Pentecost -The Birth of the Body of Christ and the Giving of Divine Gifts!

Pentecost – Acts 2:1-21 The Coming of the Holy Spirit

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

This section of the New Testament, in describing the beginnings of the early church after the Ascension of our Lord, describes the inauguration of the Holy Church, the Body of Christ comprised by the Holy Spirit’s descent, indwelling, inspiration, charisms and the works and missions of the early Church and the Acts of the Apostles. This watershed moment in the history of humanity is known as the Pentecost.

Pentecost is the annual celebration of the fiftieth day following the Resurrection and 10 days following the Ascension of the Lord. Following His glorious resurrection, our Lord appeared to his apostles and disciples for 40 days when He ascended in great glory[1] to receive His Kingdom established before the creation of the world.

The book of Acts describes in some surprising detail the miraculous events that marked the “birth” of the church. Written by St. Luke, his meticulous record of the church’s early history describes the descent of the Holy Spirit, the accompanying phenomena, St. Peter’s speech, and tells of the effects produced by this event and how it transformed the group of frightened disciples, who were filled with sadness , remorse, regret, uncertainty and fear, and filled them with the Holy Spirit who empowered them to fearlessly and confidently establish the beginnings of the Body of Christ! This event, known as Pentecost, a Hellenic version of the Jewish Feast of Weeks, is very much a fulfillment of the promises that Israel looked toward in the Messianic age, where “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, Your young men shall see visions. 29 And also on My menservants and on My maidservants, I will pour out My Spirit in those days.[2]

On the day of Pentecost, the disciples were gathered together, rather “assembled[3]”, as both commanded by Jesus and also, not coincidently, fulfilling that which was prophesied in the prescription by the law of God given to Israel in the Pentecost (Feast of Weeks) of the Old Covenant, where they too were called to “assemble” before God and gathered where “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”[4]

The church’s establishment is therefore very much the story the church’s birthday. It is the establishment of the supernatural assembly[5] of God’s people, comprised of those who believe in Christ.

From the day of the Pentecost, her work has remained unchanged and continues to our day, as she’s moved along by the Holy Spirit[6], and will persist until the coming again of our Lord. As in the time of the Apostlic church, the Body of Christ assembles on the Lord’s day and is devoted simply to the “apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”[7] Pentecost therefore always falling on a Sunday, 50 days following Easter, is another foreshadowing of the New Creation and the expectation of the ultimate Second Coming and our eternal salvation!

No other “practice”, especially staying away from church, replacing it with other activities, “false” spiritual practices, philosophy searching for “wisdom” outside or apart from the Divine Revelation of God in Christ, or avoiding the assembly of the faithful, disregarding its spiritual benefits, can possibly replace the “gathering” of the faithful on the Lord’s Day. A Christian cannot remain or imagine that they can remain in a state of grace and be saved apart from their presence at and in the assembly of the Body of Christ. A person can only remain in the gracious Communion of the church in the Holy Spirit and in the apostolic practice of the church where the Holy Spirit, “the fountain of life and source of mercy”[8]  is confirmed.  Like our souls, and our redeemed flesh, it is equally true also that our “mind is taught by the Spirit”[9], which is given to the church, and to each of the baptized individually through Baptism and Chrismation. Each is given the promise of the divine sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit who is sealed mysteriously in our person, body and soul and places us in communion with the divine, filled with all the grace sufficient for salvation. Like the consummation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we too are grafted into the living Body of Christ and given all the spiritual fruits as a precious and eternal gift. This gift is 9-fold comprised of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. While the gift is manifest in these nine, they are all only made possible and present only through constantly returning to the body in repentance and a desire for renewal within the life in Christ, by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love.[10]

The gift of baptism comes with the promise of such constant renewal through a sacramental gift of God’s love applied by the Word of Jesus, through his chosen means and empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit.

This “gift “upon and among her faithful is confirmed and maintained through the regular participation and presence in the sacred mysteries. While salvation is objectively achieved by Christ in his sacrifice, it can only be comprehended and apprehended subjectively by a continued fidelity to Christ and his Body, the supernatural assembly of believers, where one receives the very real presence and participation in the mysteries of the church.

It is important to note that our church fathers in choosing the words of the Divine Liturgy, refer also to the Holy Spirit as “co-eternal and consubstantial”[11]. “Descending from heaven, (he) accomplishes through the mystery of him who is glorified with you, by the shedding of his blood”[12] the “fulfillment of the Holy Spirit”[13].

Today, is Pentecost, it is the Birthday of the Church. You are invited to the party, the Communion of the Lord Jesus’ Body and Blood. As with all birthdays, universally and practically in all places and at all times it too is celebrated with the giving of gifts– gifts given of a divine nature and not as the world gives, “where neither moth nor rust destroys”[14]. These gifts include the “fruits” of the Spirit. These gifts were not limited only to the church of the apostles but many and all gifts necessary for salvation are given to all in different measures yet all work in unison through the divinely inspired witness and work of the Body of Christ, through which people will come to know God and call on the name of Jesus and be saved.[15]

Beloved in Christ, in celebration of this ecclesiastical birthday, I pray and ask the Holy Spirit, true God, to grant you the charisms and grace by the filling of the heavenly and spiritual “fruits” so that together we may pray, praise, experience and share in a dynamic way the gifts of the Holy Spirit exercising “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control,”[16]  and may the “God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit,[17] Amen.

 

 

[1] Acts 1:30 1:3 To the same apostles also, after his suffering, he presented himself alive with many convincing proofs. He was seen by them over a forty-day period and spoke about matters concerning the kingdom of God.

[2] Joel 2:28-29

[3] Leviticus 23:15-21 15 “‘From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. 16 Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord. 17 From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of first fruits to the Lord. 18 Present with this bread seven male lambs, each a year old and without defect, one young bull and two rams. They will be a burnt offering to the Lord, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings—a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. 19 Then sacrifice one male goat for a sin offering[a] and two lambs, each a year old, for a fellowship offering. 20 The priest is to wave the two lambs before the Lord as a wave offering, together with the bread of the first fruits. They are a sacred offering to the Lord for the priest. 21 On that same day you are to proclaim a sacred assembly and do no regular work. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live.

[4] Acts 2:2-4

[5] The word for assembly in Greek being eccleseia became therefore the “name” of the gathering of all Christians everywhere to our present day, like the Apostles, on the first day of the week to celebrate his supper (Surp Patarak).

[6] See 2 Peter 1:21

[7] Acts 2:42

[8] Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church, p 42

[9] St. Anthony the Great

[10] 2 Corinthians 6:6

[11] The orthodox faith of the Armenian Church highlights the confession that the Holy Spirit is eternally generated from the Father without beginning and as a divine and distinct Person of the Holy Trinity, equal in divinity with the Father and the Son, is of the very same divine eternal and unchanging nature of God. This was universally canonized at the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in the year 381AD. The Armenian version of the Creed pertaining to the Holy Spirit confesses, “We believe also in the Holy Spirit, the uncreate and the perfect; who spoke through the Law and through the Prophets and through the Gospels; Who came down upon the Jordan, preached through the apostles and dwelt in the saints.”

[12] Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church, Saint Vartan Press, NY, 1999, Hoki Asdoodsoh… or the hymn of the Epiclesis, p.34

The Epiclesis is the greatest mystery of the Christian faith whereby the Holy Spirit is called “upon all of the assembled faithful and on the gifts of bread and wine, to make them truly the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ..that in the Eucharist the Holy Spirit will unite all the faithful together with each other and with Christ by way of his Body and Blood so that we will truly come to constitute the Church in its fullest sense.” P. 33

[13] These are the priest’s words spoken inaudibly at the very breaking of the Body of Christ and placing it into the sacred chalice of his Blood. P. 45

[14] Matthew 6:20

[15] Acts 2:21

[16] Galatians 5:22-23

[17] Romans 15:13

Published by

Fr. Shnork Souin

Priest of the Armenian Orthodox Church

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