(Acts 2: 1-11)
The great feast of Pentecost is celebrated today, where we read in Acts how the Holy Spirit descended upon the holy Apostles and first Disciples of Christ.
For fifty days after the Lord’s Resurrection (and ten days after His Ascension to Heaven), there was much anticipation. Gathered in the upper room where the Last Supper (Mystical Supper) had taken place were those most close to Him. His All-holy Mother, the Apostles, the Disciples of the Lord and some 120 people were waiting for the fulfillment of the promise he spoke of before ascending to Heaven: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
This promise had also been given by God before, centuries ago through the mouth of the Prophet Joel: “It shall come to pass in the last days, That I will pour out of My Spirit” (See Acts 2:17 and Joel 3:1-3). For those in the upper room, this is what happened on that Sunday morning: “Suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (verses 3-4).
There are three elements here that clearly mark the Holy Spirit coming upon these members of the early Church: The powerful rush of wind, the tongues of fire, and the ability to speak unfamiliar foreign languages. As the God-bearing Fathers of the Church explain, each element has a profound meaning:
1.) The “rushing mighty wind” illustrates that like the wind, the Holy Spirit cannot be seen with the eyes or grasped with the hands, but it blows in all directions and is “ever present, filling all things” (The “O Heavenly King…” prayer). The sound did not come from a certain direction on the horizon, as is usual for wind, but came down from Heaven, in order for everyone to understand that this is where the Holy Spirit is coming from (where Jesus ascended and is seated at the right hand of the Father). And like the wind, the Holy Spirit possesses great power to benefit us. This roar brought the crowds of Jews (who had come from at least 17 countries of the world in order to celebrate their Pentecost in Jerusalem) together to the place where the Apostles were.
2.) The tongues of fire remind us of the confusion of languages suffered by those who attempted to build the Tower of Babel. Everyone spoke the same language in the beginning, but pride led them all to be confused and unable to understand what the other was saying. In the end, they scattered to different places. This is the connection which today’s Kontakion, the hymn of the day, is making: “When the Most High came down and confounded tongues [of the men at Babel], He divided the nations. When He dispensed the tongues of fire, He called all to unity.” That unity was manifested when the message of the Apostles was heard by many, each in their own language! The baptism of 3,000 people resulted, becoming part of one great spiritual family. For “all those who believed were of one heart and one soul” (Acts 4:32).
3.) The ability of the Apostles to proclaim the Gospel in a variety of languages was an extraordinary gift that they had received, to fulfill the last commandment of the Lord: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). How else would the Disciples be able to preach the Gospel to different nations, with different languages and have those people understand them? The gift they received on Pentecost enabled them to carry out this mission. The first great fruit of this was as a wondrous sign to all that the Gospel of Christ was meant for all nations, through the multitude of languages.
My beloved brothers and sisters, the descent of the Holy Spirit upon those present in the upper room reminds us of the personal Pentecost of each of us. For when we Orthodox Christians receive Holy Baptism and Holy Unction, we have the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit then dwells within. “Do you not know”, asks St. Paul the Apostle, “that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God?” (I Corinthians 6:19).
May the Holy Spirit always find a place of rest inside each of us. He will bless us, inspire us, guide us, comfort us in our sorrows and abundantly grant us His grace! Amen.