The Feast of Pentecost: Brief Thoughts on Baptism and the Holy Spirit
The Feast of Pentecost, which we celebrated this morning, is one I hold dear to my heart. I was Baptized and Chrismated into the Orthodox Church on this Feast day in 1998. Today marks my 5 year anniversary as an Orthodox Christian. (Lord, have mercy!)
I recently heard a humorous story told by someone who knew the late Fr. Alexander Schmemann (+1982). It seems he held this Feast in a special place in his heart just as I do. One year, on the Saturday before Pentecost, he was seen rushing to the church at the seminary. Someone saw him hurrying toward the chapel with joy radiating from his face.
�What�s the rush, Father?,� she asked as she tried to keep up with his pace. �Vespers isn�t going to start for several minutes.�
�I have been waiting a long time for this moment,� he breathlessly replied.
He slowed his pace enough to turn to the woman, and with a smile said, �I didn�t want to miss the singing of the �O Heavenly King!�
Fr. Schmemann was referring to this very famous Orthodox hymn, sung with great passion and joy during the Great Vespers service of Pentecost (today�s Feast):
�O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who are everywhere and fills all things, Treasury of blessings and Giver of life, come and abide in us and cleanse us from every impurity and save our souls, O Good One.�
This hymn is one of the Church�s finest prayers to the Holy Spirit and one I believe says a lot about what the Orthodox believe about our separated Christian brethren.
The mystery of the paradox is this: The work of the Holy Spirit unites the many into one body, the Church (2 Cor. 3:6); He guides the Church into all truth (John 16:13); He lives in each of us through baptism (Acts 1:5; 2:38). In the Holy Mysteries, the Holy Spirit makes known to us in the Church all the mysteries of Christ. (Eph 3:5). In the fullness of the Church is where the Holy Spirit is found.
Yet, he is not the property of the Church. We do not have a monopoly on Him and his actions. As the hymn says, the Orthodox firmly believe He is *everywhere* filling *all* things, even though we know He is made manifest in the Church. Bishop Kallistos Ware has famously said, �We know where the Holy Spirit is, but we don�t know where He isn�t.� Thus, where there is good and truth to be found in the world we rejoice, because it is a sign of the work of the Holy Spirit.
In one of the prayers during the Baptismal Liturgy, the priest asks the catechumen �Have you united yourself to Christ?� This question is asked both before and after the catechumen is plunged three times into the font! Lex credendi lex orandi strikes again, it seems. If it wasn�t for the work of the Holy Spirit, nobody would come into the Church. Thus, we always recognize the Holy Spirit in �the mighty works of God� (Acts 2:11), whether they occur in the context of the Church or outside.