Christian Practice

The Feast of Pentecost

Published on: June 6, 2023
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The major feast of Pentecost—in Greek, Πεντηκοστή which literally means the “fiftieth day”—commemorates the day on which the Holy Spirit, as a mighty wind, descended upon the disciples (cf. Acts 2), as Christ had promised during his earthly life (cf. Jn 14:26; 15:26), resting upon them in the form of tongues of fire (cf. Acts 2:3).  In this way, the disciples were clothed with an indestructible power from on high (cf. Lk 24:49), now authorized to begin their important mission to bear witness to the glory of the Son of God into the ends of the earth. 

The immense importance of this day lies precisely in the fact that it marked the fulfilment of the Lord’s promise of salvation, already foretold by the prophet Joel, at least five hundred years before the birth of Christ: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh… then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:20-21; cf. Joel 2:28-32). And so, with Pentecost came the final seal of Christ’s victory and his abiding presence amongst his people (cf. Jn 14:18; Mt 28:20) through the Spirit of God, which had as its goal, to impart the salvation of God’s glorious kingdom.  

Pentecost also celebrates the permanent outpouring and indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit upon the Church resulting in its “consecration” and “mobilization.” By these two expressions is simply meant the showering of the divine and inexhaustible grace of the “Spirit of truth,” upon the Church—namely, the gift of koinonia (fellowship)—which equipped it to spread the gospel message and to fulfil its mission of reconciliation initiated by Christ whilst on earth. The Spirit’s unifying role is clearly highlighted in the Kontakion hymn of the Orthros service: “When the Most-High God came down and confused the tongues, He divided the nations. When He distributed the tongues of fire, He called all to unity [εἰς ἑνότητηα πάντας ἐκάλεσε]. And with one voice we glorify the all-holy Spirit.”

In this way, a radically new phase had been introduced also within the life of the Church—namely, the Holy Spirit’s enduring connection with the ecclesial gathering which resulted in an overwhelming and enduring fellowship [κοινωνία] between God, the members of the Church and the entire created realm. Regarding this intimate connection between the Holy Spirit and the Church, St Irenaeus of Lyons (130-202AD) had said: “Where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God, and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and every grace; and the Spirit of truth” (Against the Heresies, 3.24.1).

With the permanent presence of the “Spirit of Truth” upon the Church, we the faithful, in the 21st century, are able to chant: “We have seen the true light; we have received the heavenly Spirit; we have found the true faith, worshipping the undivided Trinity, which has saved us.” It is no small thing knowing that we have been given the truth, because it is the truth which will save us, set us free (cf. Jn 8:31-32) and lead us into God’s heavenly and eternal kingdom. 

Moreover, not only does the Holy Spirit lead us into the fullness of God’s truth but it also ensures our fellowship with Christ. St Gregory of Nyssa (4th century) writes that Christ “shines in our souls through the Holy Spirit, since it is impossible for the Lord Jesus to be contemplated except in the Holy Spirit”(Contra Eunomium, 1.530-32). Accordingly, it is the Holy Spirit who shows us and enlightens our path within the Church towards Christ; who opens up the way for us to encounter Christ and to live with Him; who unites us to Christ and to one another, as the “Spirit of communion” (2 Cor 13:13), so that we can live “with gladness and generous hearts [ἐν ἀγαλλιάσει καὶ ἀφελότητι καρδίας]” (Acts 2:46), united together with one heart, mind and soul [ὁμοθυμαδόν]. 

Lastly, St Paul tells us that we know that we have the Spirit within us when we live lovingly: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness” (Gal 5:22). For this reason, may we endeavor to seek the love of God which not only has the power to unite us to our Lord and to one another, but is also able to find solutions and ways forward when all we can see are impasses and insurmountable obstacles.

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Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

About author

  • Philip Kariatlis

    Philip Kariatlis

    Sub-Dean and Associate Professor of Theology at St. Andrew's Greek Orthodox Theological College (Sydney, Australia)

    Philip Kariatlis is Sub-Dean and Associate Professor of Theology at St Andrew's Greek Orthodox Theological College. After taking an undergraduate degree in Theology from St Andrew's, he graduated from the University of Sydney with a degree in Arts, majoring in Modern Greek. He received a Master of T...

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Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in the articles on this website are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

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