“When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, [the disciples] were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1-4)
Pentecost (Gk., pentecosti) is literally “the fiftieth” day after Pascha (Heb., Passover). Their connection is mandated in the Old Testament Law: “When you come into the land I give you and reap its harvest…Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the Lord” (Lev. 23:10, 16).
Thus Pentecost is a harvest feast celebrating the fruitfulness of the land into which the Lord led His people, Israel, after their deliverance from the house of bondage in Egypt. Abundant life in the Promised Land completes salvation from death.
Also in Jewish practice, the Feast of Pentecost commemorated the giving of the Law on Sinai and the covenant made by God with His people. This connection resulted from the fact that the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai about 50 days after leaving Egypt: “Now in the third month after the children of Israel departed from the land of Egypt…Israel camped there before the mountain” (Ex. 19:1, 2). Thus the abundant life promised to God’s people delivered from sin and death consists of participation in the divine, eternal life of God Himself manifest in commandments not of this world and the worship of God. While journeying through and utilizing this world, God’s people are called to conduct themselves in a heavenly way.
This heavenly way is ultimately life in the Spirit of God, proceeding from the Father, and sent by the Son. Christ said: “It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper (Gk., Parakletos; “Comforter”) will not come to you; but if I depart (i.e., at Christ’s ascension into heaven), I will send Him to you…when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth…” (John 16:7, 13). Jesus told His apostles: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost fulfills the unfolding revelation not only of God Himself as Trinity (Three-in-One) but also God’s plan of salvation. As St. Gregory the Theologian explained (Fifth Theological Oration), first people were led from idolatry to the worship of the one God and Father in the Law. Next, people were led from the Law to the Gospel by faith in the Son of God made flesh, who was crucified and raised again to restore us to the Father. Finally, people are led from earth to heaven itself where Christ returned bodily, enlivened by the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the one communion of God and His saints.
The wind, the cloven fiery tongues, the speaking in other languages – these are all signs of the power and reality of God’s Spirit calling the nations to life in Christ with the Father through the faithful who bear witness to the truthfulness of this life with their own personal witness
- . “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.” (Rom. 8:16-17)
- “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” (Rom. 8:26)
- “Therefore I make know to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:3)
- “Clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart…Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (2 Cor. 3:3, 17)
- “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law…If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” (Gal. 5:18, 25)
Christians are baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). They are then sealed – anointed/chrismated – with the gift of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 1:21-22; Eph. 1:13; 1 John 2:20). “It is the Spirit who gives life” (John 6:63); therefore, the Holy Spirit is known as the Life-giver who brings us to unity in God Himself, the Holy Trinity, together with the Church (John 17:22-23; 1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 4:4-6). The Holy Spirit present in the Church, by whom the Son of God was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary, changes the bread and wine of Holy Communion to be the very Body and Blood of Christ (Luke 1:35; 2 Cor. 13:14).
In all of this the Holy Spirit confirms the disciples of Christ in the Faith and Love of God. Though it is possible to “grieve the Holy Spirit” (Eph. 4:30) through the misuse of our free-will and personal choices contrary to the will of God, the Holy Spirit continually strengthens the faithful in the promises and hope of life in the eternal kingdom of God. As with Christmas (the Incarnation), Pascha (death and Resurrection), and the Ascension of Christ into heaven, Pentecost is a continual state of our new creation in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. God is bringing us in His Church to the fullness of His plan for us: to be deified, that is, to become by the grace of the Holy Spirit what God is by nature (2 Pet. 1:2-4). This is truly the harvest of the nations.