Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Thoughts on Pentecost, the Fulfillment of Pascha

Dear Parish Faithful,

“For Paul … was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.”  (ACTS 20:16)

“The Last Day of the Feast,
the Great Day”

The liturgical cycle of Great Vespers, the Hours and Divine Liturgy for the great Feast of Pentecost is scheduled for this coming weekend.  It is imperative for serious Orthodox Christians to make every effort to be in church for Pentecost.  That Pentecost always falls on a Sunday makes this seem natural, for Sunday is the Lord’s Day on which everyone comes to church as it is.  Yet, it may still be of some pastoral value to reinforce the point and emphasize the importance of Pentecost in our collective and personal lives.

When it can be avoided, Pentecost is not that rare Sunday on which anyone should make some “alternative plans” and thus miss the celebration.  That would only reveal a lack of awareness as to the nature and significance of the Feast.  For, in my humble estimation, Pentecost is not so much neglected – it is on a Sunday after all – as it is misunderstood.  Many of the faithful have less than a full realization as to how profoundly connected Pentecost is to Pascha.  It is not simply “one more Sunday” like all the rest.

Although it is an over-used word, Pentecost is the fulfillment of Pascha.  As Prof. Veselin Kesich wrote:  “With Christ’s ascension, “our nature ascended” to heaven, and on Pentecost the Holy Spirit “descended on to our nature.”  The ascension points to Pentecost, to the fulfillment of the promise of the Spirit.”   Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead and glorified at the right hand of the Father in His ascension, so that He could send the Holy Spirit into the world.  The Holy Spirit is the life of the Church, for the Spirit is the “Giver of life.”  The descent of the Holy Spirit “on all flesh” is the completion of the paschal mystery.  We will again begin to pray (for the first time in fifty days) to the Holy Spirit as the “Heavenly King” to “come and abide in us.”  And the Sundays from Pentecost until next year’s Great Lent are numbered as “after Pentecost.”  The Orthodox Church is the authentic “Pentecostal” Church, for the New Testament Church began its existence in the world on the Day of Pentecost as the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.”  Our enthusiastic presence in church for Pentecost is how we respect and honor that fact.  (Part of our parish name, by way of reminder, is dedicated to the Holy Spirit).

So I encourage everyone to make the effort and keep the Feast as fully as possible.  That would mean beginning with Great Vespers on Saturday evening at 6:00 p.m.  And that means that most of you will have a choice to make as to where to spend that particular time on that particular day.  It is good to be conscious of that choice. As a festal Vespers, we will bless the loaves for the Feast and have the anointing with the oil of gladness in honor of the Feast.  For those who never come to Great Vespers, here is a good opportunity to change that pattern.  The Liturgy, of course, begins on Sunday morning at 9:30 a.m. following the Hours at 9:10 a.m.  The one peculiarity of Pentecost is that we serve the Vespers of Pentecost with kneeling prayers (the first time that we kneel following Pascha) immediately after the Liturgy.

There will be a very special festal meal prepared for the entire parish following the Vespers of Pentecost in honor of this “last Day of the Feast, the Great Day.”  The fellowship of sharing that meal will be a continuation of sharing together the mystery of the coming of the Holy Spirit to create a community as well as to enlighten individual persons.

If you will not be in Cincinnati this weekend, you may certainly be somewhere with a local Orthodox Church that you can attend for Pentecost.  No matter where anyone may be - it still remains Pentecost!  If I could be of any assistance, please contact me.

The Sundays of Pentecost

As mentioned above, the Sundays following the Feast are numbered as “after Pentecost.”  This is a liturgical reminder of the Holy Spirit’s ever-abiding presence within the Church; and that everything we do within the Church – especially the celebration of the Sacraments – is sealed by the Gift of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, there are no “ordinary” Sundays – including those in the summer months!  Our entire lives as Orthodox Christians – from cradle to grave – are an unceasing rhythm of progressing from one Lord’s Day celebration to the next.  Our hope is that our earthly Liturgies will prepare us for our “passage” into eternal Liturgy of the Kingdom of God.  There is no “summer vacation.”  And that includes families with small children who are on “vacation” from Church School.  It is a good thing if your children truly miss Church School; but that is no reason to miss church and the Liturgy during the summer months.  That may be the best “lesson” that you teach your children.  I just received a very encouraging letter from a mother who shared with me that over time, and with patience and perseverance, her children are now much more focused on the Liturgy; and that they now always say the “Amen” when we consecrate our gifts of bread and wine as the Body and Blood of Christ, including the final triple “Amen” when we call down the Holy Spirit to seal, complete and perfect the consecration.  That is the result of “sticking with it” Sunday after Sunday.

Once again, if you are traveling, there is no reason why provisions to attend a local Orthodox parish cannot be made.  Try and work your schedule around the Lord’s Day.   If we want God to be with us on our vacations, then perhaps we should make the effort to be with God whenever possible.

The “Book of Signs”

Following Pentecost, our Summer Bible Study will begin on Wednesday evening, June 6, at 7:30 p.m. in the Education Center in the church basement.  We will read, study and discuss the first eleven chapters of St. John’s Gospel, known as the “Book of Signs.”  We read and heard a few of these “signs” during the paschal Sundays that we just recently completed.  Now we can go back and take a look at these signs in greater detail, for the homilies this year concentrated on the ACTS OF THE APOSTLES.  Each “sign” (and we will discuss that peculiar Johannine term in detail)  is a profound and multi-leveled presentation of the Gospel in miniature, revealing who Jesus is and what He has appeared to accomplish.  Join us for the Bible Study. Bring a friend.  As I like to say, the Bible Study is a parish event – as the study of the living Word of God how could it not be? – and not simply a “summer filler.”

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