Written by Vladimir Moss



     During the great feast of Pentecost, that “last and great day”, we chant of the Holy Spirit that “He holdeth together the whole institution of the Church”.[1] And indeed, the priesthood, the sacraments, the Holy Scriptures, Holy Tradition, the Holy Canons and the decrees of the Ecumenical and Local Councils are all inspired by the Holy Spirit. That is why Pentecost is at the same time both the revelation of the Holy Trinity through the Descent of the Holy Spirit and the birthday of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

     Just as the institution of the Old Testament Church was created through the rules and commandments given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai fifty days after the passage through the Red Sea, so the institution of the New Testament Church was created through the Grace of the Holy Spirit given to the Apostles on Mount Sion fifty days after the Lord’s Resurrection from the dead. Thus the Mosaic Law went out from Sinai at Pentecost, enabling the children of Israel to live in obedience to the One True God in the midst of the pagan nations until the First Coming of Christ. And on the same day the New Testament “Law hath gone forth from Sion, even the Spirit’s grace”[2], enabling the Church to live in obedience to the same God, but now revealed more fully as the Holy Trinity, until the Second Coming of Christ.

     There are still more striking parallels between the Old and New Testament Pentecosts. We find one of them in the first Old Testament reading from the Vespers of the feast: “The Lord said unto Moses: Gather unto Me seventy men of the elders of the people, whom thou thyself knowest to be the elders of the people and their scribes, and bring them unto the Tabernacle of Witness, and they shall stand there with thee. And I will come down and talk with thee there; and I will take of the Spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the concern for the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone. And Moses gathered seventy men from the elders of the people, and set them round about the Tabernacle. And the Lord came down in a cloud, and spake unto Moses, and took of the Spirit that was upon him and gave it unto the seventy men that were elders. And it came to pass that, when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied in the camp, and they ceased” (Numbers 11).

     At the New Testament Pentecost there were seventy apostles instead of seventy elders, and the Spirit was taken from Christ rather than from Moses, and God descended in tongues of fire instead of a cloud, and the seventy spoke in tongues rather than prophesied… The only significant difference is that the Old Testament seventy ceased prophesying, whereas the seventy apostles never ceased…

     The passage continues: “But there remained two of the men in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad, and the name of the other Modad, and the Spirit rested upon them, and they prophesied in the camp. And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and spake unto him, saying: Eldad and Modad prophesy in the camp. And Jesus, his chosen one, the son of Navi, who attended on Moses, answered and said: My lord Moses, forbid them. And Moses said unto him: Art thou envious for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were Prophets, whenever the Lord should put His Spirit upon them!”

     This is very reminiscent of the New Testament passage: “John answered Him, saying: Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Thy name, and we forbade him, because he does not follow us. But Jesus said: Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is on our side” (Mark 9.38-40).

     The message in the two passages appears to be very similar: the gifts of the Spirit are not confined to the priesthood of the Church, the institutional hierarchy, and their appearance among simple laymen who do not serve the altar should not be a cause for alarm, as if they were in spiritual deception. The Holy Spirit created the institution of the Church, and gave various different gifts to all its members, both clergy and laity (I Corinthians 12.4-11). If the gifts given to the clergy are indispensable, in that the Church could not exist without them, this is not to say that other gifts given to the laity are not necessary. “No, rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary” (I Corinthians 12.22).

     Of course, there is another saying of the Lord that at first appears to say the opposite to the above-cited passage from Mark: “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad” (Matthew 12.29). But this passage, as the Holy Fathers explain, refers to heretics and schismatics. The manifestations of their gifts are not pleasing to the Lord, for they tend, not towards the edification, but towards the scattering and destruction of His Church. For “many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name, cast out demons in Thy name, and done many wonders in Thy name? And then I will declare to them: I never knew you, depart from Me, ye workers of iniquity!” (Matthew 7.22-23)

     The Church is the Ark of salvation, floating on and above the stormy waters of the sea of life that destroy everything in their path. Its helmsman, the new Noah, is Christ, Who sends out the dove, the Holy Spirit, to see if the waters have receded sufficiently to allow the emergence of true spiritual life. Having found a green shoot, He brings it rejoicing into the Church. For, as St. John Chrysostom says, “he who wishes personal salvation and who wishes to be a true son of the Orthodox Church, must seek in her deliverance from the flood as in the ark of Noah. He who fears the terrible thunder of anathema that overwhelms soul and body must take upon himself the most sweet yoke of Christ - the ecclesiastical dogmas. Let him tame the unruliness of his mind with the ecclesiastical laws and submit in all things to his Mother – the Church!”

     “Nothing is more abiding than the Church,” says the same Holy Father. “She is your salvation; she is your refuge. She is more lofty than the heavens; she is more far-reaching than the earth. She never grows old; she always stays in bloom. And so Scripture indicates her permanence and stability by calling her a virgin; her magnificence by calling her a queen; her closeness to God by calling her a daughter; her barrenness turned to fecundity by calling her 'the mother of seven'. A thousand names try to spell out her nobility. Just as the Lord is called by many names - Father, Way, Life, Light, Arm, Propitiation, Foundation, Gate, Sinless One, Treasure, Lord, God, Son, Only-Begotten, Form of God, Image of God, - since one name could not hope to describe the Omnipotent, and many names give us some small insight into His nature, so the Church goes by many names.”

     “The Church is the gathering of the People,” says St. Germanus of Constantinople, “the Body of Christ, His Name, His Bride, which calls the peoples to penitence and prayer; purified by the water of Holy Baptism and washed by His precious Blood, adorned as a Bride and sealed with the anointing of the Holy Spirit... The Church is an earthly heaven wherein the heavenly God dwells and walks; it is an anti-type of the Crucifixion, Burial and Resurrection of Christ... The Church is a divine house where the mystical living Sacrifice is celebrated,... and its precious stones are the divine dogmas taught by the Lord to His disciples.”


May 26 / June 9, 2014.

Day of the Holy Spirit.

[1]Pentecostarion, Sunday of Pentecost, Vespers, “Lord, I have cried”, verse.

[2]Pentecostarion, Sunday of Pentecost, Mattins, Second Canon, Ode Five, Irmos.

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