by Father John Dresko
The Great and Holy Feast of Pentecost is celebrated fifty days after Pascha. It was on that fiftieth day after the resurrection when Jesus poured out His Spirit on the apostles and the Church, His Body, began to flower and grow. The gift of the Holy Spirit is something that each and every Orthodox Christian receives through the Sacrament of Chrismation. This gift, the Holy Spirit, is our personal charism that enables us to say “Abba! Father!” and to live out the Christian life. On this Feast, we hear two of the most poetic and beautiful passages in Scripture, each related to the coming of the Spirit. The first passage is from the prophecy of Joel:
“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.” (Joel 2:28)
The Lord, through the prophet, tells His people that He will pour out His Spirit on all flesh. He reminds Israel, His chosen ones, that despite their apostasy and infidelity, He will continue to breath life into them. And what is that life? Listen to the poetry: your sons and daughters shall prophesy. Old men will dream dreams and young men will see visions. Prophecy is not the foretelling of the future; it is the discernment of God’s Word. The children of God (us!) will discern His Word. The “old man” cannot dream because his days are done and he has little future. But the “new man” which replaces the old in baptism must dream in the renewed life given through Christ and the Spirit. Young men have little vision because of their youth and lack of experience, but the Spirit surpasses all understanding and that Breath of God enlivens and matures those who have died in baptism and been chrismated beyond their youth.
Then we hear from the prophecy of Ezekiel:
“For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 36:24-28)
We hear in this passage about the “chosenness” of God’s people Israel. Pentecost is the revelation of the Church as the New Israel — God’s people redeemed in the resurrection of the Son of God. The sprinkling of clean water is what we receive in the waters of baptism, cleansing us and taking away our filth. But we must then put aside our idols, and we all have them. The most insidious is the idol of the self. But we have others — money, possessions, power, sex, alcohol, drugs, and even seemingly good things like family and home. Anything that stands between us and the Lord is an idol.
But then those beautiful words: He will take away our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh. What an image! All the hardness that has built up in our hearts, minds and souls, taken away in the waters of baptism and then the Spirit makes us alive again in flesh, able to walk in His ways. What a gift! And when we turn again to stone, we are allowed to come, confess our hardness of heart and our sins, and be given a new baptismal robe and hearts of flesh renewed in the Spirit and forgiveness of God’s love.
Finally, the prophet gives us God’s ultimate and best promise: He will be our God, and we will be His people. His family! We will inherit the land promised to us: the Kingdom of Heaven. All of this is given to us in the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost and lived out in the life of the Church. May we all rejoice in the Gift of the Holy Spirit, and be enlivened by this Breath of God. May we discern the Word of God, may we dream dreams and see visions. May we be renewed again and again in the new baptism of repentance. May we have hearts of flesh and not hearts of stone. May we truly be the People of God, and may we know Him all our days as our God!