The Day of the Holy Spirit

Fr. Alexander Men (This year we celebrate the feast of Ascension on Thursday, June 2, and the feast Pentecost, the giving of the Holy Spirit and Birthday of the Church, on Sunday June 12.  In anticipation of the latter we offer the following sermon by Fr. Alexander Men.)

When the temple guard, the soldiers who used to keep order in the House of God, were sent by the temple authorities to seize the Lord, they returned without success, as they had not been able to lay hands on Him. When sternly asked: "Why did you not bring him back with you?" -- they replied, "No one ever spoke like this man." There was power in the words of Christ the Savior.  But that power was not there in the words of His disciples, because the force that spoke through Him was divine, while human weakness alone spoke through them. Even when the disciples had seen the Resurrected One with their own eyes, they hid in fear, locking their doors.  Despite everything, they did not believe. They doubted, even when they saw Him on the mountain in Galilee, as the Evangelist Matthew tells us. Some worshipped Him, but others doubted, believing it to be a ghost.

A few weeks later, on the feast of Pentecost, everything changed.  (Just over a month) had passed since the Lord had died at the place of the skull, in full view of everyone, and then risen again, showing Himself to be faithful and true. Suddenly there was a great noise of troubled voices --and Christ's disciples came out of the house and bore witness to the Risen Christ in front of a whole crowd of people. Everything in them changed:  their fear, timidity and confused speech had gone, as if they had never existed.  They spoke so that everyone could understand, even visitors from distant lands who did not know the language well. Their words were now reaching everyone. Why? What was happening?  They were able to bear witness because the divine power of the Lord had descended on them -- not in a human way, not through flesh and blood, but directly through the Holy Spirit; so they could openly say, "This Jesus, God has raised from the dead, whereof we are all witnesses."

This is an important saying, which we should take to our hearts, like those witnesses. Every Christian is a witness for God.  Think for a moment what a witness is in our ordinary life.  In court, a witness must describe truthfully what he has seen and heard and tell what he really knows honestly and truly. There are false witnesses and slanderers, but a true witness speaks only the truth -- and not just the truth, but a truth that he knows well personally. So the power of Christian witness lies in what we say about the Lord whom we know, about the grace we have experienced, the blessing that is ours and the faith which is in our hearts. If we do not have that Spirit, that power, then we are bad disciples.

The Apostles said:  "He has been raised by God and we are the witnesses thereof" -- because they knew it, they had seen it with their own eyes and had experienced it.  But what about us?  When we pray to the Lord after taking Holy Communion, do we not touch Him?  All true faith is contact with the Lord, but once there has been living contact with God, with the Risen Christ who has saved us, it means we can honestly and courageously witness to the world about our hope, our consolation and our joy.

Our joy is the Lord, who loves the world, trying to save each man and seeking every soul that has erred.  We do not say this just because of reports by others. We ourselves must be witnesses of His Spirit and His power. Let us pray today for the most important thing of all -- that the Spirit of the Lord, which is promised to us, to each one of us, should come to us and touch our hearts.  Then we shall say, not in vain, but out of the experience of our hearts, that we know our Lord and have known the touch of the Spirit of Christ and of God.  Then we shall have the right to say, "Yes, we know Him, whom we have loved, who has loved us, saved us and given us the gift of eternal life."  To Him we all cry, "King of Heaven, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, come and make your home in us."