The Feast of Pentecost
In the Church’s annual liturgical cycle, Pentecost is “the last and great day.” It is the celebration by the Church of the coming of the Holy Spirit as the end – the achievement and fulfillment – of the entire history of salvation. For the same reason, however, it is also the celebration of the beginning: it is the “birthday” of the Church as the presence among us of the Holy Spirit, of the new life in Christ, of grace, knowledge, adoption to God and holiness.
In the coming of the Spirit, the very essence of the Church is revealed:
“The Holy Spirit provides all, Overflows with prophecy, fulfills the priesthood, Has taught wisdom to illiterates, has revealed fishermen as theologians, He brings together the whole council of the Church.”
The liturgical peculiarity of Pentecost is a very special Vespers on the day itself. The service begins as a solemn “summing up” of the entire celebration, as its liturgical synthesis. After the festal Entrance, this joy reaches its climax in the singing of the Great Prokeimenon:
“Who is so great a God as our God?”
Then, having reached this climax, we are invited to kneel. This is our first kneeling since Pascha. It signifies that after these fifty days of Paschal joy and fullness, of experiencing the Kingdom of God, the Church now is about to begin her pilgrimage through time and history. It is evening again, and the night approaches, during which temptations and failures await us, when, more than anything else, we need Divine help, that presence and power of the Holy Spirit, who has already revealed to us the joyful End, who now will help us in our effort towards fulfillment and salvation.
All this is revealed in the three prayers, which the celebrant reads as we all kneel, and listen to him:
In the first prayer, we bring to God our repentance, our increased appeal for forgiveness of sins and the first condition for entering into the Kingdom of God.
In the second prayer, we ask the Holy Spirit to help us, to teach us to pray and to follow the true path in the dark and difficult night of our earthly existence.
In the third prayer, we remember all those who have achieved their earthly journey, but who are united with us in the eternal God of Love.
The joy of Pascha has been completed and we again have to wait for the dawn of the Eternal Day. Yet, knowing our weaknesses, humbling ourselves by kneeling, we also know the joy and the power of the Holy Spirit who has come. We know that God is with us, that in Him we find our victory. For the Holy Spirit – “the Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life – comes to our repentant hearts and abides in us, and cleanses us from all impurity,” and fills our life with meaning, love, faith and hope.
Fr. Alexander Schmemann