The Feast of Pentecost
Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann
Orthodox Metropolis of Zambia and Malawi
|Pentecost. Icon from here.|
For centuries, to prepare for this feast the churches were cleaned and adorned with greenery and branches, and grass was strewn about the floor... On the day of the feast, at the solemn vespers, the faithful stood in church holding flowers in their hands. These customs explain how the feast of Pentecost entered Russian popular consciousness and literature as a kind of sun-filled, bright celebration, the feast of flowering, a kind of joyful encounter between human beings and God's world in all its beauty and grace.
All religions, including the most ancient and primitive, had a feast of summer flowering, a feast to celebrate the first appearance of shoots, plants, fruit. In ancient Judaism, this was the feast of Pentecost. If in Old Testament religion Passover celebrated spring's resurrection of the world and nature, then the Jewish Pentecost was the feast of movement from spring to summer, celebrating the victory of sun and light, the feast of cosmic fullness. But in the Old Testament a feast common to all human societies acquires a new meaning: it becomes the annual commemoration of the ascent of Moses up Mount Sinai, where in an inexpressible mystical encounter God revealed himself, entered into a Covenant, gave commandments, and promised salvation. In other terms, religion ceased being simply nature, and now became the beginning of history:
God had revealed his law, his commandments, his plan for humanity, and had shown the way. Spring, summer, the eternal natural cycle, became a sign and symbol not only of nature, but of man's spiritual destiny and the commandment to grow into fullness of knowledge, life and perfect wholeness... Finally, in the very last phase of the Old Testament, through the teaching and insight of the prophets, this feast became a celebration directed toward the future, to God's final victory in his creation. Here is how the prophet Joel speaks of this:
And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even upon the men-servants and maidservants in those days, I will pour out my spirit. And I will give signs in the heavens and on the earth...before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. And it shall come to pass that all who call upon the name of the Lord shall be delivered... (Joel 2:28-32) Thus, the Jewish feast of Pentecost is a feast of nature and the cosmos, a feast of history as the revelation of God's will for the world and human beings, a feast of future triumph, of God's victory over evil and the coming of the great and last "day of the Lord." All this must be kept in mind in order to grasp how the first Christians experienced, understood, and celebrated their feast of Pentecost, and why it became one of the most important Christian celebrations.
The Book of Acts, devoted to recounting the history of the first Christians and the initial spread of Christianity, starts precisely with the day of Pentecost, describing what took place fifty days after Christ's resurrection and ten days after his ascension into heaven. Just before his ascension Christ had told the disciples "not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which he said, 'you heard from me..." (Acts 1:4). So in ten days, according to St Luke's account,
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance... And all who heard were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" But others mocking said, "They are filled with new wine." (Acts 2:1-4, 12.13)
To those witnesses who remained skeptical, the apostle Peter explained the meaning of the event using the words of the prophet Joel quoted above. "This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel," he said, "And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh..." (Acts 2:16,17).
For the Christian, therefore, the feast of Pentecost is the completion of all that Christ accomplished. Christ taught about the Kingdom of God, and here it is, now opened! Christ promised that the Spirit of God would reveal the truth, and now this is fulfilled. The world, history, life, time, are all illumined with the final, transcendent light-all are filled with ultimate meaning. The last and great day of the Lord has begun!
Feast of Pentecost 2017 at the temporary Cathedral of St Dimitrious in Pointe-Noire, Republic of Congo (from here)
The Gospel of the Sunday of Pentecost
The Promise of the Holy Spirit (John 7:37-52)
Orthodox Metropolis of Zambia and Malawi
(photo from Pointe-Noire)
37 On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” 39 But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing[a] in Him would receive; for the Holy[b] Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
Who Is He?
40 Therefore many[c] from the crowd, when they heard this saying, said, “Truly this is the Prophet.” 41 Others said, “This is the Christ.”
But some said, “Will the Christ come out of Galilee? 42 Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?” 43 So there was a division among the people because of Him. 44 Now some of them wanted to take Him, but no one laid hands on Him.
Rejected by the Authorities
45 Then the officers came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why have you not brought Him?”
46 The officers answered, “No man ever spoke like this Man!”
47 Then the Pharisees answered them, “Are you also deceived? 48 Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him? 49 But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.”
50 Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night,[d] being one of them) said to them, 51 “Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?”
52 They answered and said to him, “Are you also from Galilee? Search and look, for no prophet has arisen[e] out of Galilee.”
12 Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”
Reading the prayers of Pentecost 2017, outside in a Maasai village, Kenya (photos from here & from here of Bassie Masoha Feldman)
Pentecost - If any man thirst… Three important things.
Orthodox Metropolis of Zambia and Malawi
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Brothers and sisters, there are three very important things that are said in the gospel today. They’re right in a row. One is basically a question. The other is a command or actually, a suggestion, and the other is the result.
We are celebrating today Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, the apostles and all the rest of the believers up to and including us – the Holy Spirit Who enlightens us, Who shows us the way of life, Who speaks to us in groaning s that cannot be uttered. He tells us the things of God, the things of Christ; He enlightens us.
But none of this, none of this will happen unless first we consider this very, very important question. And we must answer.
When you answer a question, a Christian question, it’s not something that you say once. It’s something that you answer again and again and again. An example is when the Lord said, “Simon, son of Jonas, loves thou me?” And he said, “Yea, Lord, I love thee.” And he was asked three times in a row.
We are asked that question every day. Do we love the Lord or do we love the world? So we can’t answer that question just one time. It has to be answered over and over again.
And here is another question very similar to the question that is posed to us on the Sunday of the Cross: “If any man thirst, if any man will,” it says on the Sunday of the Cross, “let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.” Here it says, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink.”
There’s a parallel here. How do you come unto Christ and drink? You deny yourself; you take up your cross and you follow Him.
“If any man thirst” – It’s a question that needs to be answered every day. Do you thirst?
Now, thirst, biologically, is just when you feel the need for water, and if you are extremely active, you need to be drinking water even when you don’t think you need it. In the Christian life we should be cultivating our thirst, constantly thinking.
How do you cultivate your thirst? I think the easiest way is to compare this life to the next, comparing the person you are with the person you should be. Compare the promises of God with the way of the world. And if that doesn’t make you thirst, then you have a severe problem like unto being that ground that is hard packed, so that the seed cannot grow.
If a person has no thirst whatsoever, the Holy Spirit will not fill them; the Holy Spirit will not live in them, no matter how Orthodox they are. No matter if their father and mother were Orthodox, it’s been in their family, no matter if they serve in the church, no matter if they are clergy. If a person does not thirst for God, then the Holy Spirit will not fill him.
So the first and foremost thing that is necessary for our salvation is for us to thirst, for us to desire. God revealed Himself to us. Otherwise, we would know nothing of Him. So the first and foremost thing of salvation is God loving us and creating us.
But we were created, and we often look to worldly and earthly things instead of spiritual things because they are more immediately tasty to us. They are more immediately pleasurable to us. They are easier to obtain, and the things of God are hidden. So it takes effort to cultivate a thirst.
Pentecost 2017 in the Parish of The Holy Apostles in Rwamagana, in Eastern Province of Rwanda (from here)
Now, the apostles were gathered together on the day of Pentecost and the tongues of flame came and stood over each one of their heads and they prophesied and they spoke in other languages. Why did this happen? It was because they were gathered together; they were thirsting. In the fifty days since the Lord had risen they were together every day in prayer and in fasting, not understanding really about the future. The Lord had spoken to them about this future, but they did not understand, but they stayed in one place so that on the day of the Holy Spirit they were all enlightened. If any one among their company had left, then on that day they were not enlightened.
So the first thing that you must do is thirst. And then the next thing with thirst, find something to slake your thirst. And the only thing that will satisfy us is Jesus Christ. So we must come unto Him and drink.
Does this make you remember the woman at the well? He said to the woman at the well, “If you ask of me, I’ll give you living water.” This living water is the Holy Spirit. “He that believeth on me,” says the Lord, “out of his belly shall flow forth rivers of living water.”
This metaphor is really wonderful. The belly is also a figure of speech for the heart; it is interesting that the belly is sometimes taken as the heart in Scriptures. The belly is the place where we fulfill our desires; it is a metaphor for all desire. And the Lord will sanctify all of us. If our belly is sanctified, then certainly the rest of us will be as well.
Now, sometimes people have trouble believing. It’s really difficult. There’s a lot of, dissonance in the world. We want to be something and we’re not. We try to be good, and yet there are these thoughts that assail us. We try to find Christ, and sometimes He does not seem so near. So there’s this tug of war that’s going on all the time. It’s a lot easier to believe the things in the world because we see them and we feel them and we experience them rather than the things of God. And anyone who says that they never have any such feelings, that person is not telling you the truth.
How do we experience Christ? First by knowing we need Him. Thirsting. Second, by coming to Him. And the gospel of the Cross is “Deny yourself, take up your Cross and follow Me.” So we are talking work, and not anything that’s really, really easy. We are talking if you have something that you really need and you know that the only way to get it is by obtaining something, you’re willing to work for that.
And then what happens? “Out of his belly shall flow forth rivers of living water.” if out of your belly was flowing forth cool, refreshing, life-giving water, wouldn’t you know it? Would any man need to tell you any proofs of Christ? Would you need to have any dogmatic definitions? No. Because God would be within you. You would feel Him moving. There would be no doubt. This is what we are attempting to obtain, and it is obtainable, and we do believe this because the saints obtained it.
If you are having doubts, then recognize that this is a sign of your own fallenness and weakness, and renew your thirst. Whatever you can do to come to the Lord, do it, and drink of His living water, and you will eventually feel out of your belly this living water. There will be no doubt. There won’t be any room for any doubt because the Holy Spirit fulfills all things.
Do what you can do so that eventually you can do what you cannot do.
Pentecost 2017 in Beira, Mozambique (from here)
First of all, you must be thirsty. You must know that you have a need. You have to know that you need God. And I tell you, unfortunately there are people that don’t know this need. Sometimes we don’t know this need either. But if we know this need, then let us come to Christ. And you come to Him by being completely pure, never thinking evil thinking thoughts, never cursing, never having any unclean thoughts, never being jealous, never lying, never being unpleasant, and never being irritable. If you can do this, then that is good, but most people cannot. None of us can do this, not consistently, not every single moment. But we can do some of it; and the things we can do, we must do.
If you can be kind to your neighbors, be kind even if they are not kind to you.
If you can refrain from judging someone or at least refrain from judging with your lips, then do this.
If you can fast, then fast.
If you can come to the services frequently, then do this.
There are many, many other things.
We could speak of hundreds of things that, if you can do them, I tell you, you must do them.
Sometimes things that you and I consider simple, other people consider difficult, like fasting, for instance, or saying our prayers in our morning or continence or any other things. But what you can do, you must do because the Lord says, “Come unto Me and drink, and out of your belly shall flow rivers of living water.” And this is the part that you cannot do, but you will be able to do. No man will be saved without great effort.
If you want to show the Lord that you thirst, then evaluate what you can do
Now, can you fast? All right.
Can you pray?
Can you come to church regularly?
Can you commune?
Can you confess?
Can you tithe?
Can you be kind?
Then do these things.
If these are things that you are capable of doing and you are not doing them, then woe unto you because how can the Spirit come in, because if you are not doing things that you can do, you certainly won’t be able to do anything that you’re not capable of, and you never will.
So that is what that little aphorism that I made up means. It is important, and the Scripture teaches it all the time. I mean, I didn’t make it up out of the air. It’s right in the Scriptures.
So if you thirst, follow Christ to the extent of your abilities. Perhaps those abilities are not very good right now. But they will become better if you follow according to the extent of your abilities now. And then you will become better able to do good things later on. And there is no substitute for purity and goodness. Purity and goodness make us know Christ in the way that no one can gainsay, no one can fool us, and no doubts can creep in.
So here is the key to the Christian life. Thirst for God. Thirst for goodness. Thirst for peace. Recognize that you are lacking something, something very precious that you need. Desire that thing. And then, to the best of your abilities, come to Christ and drink of His water which He offers. Take up your cross, deny yourself, struggle.
“If any man thirst, let him come to Me and drink. He that believeth on Me,” as the Scripture has said, “out of his belly shall flow forth rivers of living water.” And we celebrate the Holy Spirit coming today to make this a possibility for us to have the rivers of living water in our life but only if we thirst and if this thirst drives us to come after Christ and to follow him. Amen.
The Gospel of the Sunday of Pentecost in Kiswahili, Portuguese and Arabic
The Lord Jesus Christ teaches the people (icon from here)
Orthodox Metropolis of Zambia and Malawi
Vijito Vya Maji Yaletayo Uzima
37 Siku ya mwisho ya sikukuu, ambayo kwa kawaida ndio ili kuwa kilele cha sherehe, Yesu alisimama akasema kwa sauti kuu, “Mtu ye yote mwenye kiu na aje kwangu anywe. 38 Kama Maandiko yasemavyo, ye yote aniaminiye, vijito vya maji yaletayo uzima vitatiririka kutoka moyoni mwake.” 39 Yesu alisema haya kuhusu Roho Mtakatifu ambaye wote waliomwamini Yesu wangempokea, kwani mpaka wakati huo, Roho alikuwa bado hajatolewa, kwa kuwa Yesu alikuwa bado hajainuliwa na kutukuzwa.
40 Waliposikia maneno hayo, baadhi ya watu walisema, “Hakika huyu ndiye yule Nabii.” 41 Wengine wakasema, “Huyu ni Masihi!” Lakini wengine wakauliza, “Kwani Masihi kwao ni Gali laya? 42 Je, Maandiko hayakusema kuwa Masihi atakuwa mzao wa Daudi na kwamba atazaliwa Bethlehemu, mji alioishi Daudi?” 43 Kwa hiyo kukawa na mgawanyiko kati ya watu kumhusu Yesu. 44 Baadhi yao walitaka kumkamata, lakini hakuna aliyethubutu kumgusa.
Kutokuamini Kwa Viongozi Wa Wayahudi
45 Hatimaye wale walinzi wa Hekalu waliokuwa wametumwa kum kamata Yesu, walirudi kwa makuhani wakuu na Mafarisayo. Wakauli zwa, “Mbona hamkumleta ?”
46 Wale walinzi wakajibu, “Hakuna mtu ambaye amewahi kufundisha kama yeye.” 47 Mafarisayo wakajibu, “Ameweza kuwa danganya hata ninyi? 48 Je, mmewahi kuona kiongozi ye yote au mmoja wa Mafarisayo ambaye amemwamini? 49 Lakini huu umati wa watu wasiojua sheria ya Musa, wamelaaniwa.”
50 Ndipo Nikodemo, yule aliyemwendea Yesu siku moja, ambaye alikuwa kati yao akauliza, 51 “Je, sheria zetu zinaturuhusu kumhukumu mtu kabla ya kumsikiliza na kufahamu alilotenda?”
52 Wakamjibu, “Je, wewe pia unatoka Galilaya? Chunguza Maandiko nawe utaona kwamba hakuna nabii anayetokea Galilaya!”
Yesu Ni Nuru Ya Ulimwengu
12 Kwa hiyo Yesu akasema nao tena akawaambia, “Mimi ni nuru ya ulimwengu. Mtu ye yote akinifuata hatatembea gizani kamwe, bali atakuwa na nuru yenye kuleta uzima.”
Photos from Pentecost 2013 at the Patriarchate of Alexandria & All Africa, Cairo (from here)
37 E, no último dia, o grande dia da festa, Jesus pôs-se em pé e clamou, dizendo: Se alguém tem sede, que venha a mim e beba. 38 Quem crê em mim, como diz a Escritura, rios de água viva correrão do seu ventre. 39 E isso disse ele do Espírito, que haviam de receber os que nele cressem; porque o Espírito Santo ainda não fora dado, por ainda Jesus não ter sido glorificado.
40 Então, muitos da multidão, ouvindo essa palavra, diziam: Verdadeiramente, este é o Profeta. 41 Outros diziam: Este é o Cristo; mas diziam outros: Vem, pois, o Cristo da Galileia? 42 Não diz a Escritura que o Cristo vem da descendência de Davi e de Belém, da aldeia de onde era Davi? 43 Assim, entre o povo havia dissensão por causa dele. 44 E alguns deles queriam prendê-lo, mas ninguém lançou mão dele.
45 E os servidores foram ter com os principais dos sacerdotes e fariseus; e eles lhes perguntaram: Por que o não trouxestes? 46 Responderam os servidores: Nunca homem algum falou assim como este homem. 47 Responderam-lhes, pois, os fariseus: Também vós fostes enganados? 48 Creu nele, porventura, algum dos principais ou dos fariseus? 49 Mas esta multidão, que não sabe a lei, é maldita. 50 Nicodemos, que era um deles (o que de noite fora ter com Jesus), disse-lhes: 51 Porventura, condena a nossa lei um homem sem primeiro o ouvir e ter conhecimento do que faz? 52 Responderam eles e disseram-lhe: És tu também da Galileia? Examina e verás que da Galileia nenhum profeta surgiu.
Discurso de Jesus sobre a sua missão
12 Falou-lhes, pois, Jesus outra vez, dizendo: Eu sou a luz do mundo; quem me segue não andará em trevas, mas terá a luz da vida.
يَسُوعُ يَتَحَدَّثُ عَنِ الرُّوحِ القُدُس
37 وَفِي اليَوْمِ الأخِيْرِ وَالأهَمِّ مِنَ العِيْدِ، وَقَفَ يَسُوعُ وَقالَ بِصَوْتٍ مُرْتَفِعٍ: «إنْ عَطِشَ أحَدٌ مِنْكُمْ، فَلْيَأْتِ إلَيَّ وَيَشْرَبْ. 38 وَمَنْ آمَنَ بِي، سَتَفِيْضُ مِنْ أعماقِهِ أنْهارُ ماءٍ حَيٍّ، كَما يَقُولُ الكِتابُ. [a]» 39 قالَ يَسُوعُ هَذا عَنِ الرُّوحِ القُدُسِ الَّذِي سَيَنالُهُ المُؤْمِنُونَ بِهِ. لَكِنْ لِأنَّ يَسُوعَ لَمْ يَكُنْ قَدْ تَمَجَّدَ بَعْدُ، فَإنَّ الرُّوحَ لَمْ يَكُنْ قَدْ أُرْسِلَ بَعْدُ.
الخِلافُ حَولَ يَسُوع
40 فَلَمّا سَمِعَ بَعْضُ النّاسِ هَذا الكَلامَ بَدَأُوا يَقُولُونَ: «هَذا الرَّجُلُ هُوَ النَّبِيُّ [b] حَقّاً.» 41 وَكانَ آخَرُونَ يَقُولُونَ: «هَذا الرَّجُلُ هُوَ المَسِيْحُ.» غَيْرَ أنَّ آخَرِيْنَ كانُوا يَقُولُونَ: «أيُعْقَلُ أنْ يَأْتِيَ المَسِيْحُ مِنَ الجَلِيلِ؟ 42 ألا يَقُولُ الكِتابُ إنَّ المَسِيْحَ سَيَكُونُ مِنْ نَسلِ داوُدَ، [c] وَإنَّهُ يَأْتِي مِنْ بَلْدَةِ بَيْتَ لَحْمَ [d] حَيْثُ عاشَ داوُدُ؟» 43 فَحَدَثَ انقِسامٌ بَيْنَ النّاسِ بِسَبَبِهِ. 44 وَأرادَ بَعْضُهُمْ أنْ يَقْبِضَ عَلَيْهِ، لَكِنْ لَمْ يَسْتَطِعْ أحَدٌ أنْ يُمْسِكَهُ.
قادَةُ اليَهُودِ يَرْفُضُونَ أنْ يُؤْمِنُوا
45 فَرَجِعَ حُرّاسُ الهَيْكَلِ إلَى الفِرِّيْسِيِّيْنَ وَكِبارِ الكَهَنَةِ. فَسَألَ هَؤُلاءِ الحُرّاسَ: «لِماذا لَمْ تُحْضِرُوهُ؟»
46 فَأجابَ الحُرّاسُ: «لَمْ يَتَحَدَّثْ إنسانٌ بِمِثلِ هَذا الكَلامِ قَطُّ!»
47 فَقالَ الفِرِّيْسِيُّونَ: «هَلْ خُدِعْتُمْ أنتُمْ أيضاً؟ 48 هَلْ تَعْرِفُونَ أحَداً مِنَ القادَةِ أوِ الفِرِّيْسِيِّيْنَ آمَنَ بِهِ؟ 49 لَكِنَّ أُولَئِكَ النّاسُ فِي الخارِجِ لا يَعْرِفُونَ شَيْئاً عَنِ الشَّرِيْعَةِ، وَهُمْ تَحتَ لَعْنَةِ اللهِ!»
50 وَكانَ نِيقُودِيْمُوسُ واحِداً مِنَ الفِرِّيْسِيِّيْنَ، وَهُوَ الَّذِي كانَ قَدْ ذَهَبَ إلَى يَسُوعَ سابِقاً. [e] فَسَألَهُمْ: 51 «هَلْ تَحْكُمُ شَرِيْعَتُنا عَلَى أحَدٍ قَبلَ الاسْتِماعِ إلَيْهِ أوَّلا وَمَعْرِفَةِ ما فَعَلَهُ؟»
52 فَأجابُوهُ: «يَبْدُوا أنَّكَ أنْتَ أيضاً مِنْ أهلِ الجَلِيلِ؟ ابْحَثْ فِي الكُتُبِ وَلَنْ تَجِدَ شَيْئاً عَنْ نَبِيٍّ يَأْتِي مِنَ الجَلِيلِ.»
يَسُوعُ هُوَ النُّور
12 ثُمَّ وَاصَلَ يَسُوعُ كَلامَهُ لِلنّاسِ فَقالَ: «أنا هُوَ النُّورُ لِلعالَمِ. مَنْ يَتْبَعُنِي لا يَمْشِي أبَداً فِي الظُّلْمَةِ، بَلْ يَكُونُ مَعَهُ النُّورُ الَّذِي يَقُودُ إلَى الحَياةِ.»
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