Sunday of Pentecost 2010

May 23, 2010 Length: 27:18





In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. [Amen.]

These days parents are particularly challenged shopping for clothing for their children. It’s a great challenge for us, and a great challenge for those young persons who are trying to shop for themselves. If you are a female, the particular challenge is this: it’s to find clothing that has, shall we say, substance, [Laughter] some clothing that might actually serve to cover the body, the message being that no respectable American girl would ever find herself in public with too much on. The challenge for the young men and those shopping for young men is to find something that doesn’t have all over it or at least in some secret places skulls and skeletons.

We have tried as parents, Presvytera and I, to be discerning. Sometimes we’ve come home only to find out that the skulls were hidden, that they appeared only in the sunlight or only when the folds were a certain way. [Laughter] And I wish I was joking, but I have done more than just had a guttural reaction to that—which wasn’t very positive and hasn’t been very positive. I’ve also thought about it, reflected on it. What is the cause of this obsession, we who are slaves to the whims of design companies, we who are captivated by fashion and its fads? Since the art of making one’s own clothes is at low ebb, we’re dependent upon the creations, the thoughts and inspiration of other designers.

What’s behind it? I think we see ourselves in these images, in fact. I think the skulls and the skeletons proclaim a truth about post-industrial technological society. It says something to us about our inner life. We are walking, yes, but we’re dead. We are breathing, yes, but our soul is on life support. We can feel with our fingers; we have the sense of touch, but our hearts are numb, and our eyes do not fill with tears very easily. We are like those widows described by St. Paul in his first epistle to his son, Timothy. He says, “Widows who are true widows”—sometimes it’s translated “widows who are widows indeed”—“who have been left alone commit themselves to prayers and entreaties, with tears night and day.” Those are true widows. Then he goes on and he says, “But those widows who are slaves to sensual desires are dead, even though they live.” They’re alive, but they’re dead. They’re moving physically, but spiritually they’re in a coma. I think this is a picture, a picture of being a spiritual zombie.

The great elder Aimilianos, the abbot for many years of the monastery of Simonopetra on the Holy Mountain, has a beautiful article. The article is entitled, “Orthodox Spirituality and the Technological Revolution.” And in this insightful reflection, the pious abbot, Fr. Aimilianos, he establishes the legitimate place of technology in human life. He makes an argument from the Scriptures to say that technology is not something to be resisted in any way. It’s something to be cultivated and to be shackled to human use. In fact, humans are called by God to exercise lordship, not just over the physical creation but over the advancement of technology, and to bow technology to the service of God and to the benefit of human beings, which it has often done.

He says that in these days there is a particular need for spiritual vigilance in our technological age in order not to become killed—and he means spiritually—by technology. Listen to his words:

The most dreadful enemy created by post-industrial culture, the culture of information technology and the image—The most dreadful enemy is cunning distraction. Swamped by millions of images and a host of different situations on television and in the media in general, people lose their peace of mind, their self-control, their powers of contemplation and reflection and they turn outwards.

This is one of the fruits of living in the age we live in. We’re pressed to become people who are not inward and self-reflective, but outward.

...becoming strangers to themselves, in a word mindless, impervious to the dictates of their intelligence. […]

In the industrial era, people became consumers and slaves to things they produced. In this post-industrial age, they are becoming consumers and slaves to images and information, which fill their lives.

Skulls and skeletons, images in fact in which we can see ourselves, apt descriptions of our sessions for those who are computer slaves, spiritual zombies, for those stoned mindless on entertainment opiates. Skulls and skeletons, you know, brothers and sisters, are presented to us several times in the Scriptures themselves. Think with me if you will about that prophet who was highlighted during these holy days of Pentecost. In fact, we read from his prophecy last night, if you were here at great vespers, and his imagery is throughout the hymnody of the Church throughout the feast of Pentecost, the bestowal of the Holy Spirit. And that prophet is Ezekiel.

Ezekiel the prophet was taken up by the spirit of God and transferred to a valley, a large valley that was full of what? Bones. Bones, what an image. Usually human bones are found under the earth, but not in Ezekiel’s valley. In Ezekiel’s valley, the bones covered the top of the earth, and not just one or two. God asked him to walk through the valley and to take a good look at the bones, and he did. And the description he gave of them were that the bones were dry. It was a valley of dry bones. That’s an image to communicate these people weren’t just dead—they were really dead. They were really dead, and they had been dead for some time.

The spirit of God inspired Ezekiel, and Ezekiel thought to himself, “Can these bones live?” Can these bones live? Here we are, in the very grave of mankind, and the thought in Ezekiel’s mind: “Is there any hope for these people whatsoever?” The answer came from the spirit. He said, “Prophesy, Ezekiel, to these dry bones. Prophesy and say to them that my spirit I will put within you.” And Ezekiel began to prophesy, to preach, to the dry bones. There he witnessed, before his very eyes, the miracle of what takes place in a dead human person when the spirit of God comes into them.

He saw first and heard first the rattling. Rattling is a very good sign. [Laughter] It’s much better than deathly silence in this case. He heard the rattling of the bones, and they all started to shake and clack against each other. Then they began to line up according to a human skeleton. Then he saw sinews form and bones actually get attached by cartilage and muscles. He saw flesh formed, and then persons covered with skin, but they were still lifeless until God [Blowing sound] breathed his spirit into them and persons came to life.

This prophecy of Ezekiel, found in the 37th chapter of his prophecy, follows immediately after perhaps the most detailed promise of the day of Pentecost in the Old Testament: Ezekiel 36, where God promises he will send his Holy Spirit upon all flesh. Ezekiel saw how serious was, and he also saw what the result of Pentecost would be for the people of God. They would move from being zombies, slaves, dead in soul to being persons alive to God, inspired, infused with the spirit of God.

We could use that, I think, as an image for the Church’s work in the world. We are to be bone-rattlers. Bone-rattlers, speaking prophetic words and communicating the spirit of God to those who are dry, so that they might be stirred to new life. This is the image of the Church, the call and function that you have in the world. Can these bones live? Ezekiel found it out. He found out that the spirit of God is greater than any death, that he is, in fact, as we say in the Creed, the Lord and the Giver of life. Where he is, life comes forth.

Today, brothers and sisters, we celebrate this great gift, the great feast of holy Pentecost. This day has been longed for since the time of Adam’s fall—when Adam had lived in the glorious raiment of the Holy Spirit, who had lived penetrated by the presence of God and penetrating back—since the time when all that was stripped away and the inspiration and the intelligence and the comfort of the Holy Spirit was taken away from him and he found himself weeping outside of Paradise. From that day we’ve been yearning, in fact, for the spirit of God to come.

Do you remember the story of the great prophet and God-seer, Moses? Moses was a symbol of a spirit-filled life. He had the Holy Spirit upon him. Everyone knew it. He demonstrated it by a life of confidence in God, by a life of lawfulness. He demonstrated it by a radiant face that was transfigured. And one time, though he had been leading the people of God all by himself, he was directed by God to put an end to this and in fact to gather elders of the people and to dispense his spirit to them so that they could also exercise leadership, and in fact that took place. Seventy elders of the people gathered, Moses prayed, and they were ordained to serve with Moses in the governance of the people.

Joshua heard that a number of elders had not come to be with Moses and with the others and that they were still back in their tents, refusing to cooperate, but that the Holy Spirit had descended on them also, and they were speaking forth words of prophecy. And Joshua ran to Moses, and he said, “Moses, Master, tell them to be quiet!” (Those rebels.) And Moses looked at him, and he said, “Joshua, are you jealous for me? Would to God that all God’s people had the spirit and the prophesy!” This was the yearning of the hearts of the righteous for the day of Pentecost, for the spirit of God to be given to every believer.

And that’s what we celebrate today, dear ones: the promise of the prophets, Ezekiel and Joel, the yearning of the righteous like Moses, and especially the most precious promises of our Lord Jesus Christ coming to pass. He is the one who said, “Come to me, and from your insides will flow rivers of living water.” St. John says he spoke this of the Spirit whom he was to send. For the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet been glorified. First the Son of God would assume his rightful place at the right hand of the Father. First he would sit down on the throne as King of kings and Lord of lords, ruling in his session at the right hand of the Father. And then, as a love-gift, as a regal expression of his enthronement, he would send forth the Holy Spirit to his Church.

First Jesus glorified, then the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And on this day, in fact, we participate in that miracle. 120, not just the apostles. The apostles and the whole young Church, that beautiful root from which we have grown. We’re gathered in the upper room, wondering and waiting and praying. And then they heard the bones rattle, they heard the wind move, and the Holy Spirit came forth from heaven into that room and rested upon them. This is depicted in the icon of Pentecost by flames of fire on the heads of the apostles. You saw that when you came into the church and venerated the festal icon. This is what we celebrate today: He who is never divided, divided himself and rested on the heads of the disciples. Like the rays of the sun, he was partaken of but not diminished. This is the Holy Spirit and the feast of Pentecost.

Now think with me, brothers and sisters, about what this means for us. What is the evidence? What is the evidence of the Spirit having been given to us, we who are successors of the early Church, we who share in their same reality? How do we demonstrate it? What miracles do we show forth? I want to mention a few, and I want to mention them so that we can look at ourselves. First you should know that Ezekiel says in his prophecy this about the results of Pentecost:

I will give you a new heart and a new spirit within you, and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will be careful to observe my ordinances.

This is the fruit—the proof—of the Holy Spirit in us. We don’t have hard and stony hearts; we have fleshly hearts, soft hearts, hearts that are moved to compassion, hearts that are moved to love, hearts that are moved to sympathy, hearts that are moved to faith. This is the kind of heart that the Holy Spirit produces, without fail, in every believer. Anyone who’s opened to the Spirit’s presence will demonstrate it this way: the stony heart is out; the fleshly, soft heart is in.

He cleanses the heart, he purifies the heart, he establishes the root of our faith from the inside, and this is how we live our life: from the inside out. This is how we define our faith: as a matter of the heart.

Remember when our Lord was walking after his resurrection? He appeared to Luke and Cleopas on the road to Emmaus, and he spoke to them those beautiful words confirming his resurrection, showing them in the Scriptures how it was prophesied that the Christ had to suffer and then be raised on the third day. And in the process of that happening, what happened to them? Their hearts were warmed within them, it says. This is what happens to believers. It starts here. This is the first miracle, the first fruit.

He also gave them new tongues. He gave them the power to use their tongues to glorify God. They were given the ability to speak foreign languages so that the Gospel could be going to the nations. I would suggest to you, brothers and sisters, that this area, the gift of language, is perhaps one of the most important areas that the Holy Spirit has to speak to us today. What do I mean by that? Do I mean that we should all be hoping to speak Spanish without studying? [Laughter] No. Study your Spanish and speak Spanish. Believe me, if that would come that easily, I would be speaking fluent Arabic to you today. [Laughter] The miracle has not happened on this tongue; it has not happened.

No, what I mean is this: the language of the Holy Spirit is not primarily the gift of foreign languages, which has existed on and off in the Church according to the missionary need of her apostles. The primary language of the Church is the heart and the language of prayer, and this is what the Holy Spirit teaches us. And the language of prayer, brothers and sisters, is this— That is what the Holy Spirit teaches, and that is the miracle of his presence in you: silence and quiet. This is the language of prayer. It’s impossible to pray without being quiet and without being silent. It’s a miracle in this age of chaos, of information overload and a thousand images that have turned us mindlessly into spiritual zombies—it is the work of the spirit of God, brothers and sisters, to fashion in us a love of silence.

Let me just ask you: Do you love quiet? Do you love silence? And from silence, do you gather strength, or do you go crazy. If you gather strength, brothers and sisters, this is an evidence of the fact that you are a vessel of the Holy Spirit. If silence drives you mad—listen to me—it’s time to change your life. It’s time to change your life. If you can’t bear to be quiet with yourself, with your conscience, with the presence of God in order to listen to him, what that means is that the Holy Spirit is not there.

Remember that pattern I told you that Jesus establishes for us? The Spirit was not yet given because Jesus was not yet glorified? This pattern that undergirds the feast of Pentecost is a picture of redemptive history—first Jesus is glorified to the right hand of God the Father, and then he sends forth the Holy Spirit—but it exists also in every individual life. If Jesus is not glorified first, the Holy Spirit is not given. If you want to be a possessor of the most precious thing in the world, which is to have the spirit of God in you, Jesus must be glorified. Glorify him, you’ll love silence, you’ll love quiet, you’ll taste the language of prayer. He will groan in you. He will move in you and teach you how to pray, how to be near God, and then the fruits will flow, the river will come, the spring will bubble.

Lastly, the Holy Spirit will come and reign over us. There’s a reason that that fire is on the heads of the apostles in that icon and not in their mouth, not in their hand, not at their feet. Those flames are placed iconographically on the heads of the apostles to proclaim the truth: that he came to reign on us, to sit upon us as upon a throne, to take up government within us. This is what it means in the Scriptures that we walk by the spirit and do not fulfill the desires of the flesh (St. Paul to the Galatians), or to his Ephesian church, where he said, “Be filled with the Holy Spirit and not intoxicated with wine.”

This is the position that the Holy Spirit takes toward us: a position of being enthroned, governing us, ruling us, and he will not compete. He will not compete with booze, he won’t compete with prescription drugs—he’s not going to do it. If we want to be governed by something other than him, he’ll gladly recede, but in our life if we want him, we give him the reins. We allow him to guide, to rule, to be king.

You may think to yourself, “Well, it’s not going to work for me, Father. I’m too hard on the inside. I have a rocky heart.” I’m sympathetic with that. I’m very sympathetic with that thought, but let me encourage you that it’s not true. You may not be as soft and fleshly as you want to be. You may not feel the warmth of heart that you want to have, which is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in you, but there is a promise. It was given to the Prophet Elias. Do you remember the story when God came to meet Elijah? Elijah was undone, and he expected to see God in some way that he did not expect, and God caused a wind to blow. Just as he was appearing to Elias, God caused a great wind, just like on the day of Pentecost. And it began to shake things, and then the Scripture says—this is in 1 Kings 19 if you don’t believe me—the Scripture says as God was coming and as his spirit was approaching the Prophet Elijah, that wind began to break and shatter the rocks and stones around the Prophet Elijah.

This is our hope. If he can do that, if he can break the rocks and stones in order to penetrate to the prophet, he can break this rock. He can soften this stone. He can make it come to pieces and make it warm and fleshly and take up his residence in us. There’s hope, there’s hope, and there’s nothing else to pursue in this life. Pursue him. Drink deeply of him. God is so good. If none of you, if your children ask for something good, “Give me a loaf of bread,” you’re not going to give your child a stone, right? If they ask for a fish, you’re not going to hand your child a snake. How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?

Rich people we are, and I wish you, brothers and sisters, a very glorious, a happy, a radiant feast of holy Pentecost.