St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

Sunday of Pentecost

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on June 7, 2009

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

Glory to Jesus Christ!

St. Gregory the Great writes this on the Great Feast of Pentecost: "My friends consider the greatness of this solemn feast that commemorates God's coming as a guest into our hearts!"  He comes to us to transform us from within in a movement beyond reason, beyond words, mystically because it is from above.

When Jesus speaks about the Holy Spirit He uses poetic imagery like wind, breath, fire and water. There are no words to adequately express the great mystery of the Holy Spirit so imagery must do.  The Holy Spirit, like the Father, has no form.  When Nicodemus visited Jesus late one night the Lord spoke of the Spirit saying that we must be born again of water and the Spirit - "that which is born of flesh is flesh and that which is born of Spirit is spirit." 

To be "born of the Spirit" means to become open to His movement in our hearts.  Baptism is the sacramental entry into this possibility, but a baby, who is baptized, for example, may not become aware of the grace imparted with water and oil until much later in life.  Born anew, she was, but to become conscious of this fact is a kind of "new birth" as well.  St. Macarios of Egypt speaks of these necessary rebirths as the come at various, random moments in life. What we can say is that there come moments in our lives when the awareness that the Spirit is at work in us dawns.   Then we become co-workers with Christ in our own salvation.  Although salvation is a free gift, St. Paul exhorts us to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling."  It is a free gift, yes, for no one can deserve it, but it also demands great effort for "faith without works is dead." 

The primary work is contained in the first and greatest commandment, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself."  In this is contained all the Law and the Prophets.  So we must ask, "How do I come to love God so completely?"  Let us hear from Thomas Merton:

"Although God lives in the souls of men who are unconscious of Him, how can I say that I have found Him if I never know Him or think of Him, never take any interest in Him or seek Him or desire His presence in my soul?  What good does it do to say a few formal prayers to Him and then turn away and give my entire mind and my will to created things, desiring only ends that fall far short of Him?  Even though my soul may be justified, yet if my mind does not belong to Him then I do not belong to Him either. If my love does not reach out toward Him but scatters itself in His creation, it is because I have reduced His life in me to the level of formality, forbidding it to move me with a truly vital influence."

It would mean nothing to us should the Spirit descend with visible tongues of fire today, if we tried to put them out.  This means that I must allow my entire life, body, mind and soul to be taken up of into the life of the Spirit.  God in Christ gave Himself completely for us so that we could give ourselves completely to Him. This is the perishable putting on the imperishable, mortal nature putting on immortality.  We are talking of nothing less than a radical transformation of the whole person, mind, body and soul down to each and every microscopic cell.  This means that we consciously and consistently turn from our identification with the worldly life and begin to identify ourselves with the Holy Spirit.  Thus we can say with Paul, "It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me" for something, namely "I", ceases to exist and the Truth Himself becomes our transfigured self. By turning from the dictates of the flesh we open ourselves to the "law of the Spirit" allowing ourselves to be transformed.

Bede Griffiths describes the great spiritual work this way:  "The mystery of Christ is the ultimate truth, the reality towards which all human life aspires.  And this mystery is known by love. It is not limited to any earthly object or person. It reaches out to the infinite and the eternal. Love is going out of oneself, surrendering the self, letting the reality, the truth take over. It is not something we achieve for ourselves. It is something that comes when we let go.  We have to abandon everything - all words, thoughts, hopes, fears, and all attachment to ourselves or any earthly thing - and let the divine mystery take possession of our lives."
We begin by offering what we know and gradually the Spirit reveals to us what we do not know for there are many layers to the human mind and heart and each must be opened to the life of the Spirit.  Salvation is a process that does not stop until every dark corner, every hidden fear and every passion is transfigured and we become "pure in heart."  Only then can we be called "sons of God."  In this process we discover true happiness and the peace that passes understanding as the world is left behind through repentance and detachment, the mind grows still and we are at last taken up entire, body, mind and soul into the Divine Life.
To end, let me quote again from Thomas Merton as he explained monasticism to a girl in the sixth grade.

"But anyway, I suggest that you sometimes be quiet and think about how good a thing it is that you are loved by God who is infinite and who wants you to be supremely happy and who in fact is going to make you supremely happy. Isn't that something? It is, my dear, and let us keep praying that it will work out like that for everybody. Good bye now."