The Descent of the Holy Spirit

By the hand of Father Luke Dingman,

Pentecost is the celebration of the descent of the Holy Spirit. This feast also marks the conclusion of the Easter season.  At Pentecost, we celebrate the completion of Christ’s work of salvation and the beginning of the work and movement of the Spirit among us.  This is the day the Church was born and the apostles were anointed to preach the Gospel of Christ.  Today the Spirit lives in the Church and in each one of us and prays on our behalf.  Through the Gospel, the Holy Spirit renews the Church and leads it to perfect union with Jesus Christ.

In the Old Testament Pentecost was the feast which occurred fifty days after Passover. Passover was a remembrance of the delivery of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  Pentecost marked the anniversary of Moses receiving God’s gift of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai 50 days after the Jews left Egypt.

For Christians, in the new covenant of the Messiah, Passover takes on new meaning as the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection, the “exodus” of men from this sinful world to the Kingdom of God. And in the New Testament as well, Pentecost takes on a fuller meaning by the coming of the “new law”, the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Disciples of Christ.

When the day of Pentecost had come they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed as resting upon each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit . . . (Acts 2.1–4).

The effects of Pentecost were electrifying.  The disciples, receiving courage, now proclaimed the Word of God openly –  with boldness; they now “with great power gave their testimony of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 4:33). Old prejudices and barriers were broken down as people heard the gospel in their own languages.  It was the tower of Babel in reverse. A new sense of unity prevailed, and new hope invaded the earth. This moment has traditionally been called the birthday of the Church.

On Pentecost we have the final fulfillment of the mission of Jesus Christ and the first beginning of the Messianic Age of the Kingdom of God, mystically present in this world in the Church of the Messiah.  Here is the key to the revolutionary power of the Christian faith: the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.  He descended and continues to descend upon us. Pentecost is always happening in the Church.   The Holy Spirit is offered in baptism, in prayer, in the Eucharist, and especially in the sacrament of Chrismation.

It is a tradition not to kneel from Resurrection Sunday until Pentecost to celebrate Christ’s triumph over death.  On Pentecost Sunday, we begin the Divine Liturgy with the first official “kneeling” since Easter as we sing the hymn “Heavenly King”.  This prayer of Pentecost is found at the beginning of almost every service in the Eastern Church and should be a part of our daily prayers.  The propers of the feast are filled with joy and praise of the Holy Spirit and the Trinity.  The Divine Liturgy recalls our baptism into Christ with the verse from Galatians “All you who have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ” replacing the Thrice-Holy Hymn.  The hymn We have seen the True Light is sung for the first time since Easter, proclaiming that “we have received the heavenly Spirit”.

Traditionally, in the Byzantine Rite, green is the colour associated with Pentecost.  The emphasis is always on the life-giving, life-renewing aspect of the Holy Spirit.  We are reminded that the Church and her followers are renewed by the Spirit as the flowers and trees are renewed in the spring.  The Holy Spirit comes to bring new life to all.  Churches and homes are often decorated with green boughs and branches to herald the life-giving Spirit.

Once again it must be noted that the feast of Pentecost is not simply the celebration of an event which took place centuries ago.  It is the celebration of what must happen and does happen to us in the Church today.  Each Pentecost brings us an opportunity for grace.  We all have died and risen with Christ in our baptism.  We all have received his Most Holy Spirit in our Chrismation.  Jesus sends us the Spirit, the breath of the Father.  We are the “temples of the Holy Spirit”.  The Spirit reveals Christ to us and forms Him in us so that we may reveal Him to others.  Our souls should be open to the many gifts the Spirit has given to the Church and the faithful. We need to submit to the voice of the Spirit and be guided wherever it leads.   

The Holy Spirit must be constantly attained.  He should be received daily.  To achieve this, it is necessary to wait prayerfully and expectantly as the apostles did.  Daily we should pray to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit reveals Christ to us and forms Him in us so that we may reveal Him to others.  Our souls should be open to the many gifts the Spirit has given to the Church and the faithful. We need to submit to the voice of the Spirit and be guided wherever it leads.  Pentecost has happened to us!

PRAYER TO THE HOLY SPIRIT                             

Heavenly King, Advocate, Spirit of  Truth, Who are everywhere present and fill all things, Treasury of Blessings, Bestower of Life, come and dwell within us; cleanse us of all that defiles us and O Good One, save our souls.

Adapted with appreciation from:
Orthodox Church in America at pentecost-the-descent-of-the-holy-spirit