This is partly the reflection “Pentecost for Byzantine Catholics” which I published in the parish bulletin for 2013, and some new thoughts.
The forty days of Easter lead us through the joy of the Resurrection to the moment when Jesus ascended into Heaven. At that event, on Ascension Thursday, He promised to send an advocate, a comforter, to the disciples. The Bible tells us that the apostles, disciples, and the mother of Jesus – our Blessed Lady, the Theotokos – withdrew to the upper room where Jesus had celebrated the Last Supper and in which He had repeatedly appeared after His Resurrection. There they prayed, fasted, studied Scripture, and waited for God to act, while also worshiping at the Temple. The Descent of the Spirit came with a great wind that rushed through the building, and the Spirit was like tongues of fire which danced on the heads of the disciples. This event, at nine o’clock in the morning, is commemorated every day in the Divine Office at the Third Hour. As a result of the descent of the Holy Spirit, Saint Peter is transformed and he begins his preaching ministry in the street outside of the house, and thousands of Jews are converted to faith in Jesus as the Son of God and the true Messiah of Israel. In addition, the presence of so many Jews from abroad in the city for the Feast of Shavuoth – the Giving of the Law – guarantees that the message will go beyond two little provinces of the Roman Empire!
Our church tower
All Pentecost icons show Our Lady in the upper part, just off-center. She is the one who prayed with the apostles and disciples, and this is her last appearance in the bible. She will step aside to let the apostles and disciples undertake their preaching ministry to save souls. The apostles are in a semi-circle, showing their unity in the Body of Christ. The Holy Spirit is at the top, as a dove, with rays of fire coming forth. Many icons have an empty space in the center, where Christ would sit. Instead, His invisible presence is shown by the small gap in the altar or seats. Most icons also show a large black opening at the bottom center, with a king in the center. The king is “Cosmos”, a crowned man who represents the universe. The Gospel is to be carried out to all nations, to the cosmos itself. The Gospel is for every one. With the power of the Holy Spirit, the disciples are able to launch out into the known world, and shortly enough to go beyond the boundaries and trade routes of the Roman and Persian empires as they carry the Good News to all peoples. Within the first generation of Christians, the Faith was carried all the way to India!
On Pentecost, we kneel down at the very start of the Divine Liturgy while the priest kneels at the Royal Doors and sings “Heavenly King” once, and we repeat it two more times, just like the Easter Troparion. We kneel in humility, waiting for the Spirit of God to descend upon us. Through the gift of sacred time, kairos, we are lifted out of our daily time, chronos, and so we are present in the Upper Room with Mary and the rest of the apostles and disciples, and we are able to partake in the Spirit’s gifts. The Prophet Isaiah listed these gifts for us in chapter 11, verses 2-3: “The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” Blessed John Paul II taught: “The Holy Spirit, while bestowing diverse ministries in Church communion, enriches it still further with particular gifts or promptings of grace, called charisms…The charisms are received in gratitude both on the part of the one who receives them, and also on the part of the entire Church. They are in fact a singularly rich source of grace for the vitality of the apostolate and for the holiness of the whole Body of Christ (The Lay Members of Christ’s Faithful People, 24).
CHANGE IN THE DIVINE LITURGY
After Holy Communion, priest returns to the top of the step, lifts up the chalice, and gives benediction saying: Save your people O Lord and bless your inheritance.
And the people respond with this verse:
We have seen the true light
We have received the heavenly Spirit
We have found the true faith
And we worship the undivided Trinity.
This comes out of the divine office for Pentecost – that’s why during the paschal season it is replaced with Christ is risen – it doesn’t belong in the Easter season at all. It only returns to worship today when Heavenly King is also restored to prayer.
On Pentecost then, our Church proclaims the Light (of God), the reception of the Spirit (through Jesus in Communion), the True Faith, and that we faithfully worship the Holy Trinity.
In my sermon today, I emphasized that the Trinity is held together with Love – absolute self-giving, self-revealing, constant, unending Love. That’s a love far greater than anything we can muster in our broken situation on earth – but it is what we attain to!
Today through that Descent of the Spirit into us at Liturgy, and every day of the pentecostal season, may we pray for each other that we will be open to the working of this same Spirit, to lead us deeper into the True Faith, and above all else that we will bring others along with us, on the journey to the Divine Light.
Out here in the western States, our parishes start out in garage chapels, little barns, small churches on side streets. It takes us a while to build up to having a developed site that looks impressive to the outsider. Yet we dare – truly dare – to sing “we have found the true faith” in these humble surroundings. Because of the great mercy of God, it’s the truth! We carry on in our outposts of our branch of the Catholic family of Churches which are committed to the paternal guidance of the Pope of Rome, boldly singing our prayers.
Tomorrow is the Feast of the Holy Spirit. If you are in the Albuquerque area, come on by at 7 pm for the Liturgy, and for our procession at the end. This ancient practice entails us stopping at the four corners of our modest church to sing out the gospel to all the corners of the universe. God does marvelous things with the most humble of tools – the Byzantine Catholic Church remains one of His treasures that He uses to save souls and bring all to the true Light – Himself!
Yours truly, 1991