Thursday, May 15, 2014

Mid-Pentecost: 'To Glisten with Splendor'


Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,


CHRIST IS RISEN!
INDEED HE IS RISEN!


Today finds us at the exact midpoint of the sacred fifty-day period between the Feasts of Pascha and Pentecost.  So, this twenty-fifth day is called, simply, Midfeast or Mid-Pentecost.  Pentecost (from the Gk. pentecosti) is, of course, the name of the great Feast on the fiftieth day after Pascha, but the term is also used to cover the entire fifty-day period linking the two feasts, thus expressing their profound inner unity.  Our emphasis on the greatness of Pascha - the "Feast of Feasts" -  may at times come at the expense of Pentecost, but in an essential manner Pascha is dependent upon Pentecost for its ultimate fulfillment.  As Veselin Kesich has written:


Because of Pentecost the resurrection of Christ is a present reality, not just an event that belongs to the past.  "We do not say merely, 'Christ rose'," writes Kallistos Ware, "but 'Christ is risen' - he lives now, for me and in me.  This immediacy and personal directness in our relationship with Jesus is precisely the work of the Spirit."  Any transformation of human life is testimony to the resurrection of Christ and the descent of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. God constantly creates new things and glorifies himself in his saints, in order to make it known that the Word of God became flesh, experiences death on the cross, and was raised up that we might receive the Spirit.  
(The First Day of the New Creation, p. 173)

Be that as it  may, there is a wonderful hymn from the Vespers of the Midfeast that reveals this profound inner connection:

The middle of the fifty days has come,
beginning with the Savior’s resurrection,
and sealed by the Holy Pentecost.
The first and the last glisten with splendor.
We rejoice in the union of both feasts,
as we draw near to the Lord’s ascension:
the sign of our coming glorification.

(Vespers of the Midfeast)

Pascha and Pentecost “glisten with splendor” – what a wonderful expression!  Yet, this very expression which is indicative of the festal life of the Church, may also sound embarrassingly archaic to our ears today.  This is not exactly an everyday expression that comes readily to mind, even when we encounter something above the ordinary!  However, that could also be saying something about ourselves and not simply serve as a reproach to the Church’s less-than-contemporary vocabulary. Perhaps the drab conformity of our environment; the de-sacralized nature of the world around us, together with its prosaic concerns and uninspiring goals; and even the reduction of religion to morality and vague “values,” make us more than a little skeptical/cynical about anything whatsoever “glistening with splendor!”   How can Pascha and Pentecost “glisten with splendor” if Pascha is “already” (though, only twenty-five days ago!) a forgotten experience of the past; and if the upcoming feasts of Ascension and Pentcost fail to fill us with the least bit of expectation or anticipation?

The Lord is risen and we await the coming of the Comforter, the “Spirit of Truth.”  These are two awesome claims!  The Apostle Paul exhorts us:  “Set your minds on the things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (COL. 3:2).  This exhortation from the Apostle is a great challenge. For experience teaches us that "the things that are on earth" can be very compelling, immediate and deeply attractive.  While "the things that are above" can seem abstract and rather distant; or that they are reserved for the end of our life as we know it "on earth."

The Apostle Paul is exhorting us to a radical reorientation of our approach to life - what we may call our "vision of life" - and again, this is difficult, even for believing Christians!  Yet, I would like to believe that with our minds lifted up on high and our hearts turned inward where God is – deep within our hearts – not only will the feasts themselves “glisten with splendor,” but so will our souls.  Then, what the world believes to be unattainable, will be precisely the experience that makes us “not of the world.”  May the rest of your day and the days to come somehow, by the grace of God, “glisten with splendor!”

As it is written,
The abundant outpouring of divine gifts is drawing near.
The chosen day of the Spirit is halfway come.
The faithful promise to the disciples after
the death, burial and resurrection of Christ heralds the coming of the Comforter!

(Vespers of the Midfeast)

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