HOLY PENTECOST: THE DESCENT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
To the Most Reverend and Right Reverend Hierarchs, Very Reverend and Reverend Clergy, Monastics,
Faithful of The Orthodox Archdiocese of America, of the Diocese of East and Southeast Asia,
of the Anglican Vicariate, and Friends:
Dearly Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ
The Spirit of the Lord has filled the whole world.
Introit of Pentecost
Remember? It all started with the little mud doll. The Bible, no matter how the scholars tell us it was put together and as important as it is for us to know that information nevertheless, the Bible as it stands now, is the source of our understanding of God and the relationship of creation (including us) to God. As interesting and as important as it is for us to know that the first chapter of Genesis and a couple of verses of the second chapter are revised from a Babylonian document, if we are to get all that is intended for us to get, we need to see that the second chapter is an explanation, a fulfillment of the first. Thus, the creation of humanity in the image of God “male and female God created them” is examined and explained in the second chapter. So the Bible intends us to see that the "what" that God did was to create humanity in God’s own image.
Now we come to the "How" of it.
What God did, our ancient Jewish ancestors said, was to take the rich soil of the earth (what I have called mud) and molded it into the form of a human being. But that was not enough. A mud doll, or an earthen figure, or a marble statue might well be interesting to look at, but it has no function in the context of the rest of creation: that is, it has no meaningful purpose. If the mud doll is left alone, it will dry out and the wind will scatter it to the corners of the earth. The earth will return to earth, or, as we say at another point in the church year, “dust will return to dust.”
But that is not how our Jewish brothers and sisters perceived the reality around them. They did have a purpose to care and nurture the rest of creation, naming its constituent parts, enhancing its interdependence, sharing with the creator the “kinging”, the “shepherding,” the “enriching” and the “fulfilling” of all of creation, both human and non-human.
This could not be, they saw, in the ordinary nature of things. Humans were, somehow, not just a part of creation; humans
participated in a special leadership role among the other living parts of creation. In a very special way, humans shared in the very process of creation. (This includes, but is hardly limited to, what we call procreation = producing more humans.) God’s image is more than just “mechanical” creation; God’s image dances for joy and brings order out of chaos, light and life out of water, and humans out of God’s very own being.
And so it is that after forming the mud doll, God “breathes”, “enriches”, “meaningfulizes”, “empowers” the mud doll with God’s very own being: the Spirit, the “ruach,” the “dynamis,” the essence of the community that God is. And the mud doll becomes a “nephesh”, a “living being”, a “life” in the image of God. The image of God is now a living being in the midst of the creation; and the power of that living image is shown in the controlling fact that the Nephesh (who is, please recall, male and female, as is God) has a power over the rest of creation, for the human names (that is, “kings”, or “shepherds”, or “enriches”, or “fulfills”) creation. That is just what God does, and so the image of God is completed in creation.
For the desert people. it is life in a beautifully planted garden.
But somehow, that original chaos is not completely subdued. The slithering, slippery serpent brings back the chaos: for the humans separate themselves from the dancing joy of the Creator. Sin, we call it. But God is love…and God instantly begins the process of repair, of restoration, of reconciliation…could it be called resurrection? Abraham is chosen as the founder of the special people God will use to restore, to reconcile the shattered relationships between humans and God, between humans of varying colors and languages, between male humans and female humans, between humans and the rest of creation. Abraham, who knows that he has not inherited anything at all, Abraham knows that all that he becomes and possesses is the free gift of the creator God, Abraham who has no land or territory or significant ancestors, Abraham is the founder of the new legion of nepheshes, of spirit empowered people, who will restore, repair and reconcile the creation. They are a people set apart, not for special privilege, but for special purpose; not for human kinging and shepherding and controlling, but for loving, enriching and empowering all creation into the loving interdependence God made in the first place with his joyous dancing over the chaos.
God cares for these special people. God sets them free from oppression in Egypt so they can continue their task to restore, to
repair and to reconcile creation. God even gives them a leader who is so like the original humans God had made, that true humanity shows all through Moses, as his skin glows, revealing the image of God in him. “Worship God”, says Moses. “Worship God.” That is the only way you can keep God in front of you so you can do the task of revealing the love of God."
But just as the beautiful fruit in the Garden shattered the human relationship with God and each other, so the beautiful worship of God in the Temple shattered human relationships with God and each other.
Just as God had acted with Abraham, so also God acted again: Love is too powerful. If you will permit it, the image of God was not enough: God himself, the reality from which the image comes, became human to recall God’s people to their task: the “kinging”, the “shepherding”, the “enriching”, the “fulfilling”, of all creation into its intended interdependent, loving true nature. Jesus fulfilled everything that the People of God had come to expect from the messiah, the redeemer: but he did it in a way that was not exactly what they expected. Jesus showed that they were not to become Caesars, or Rulers or Controllers: the People of God are to be loving servants, washing the feet of the needy, caring for the poor, feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty loving in an outward way the way they did in their prayer. What Jesus said and did was to
declare the vocation of the People of God. Just as it had always been stated there in the history and other writings of the People of God. When they crucified Jesus because he did not do things the way they wanted them done; just as God had done in the Garden, so God again acted: he raised Jesus from the dead.
Now everything was changed, everything was different.
Those who saw Jesus raised from the dead, saw that he had given that same Spirit to them. God had “breathed”, had “enriched”, had “meaningfulized”, had “empowered” the believers with God’s very own being: the Spirit, the “ruach”, the “dynamis”, the essence of the community that God is. Just as God had given the spirit to Jesus at his baptism, so Jesus has given the spirit to the believers. And the believers become, as St. Basil wisely perceived, not a new “nephesh” but the unbelievable, God himself. No longer just an image but actually God himself. And because the Spirit of God is with Jesus, so also the Spirit is with those who are members of the Body of Jesus (those who are the baptized), those who are committed to the new community named the "called out ones", the "ekklesia", those who need again and again to affirm their participation in the universal Body of Christ. The Spirit of the Lord fills the whole world. Indeed, earlier we heard some of the outlandish places where the Spirit was heard on the day of Pentecost. There are many places today where the Spirit needs to be heard: among the devastated in Ramallah and Jerusalem; the roads of Putnam Valley and the streets of New York City; the prisons and hospitals and nursing homes all those places and any place where the love of God is needed.
The Spirit of God indeed fills the whole world; but the Spirit does so through the presence of the spirit filled people of God. Where the people of God are not, the love of God often is not perceived or received. With this celebration of Pentecost, the Liturgical season of Paschaltide is ended. We have had the luxury of living with the risen, ascended Jesus during these 50 days. Now, filled with the Spirit, we go out, and fill the whole world with the Spirit.
Archbishop of New York
Metropolitan of The Holy Orthodox Catholic and Apostolich Church of America
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Over the years, some have asked to have a copy of Archbishop Anthony’s Prayer. Here it is: