Monday, June 5, 2017

Immerse Yourself in the Mystery of Pentecost

Dear Parish Faithful,

We have an extensive amount of literature on Pentecost on our Pentecost resource page from the parish website. You will find articles by Frs. Schmemann and Hopko there, together with some classic patristic texts. As we journey through the Week of Pentecost, you may want to avail yourself of some of this excellent material.

Here are two characteristic excerpts from a famous homily by St. Gregory Palamas (+1359). St. Gregory, of course, as one of the great Church Fathers, was  a profound theologian, a brilliant homilist and a wonderful pastor:

"Now, through the Holy Spirit sent by Him to His disciples, we see how far Christ ascended and to what dignity He carried up the nature He assumed from us. Clearly He went up as high as the place from which the Spirit sent by Him descended.... It follows that at His ascension Christ went up to the Father on high, as far as His Fatherly bosom, from which came the Spirit.

"The Holy Spirit is not just sent, but Himself sends the Son, who is sent by the Father. He is therefore shown to be the same as the Father and the Son by nature, power, operation and honor. By the good pleasure of the Father and the cooperation of the Holy Spirit, the only-begotten Son of God, on account of the boundless ocean of divine love for mankind, bowed down the heavens and came down (Ps. 18:9). He appeared on earth after our fashion, lived among us, and did and taught great, wonderful and sublime things truly worthy of God, which led those who obeyed Him towards deification and salvation."

The Divinity of the Holy Spirit

In the excerpt above from St. Gregory, it is clear that we teach that the Holy Spirit is co-eternal, co-enthroned and co-glorified with the Father and the Son. We confess this belief every time we recite the Nicene Creed.

But did you know that the full title of the Creed is the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed? That is because our current Creed was formulated at the First and Second Ecumenical Councils - Nicea in 325 and Constantinople in 381. But to spare us from saying the full title of Nicene-Constantinopolitan every time we refer to the Creed, it has been shortened to the Nicene Creed. 

After the First Council held in Nicea, the Creed simply stated that "we believe in the Holy Spirit" with nothing further being stated about that belief. When the divinity of the Holy Spirit was challenged by false teachers following the Council, the Second Council in Constantinople was called in the year 381 in order to further formulate the Church's belief in the divinity of the  Holy Spirit. Thus, the additional declaration: 

"And [we believe] in the Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets."

This is the basis of our belief in the Holy Trinity. By the way, it was at this Second Council that additional and essential beliefs of the Church were formulated in creedal form:

"In One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life in the world to come. Amen."

The Vespers of Pentecost was a wonderful example of how we are taught and inspired by the hymnography of the Church. Our hymns often appeal to our intellect and to our hearts simultaneously. Thus, in the second sticheron of the Vespers of Pentecost, we hear the "theological poetry" of our sacred hymnography:

The Holy Spirit was, is, and and ever shall be
Without beginning, without an end,
Forever united and numbered with the
   Father and the Son.
He is Life, and life-creating,
The Light, and the Giver of Light,
Good in Himself, the Fountain of
Through whom the Father is known
   and the Son glorified.
All acknowledge one Power, one Order,
One worship of the Holy Trinity.

The Trisagion Prayers

In our liturgical and personal prayers, we almost invariably begin with the so-called Trisagion Prayers, meaning, more-or-less literally: "The Thrice-holy Prayers." (The word hagios in Gk. means "holy"). This is because we repeat three times:  "Holy God,  Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us!"

The basis of praising God three times in this manner is found in the Book of Isaiah, in that heavenly vision granted the prophet, when he beheld God enthroned on high being glorified by the angels as:  Holy! Holy! Holy!  And, of course, we glorify God in the Liturgy with that identical Holy! Holy! Holy!  during the Anaphora. In the Latin tradition, this is called the Sanctus. 

Based on our belief in the Holy Trinity, we believe that with this hymn we are praising the The Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. Which means that in our personal prayer, whenever we use the Trisagion on a daily basis(!), we are glorifying the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

In the Vespers of Pentecost, this is beautifully "spelled out" for us, in one of the Apostikha hymns. In the half of the hymn that begins: "Let us worship the Tri-Personal Godhead..." we further sing:

In worshipping Him, let us all say:
Holy God, who made all things
   through the Son,
With the cooperation of the Spirit.
Holy Mighty: through whom we know
   the Father,
Through whom the Holy Spirit came
   into the world!
Holy Immortal: the comforting Spirit,
Proceeding from the Father and resting
   in the Son.
O Holy Trinity: glory to Thee!

As we continue in our use of the Trisagion Prayers this is further reinforced when we pray: 

O most Holy Trinity: have mercy on us!
O Lord (the Father): cleanse us from our sins.
O Master (the Son): pardon our transgressions.
O Holy One (the Holy Spirit): visit and heal our infirmities, for Thy name's sake.

To make all of this abundantly clear to us, we then pray:  "Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit," before saying the Lord's Prayer. We thus reinforce our commitment to believing in the Holy Trinity in our daily prayer life, both liturgical and personal. 

We are "monotheists" of a particular kind, meaning that we are "trinitarian monotheists." Pentecost is also called the Feast of the Holy Trinity, for in a definitive manner, God has revealed His trinitarian nature to us in the descent of the Holy Spirit, "on the last day of the Feast, the great day ..." (JN. 7:37)

O most Holy Trinity, glory to Thee!

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