water our souls with divine life. At the close of this section Father Alexander gives us a prayer from the compline canon of the Feast of the Holy Spirit:

“Come to us, O Holy Spirit, and make us partakers of your holiness,
and of the light that knows no evening, and of the divine life,
and of the most fragrant dispensation….”

On Pentecost, trees clap in church.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the human will to live, and how it is a gift of God, and not a mere “survival instinct,” as scientific materialists might term it. We do not bring ourselves into being, and we can’t keep ourselves alive; and yet, most of the time we try to survive. It’s because God has given us LIFE. I also think about trees most days 🙂 so these words of Fr. Stephen Freeman are a joy to me, as we prepare for the Feast of Pentecost.

I had fun searching for photos of trees in church. The first photo I believe is from the author’s own parish church in Tennessee. The snippets below, which were included in our church bulletin this week, are from his blog post several years ago on Pentecost and Creation.

PENTECOST and CREATION

There is something about life, at least in our earthly experience, that is inexorable. Any individual case of life may be fragile, but life itself endures. In the Genesis account we are told that God blessed this planet and said:

Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth; and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:11-12 NKJ)

The Feast of Pentecost…focuses as much on the Holy Spirit’s work in Creation as it does on the Spirit’s work in the Church. The Church is decorated in green. In Russian tradition, branches of birch are brought into the Church; fresh green grass is placed on the floor; flowers are everywhere. In Soviet times a secular version of the festival remained, called the Day of Trees.

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church is not something separate from Creation—nor are the trees a distraction from the Church. They are, together, a proper reminder of the role God’s Spirit plays always, everywhere. He is the “Lord and Giver of Life.” Just as the Spirit moved over the face of the waters in the beginning of creation, so He moves over the face of all things at all times, bringing forth life and all good things.

Though I am frequently assaulted with bouts of pessimism, despairing over various aspects of our distorted civilization, the truth is that like the planet itself, civilization with its drive for beauty and order seem inexorable. The history of humanity is not the story of a fall from a great civilization with increasing instances of barbarism and cave dwelling. Great civilizations have risen and fallen, but civilizations continue to occur. Some may already have begun in the ruins that surround us now. The story told in Scripture is not the story of collapse and decay. There are certainly dire warnings of terrible trials and great catastrophes. But these things do not reveal the mystery of God’s will. These things are cracks in the pavement while life continues to burst forth:

God has made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him (Ephesians 1:9-10).

What appeared as tongues of flame upon the heads of the disciples at Pentecost was a manifestation of this Divine Purpose at work. With the sound of a mighty rushing wind, the Holy Spirit filled the room. The fullness of the Church burst into the streets proclaiming the Gospel in a multitude of languages. Being birthed in Jerusalem was the New Jerusalem, where there is neither slave nor free, Jew nor Greek, male nor female. Instead there is the fullness that fills all things bringing forth all things in one—in the One Christ Himself. The voice of Pentecost is the voice of creation’s groans being transformed into the “glorious liberty of the children of God.” Stones cry out, trees clap their hands and the song of creation rejoices in the One Christ.

—Fr. Stephen Freeman

Days of the Holy Spirit

P1000268I started writing this post two years ago, but I’ve now kept only the photo, which is almost identical to one I took yesterday on the Feast of Pentecost. Today as I write is the continuing of the feast, with Holy Spirit Day. Now after 50 days of “waiting” for the Holy Spirit after Pascha, we once again pray in this way at the beginning of every service:

O Heavenly King, the Comforter,
The Spirit of Truth,
Who art everywhere present and filleth all things,
Treasury of blessings, and Giver of Life,
Come and abide in us,
And cleanse us from every impurity,
And save our souls, O Good One.

Two baptisms were held yesterday, too, which were a glorious part of our celebrations. The church was full of trees and greenery. The sun was shining, the faces were shining… I am very glad.

Heralds and singers all day long.

On the church calendar, we are still in Pentecost, that 50-day period between Easter/Pascha and Pentecost. We even take note of Mid-Pentecost, which was last week.

Of course, it’s never inappropriate to remind one another that “Christ is risen!” but during these weeks we make a special point of it and try to remember, instead of “Hello!” to greet one another with those words of joy and hope. For truly His resurrection from the dead, His overcoming of death, shows the power of God to deliver us from our own patches of darkness, no matter how impossibly deep and cold the current “grave” we find ourselves in.

Last night a robin came around to chirp the falling of dusk to me, “my” robin who always seems to be sent as an emissary from the Father – or more precisely, a herald: Gretchen, remember, God is here with you! I forgot to tell you that in my hotel in Atlanta earlier this month, the night when I was staying alone, a robin chirped right outside my ground-floor window just before darkness and a rainstorm.

This morning I woke to birdsong floating in from the garden and the trees. As I made my bed I joined in with them and sang a meditative version of the hymn, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing Life.”

Next week will be the Leave-taking of Pascha, after which we will focus on the Ascension of Christ. At Vespers the evening before, we will sing all those rousing Paschal choruses for the last time liturgically. I know the little sorrows and worries, confusing thoughts and maybe even some big heartaches won’t disappear from my earthly life, and I will want to keep singing these re-orienting melodies of Christ’s transforming Life.

I’m counting on the birds to be my helpers.