Saturday, June 3, 2017

'Hastening to be at Pentecost!'

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

Let Us Recover the Greatness of the Feast of Pentecost

At last Sunday's liturgy, we heard from the ACTS OF THE APOSTLES the following passage concerning the Apostle Paul: "For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost" (20:16).

For the Apostle Paul, that would mean a very challenging journey by sea, which always included the threat of storms, shipwreck and/or attack by pirates. But St. Paul was determined to celebrate the great feast of Pentecost with his brothers and sisters "in Christ" in Jerusalem - the home and center of the newly-established Christian Church, now making its impact felt in the Graeco-Roman world of the Mediterranean Sea. 

Pascha and Pentecost were the two major feasts of the apostolic Church. They were powerful communal commemorations and celebrations of the decisive acts that established the Church in the world once and for all: the Resurrection of Christ from the dead, and the descent of the Holy Spirit into the world.

It would be wonderful and deeply encouraging if we could match the zeal of the Apostle Paul for eagerly anticipating this commemoration and making it as certain as possible that we will also gather together with our brothers and sisters "in Christ" for the Feast of Pentecost. Liturgically, that would mean Great Vespers on Saturday evening and the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning. 

In our consciousness, we have lost the profound connection between Pascha and Pentecost. 

Pascha, of course, is huge and greatly anticipated; but Pentecost is not. It is treated as a "normal" Sunday, which means most parishioners will be in church (thank God Pentecost is on a Sunday), unless some other "pressing concern(?)" keeps them away without, perhaps, any sense of loss. But the role of Pentecost in the economy of our salvation very much needs to be recovered. Pascha does not simply dissolve into the cares and concerns of our daily lives. It does not just disappear once we no longer sing "Christ is Risen!" Rather, Pascha is completed and fulfilled in the twin Feasts of Ascension and Pentecost.

The descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles is the goal of the paschal mystery of the death, resurrection, ascent and glorification of Christ. We actualize the coming of the Holy Spirit through our liturgical commemoration on an annual basis. 

The Holy Spirit is the energy of the Church. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church that makes the Church so unique and unlike any other worldly institution. (The Orthodox Church is the "Pentecostal Church"). This is the Holy Spirit with which we were chrismated after our baptism into the Death and Resurrection of Christ. We seek the renewal of the Holy Spirit in our lives on the Day of Pentecost. Here is also the basis of "parish renewal." We pray to God for that personal and communal renewal each year in the special Kneeling Prayers of the Vespers of Pentecost that we serve immediately following the Liturgy. This is all a great blessing.

I encourage everyone to recover the greatness of the Feast of Pentecost. We have the luxury of making a relatively short trip in the comfort of our cars and therefore do not have to face the "inconveniences" that St. Paul did. Try and include the full celebration by coming to Great Vespers on Saturday evening. 

Since Great Lent is over and parishioners are no longer coming to Confession, Great Vespers is now less-well attended. This is an unfortunate annual pattern (lasting throughout the summer) that has no real justification. This worn-out cycle can be broken but it will take some effort and commitment to the Church's liturgical cycle on the part of everyone. Pentecost is the time and place to begin.

Parents, do not relax your efforts of bringing your children to church because Church School is now over. Pentecost is not the time for an "off Sunday." It is the time to be in church together with the entire "parish family." Speak to your children about Pentecost and prepare them for the Vespers and Kneeling Prayers that will follow the Liturgy.

The liturgical schedule for the Great Feast of Pentecost:

  • Great Vespers with the Blessing of the Loaves and Anointment with Oil - Saturday at 6:00 p.m.
  • Hours of Pentecost - Sunday at 9:10 a.m.
  • Divine Liturgy - Sunday at 9:30 a.m.
  • Vespers with Kneeling Prayers - Sunday, immediately following the Liturgy

Let us prepare for Feast as did the holy Apostle Paul - with zeal and the love of God!

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