The Promise of the Father – From Ascension to Pentecost14 June 2021
For forty days after the Resurrection, the Lord Jesus was ‘being seen of His disciples’. He was gladdening the hearts of His disciples with His Presence and initiating them into the mysteries of the Kingdom. Christ appeared to them and opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. At the same time, the Apostles were living with such tension of prayer in His Presence, that His words were engraved in their heart and in their memory.
Although the Lord had promised them that He would not leave them orphans, He was taken up into Heaven on the fortieth day. The Ascension is the final event in the earthly life of Christ. This feast bears a beautiful radiance, because when the Lord ascended to Heaven, He lifted up with Him a blameless and spotless human nature to the throne of the Majesty of God. God the Father rejoiced to see the true Man, as He had conceived him before the foundation of the world and sent down the Holy Spirit upon earth, in order to seal God’s reconciliation with man and confirm that things divided were united anew. In the Person of Christ, God received the whole humanity.
The Lord began to ascend to Heaven ‘not at once, but slowly and solemnly’, so as to sanctify the ethereal regions and fill the whole universe with His divine energy. The Apostles remained looking in bewilderment and joyful sorrow. God sent two Angels to give an eschatological dimension to the thoughts of the Apostles, to remind them of His Second Coming and intensify their expectation of Him.
In essence, the Ascension of the Lord is an event that prophesies His Second Coming and the Lord Himself is the Prophet that proclaims it. During His sojourn on earth, Christ concealed His glory so as not to frighten man. Now, at the end of His earthly life, He reveals Himself openly as the Son of God compassed about in glory. At the end of time, He shall come again ‘with power and great glory’ and the most glorified way of awaiting Him is when we ‘tarry in Jerusalem’, that is, when we remain genuine, active members of the Church, rendering Him praise and thanksgiving through her Mysteries.
Holy Scripture forewarns that alien spirits will try to persuade us that a false messiah is hidden ‘here or there’ so as to lead us astray. Yet, the Second Coming will not be mysterious nor secret, neither will it come to pass in some remote place. It will be a glorious event visible from everywhere like lightning that shines from the East to the West.
Christ ascended ‘while He blessed’ those who belonged to Him. This blessing rested on the Apostles and remained as a precious inheritance within the bosom of the Church, wherein it is imparted through her ministers to all her members. Furthermore, since God works in every aspect of His Dispensation out of love, this blessing gives great hope that on the great and notable day of His Second Coming, He will come again while blessing and that His judgment will be mingled with His love and mercy.
The Period between Ascension and Pentecost
After the Ascension, the Apostles lived with great tension, with the expectation of the promise of the Father aflame in their heart, ‘continuing in prayer and the breaking of bread’. For ten days they lived the painful loss of their beloved Master. However, they transformed their grief into fiery prayer, and this strengthened them and made them receptive to the gift of the Comforter, which would break forth within them as knowledge of God on the day of Pentecost and guide them ‘into all the truth’ of the immaculate love of Christ.
The purpose of the period of the Pentecostarion, and more especially of the last ten days, is to stir up within us this apostolic tension, to ignite desire for the gift of Pentecost, so that we too may receive a little fiery flame of the Spirit that will enable us to invoke the Name of the Lord Jesus ‘with sighings which cannot be uttered’ and strengthen our nature to bear the fulness of divine love. For, the pre-eternal purpose for which man was created, is to partake of the Holy Spirit, and in Him glorify God and be glorified by Him.
The Sunday of the Holy Fathers
The Sunday before Pentecost is dedicated to the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, who established that Christ is the true God, the Son of God by nature, begotten, not made or created, as the Arians were preaching. This Sunday also bears within it the mystery of Pentecost.
These Holy Fathers were the image of Pentecost, because they not only established the true doctrine in a God-pleasing and Orthodox manner, but were also able, through the gift of the Holy Spirit they possessed, to work the regeneration of the members of the Church and become Fathers in the Holy Spirit within this wondrous Body unto all ages. This gift is preserved in the bosom of the Church and this is her inner strength. Christians are born again as children of the Holy Fathers from whom they inherit the gift of Pentecost and become in their turn spiritual Fathers.
We notice that the vision on Mount Tabor was preceded by the confession of the three closest disciples through the mouth of Peter regarding the divinity of Christ. Also, in Great Lent, the Sunday of Saint Gregory Palamas is preceded by the Sunday of Orthodoxy. In this way, the Church teaches that the precondition of the vision of the Uncreated Light is the right doctrine.
Now, before ‘the last feast’, the Church has instituted the commemoration of the Holy Fathers, because without faith in the Lord as true God and Saviour of the world, man cannot partake of the gift of the Holy Spirit. The warning of the Church that knowledge of God and salvation are unattainable without true faith in the right dogma, comes as a last preparation for the gift of Pentecost, and as the culmination of the intense expectation that characterises this period.
Genuine, living theology is neither intellectual nor academic knowledge, but the burning of the heart that draws nigh to the mystery of the Person of Christ. It is the fruit of the mystery of obedience, the fruit of discipleship at the feet of Fathers who are bearers of the Spirit.
Through the coming of the Holy Spirit into the world, God granted the gift of spiritual fatherhood, which is no longer understood as temporary spiritual guidance, but as an ontological relationship of the heart, wherein the disciple is initiated into the knowledge and will of God and inherits the life of his Fathers in God.
The Fathers that are bearers of the spirit, ‘travail’ through their prayer and word for their disciples, whom they lead to love Christ more deeply and establish an ever more fervent relationship with Him. It is a ‘known secret’ in the life of the Church that there is no greater gift for the man of faith than the prayer of his spiritual Father. Through the mystery of obedience, the disciples become partakers of the gifts of their Fathers and are thus made Fathers themselves, who will impart in their turn the truth of faith and the gift of the Holy Spirit to those who submit themselves with humility to the authority of their love and entrust their hearts to them.
The living tradition of the Church can be resembled to a chain. Each Father is one link in this chain. If the Christian is to be joined to this link and become himself a bearer of the indestructible life that flows through it, he must be attached to one of its links. It is through this link that he is led into the wondrous communion of the Saints and vouchsafed to become a partaker of their gifts.
The High-Priestly Prayer of Christ
This Sunday’s Gospel reading is the High-Priestly Prayer of Christ, through which He sealed the work of salvation and presented it to the Heavenly Father, asking Him to also seal it with His divine glory. Unlike the other three Gospels, the Gospel according to Saint John does not describe the prayer of Christ in Gethsemane. Yet, the words of the Lord from today’s passage reveal the content of this awe-inspiring and supernatural prayer. They also reveal that eternal life is neither an abstract philosophical idea, nor something that God promised for the far and uncertain future. Eternal life is knowledge of the true God, that is, man’s union through the Holy Spirit with the Only-begotten Son of the Father, Jesus Christ, which begins in the present life and is perfected in eternity.
The mind stops at one of the last verses: ‘O righteous Father, and the world hath not known thee.’ With a soul ‘exceeding sorrowful unto death’, Christ grieved that the world did not know the incorruptible love of the Father, but instead rejected it. Likewise, the man who receives the gift of the Holy Spirit, which establishes in him the mind of Christ, acquires the awareness that all men are destined to be heirs of Paradise. Then man is also seized by deep sorrow and prays that no one may fall away from the abundance of life that God freely bestows on us.
Pentecost is the perfect and last feast that completes the cycle of divine Economy, that is, of the work performed by Christ for the salvation of the world. The sublime mystery of this feast is made manifest through the gift of the apostolic enlargement of the heart.
Today the work of man’s salvation by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, came to completion. Today the expectation of the promise of the Father was fulfilled. Today the Holy Spirit came in the form of fiery tongues that sat upon each of the disciples. They received the gift of the Comforter and each one of them became a unique hypostasis before God.
When the illumining and refreshing flame of the Comforter touches the heart, it works in a twofold way. It consumes the impurity of sin, while at the same time illumining the heart with true knowledge of God and warming it with the fire of divine love. It thus disperses every delusion, gives witness to the divinity of the Saviour Christ and engraves His holy image in the deep heart. The warmth of His love enlarges the heart to embrace Heaven and earth. The prayer of the man who has conceived the Holy Spirit in his heart is: ‘Lord, save and sanctify all.’
The gift of the Holy Spirit reminds and teaches the words of the Lord Jesus, His truth that looses the bonds of the world and of the passions. Only when the King of all good comes to abide in our heart do we know true spiritual freedom.
Every Christian has the potential to repeat Pentecost in his life. However, he cannot do that without the thirst for the living water which the Lord gives and without entering the upper chamber of the heart, continuing with patience in the invocation of the Name of Jesus Christ and the expectation of His coming. The gift of Pentecost enables man to call in an acceptable way upon the Name of the Lord Jesus, wherein is contained the grace of salvation.
Let us approach this great and final feast of Pentecost with faith that the Lord Jesus Christ will not overlook us, but will visit us and pour out upon us also the gifts of His goodness. As He Himself says in His Gospel: ‘If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?’, so as to lead them ‘into the land of uprightness’, to salvation. Having the promise of the Lord and His unfailing word as ‘an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast’, let us surrender ourselves to the earthquake of the energy of His Spirit and let us shake off the scales of sin and the corruption of death, so that, with our whole heart turned towards the Lord, we may also receive the fiery, but also ‘bedewing’ gift of our Great God, that will transport us from the ephemeral and deceiving things of this world to things eternal and true. Then we shall know that we are children of the Heavenly Father, and the Spirit will unceasingly cry out in our hearts, ‘Abba, Father.’ For He has prepared a great inheritance for us, the Kingdom of Heaven. Unto us is the promise, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.