What is at your core? What do you choose to define you? What I mean is, when it comes down to the crunch, when it comes down to being stripped away from all that you have, what do you have to show for it?
The feast of Pentecost, and subsequently the start of the Apostles’ fast, is marked by a different tone compared to that of Lent. The fasting is not as strict, the tunes of the Church services are not sombre and the length of the fast is shorter (although on occasion will come close to the length of Lent, I admit). This contrast can sometimes lessen our efforts (and enthusiasm) to be closer to God, especially coming out of the Holy 50 days. We start to get caught in the daily events of life and its worries, all the while increasingly neglecting our spiritual needs. However, we should take inspiration from the Apostles and re-ignite our fervour to love God.
The disciples were (initially) just like us – learning the ropes of what it truly meant to live a life with God. But their core was completely shaken when Christ was taken away from them and arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. Everything they thought they knew about themselves – their loyalty, their strength, their commitment – when tested, was whittled down. They fled from Christ’s side when conflict arose. Only John persisted until he witnessed the Crucifixion, but even he hid in the Upper Room with them once Jesus was buried! This contrasted with how they gave their lives for Jesus after His resurrection and ascension. They had matured and fully understood all that Jesus had instructed them. But how did they persist in their devotion and their service following His ascension? What made the suffering and the persecution worth the spread of God’s Word?
What we come to understand is that a consistent and holy life is not achievable just from our own efforts. Just as the disciples were challenged, so will we be. We, as a result of being in a broken world and because of our human weaknesses, will make life difficult for ourselves. We struggle to admit weakness and insist on doing things our own way. We assume we know best how to live in this world, all the while thinking that the effort we put forward in our prayers and ‘virtues’ is what God wants from us. This is the complete opposite of what Christ wants from us. Christ does not just want our prayers, donations or platitudes. He wants us. All of our being. Our focus, our heart, our effort. And He has given us a means to do that: the Holy Spirit. The disciples fled when Christ was arrested, but they did not flee from ministry. This was because they were filled with the Holy Spirit. This is what kept them going despite persecution.
We know Christ said that “the Helper, the Holy Spirit whom the Father has sent in My name” would teach the disciples “and bring to remembrance all things” (John 14:26). He said to them. He also said, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of age” (Matthew 28:20). They remembered all that Jesus had taught them. They remembered that He was with them until the very end. Finally, they knew that it was not their own strength, but rather Christ’s love, that pushed them forward where they were sheep amongst wolves.
Our beloved Pope Shenouda contemplates:
“As temples of the Holy Spirit, we should have communion with the Holy Spirit. The work of any believer is not only the work of a human individual, but is actually the work of the Holy Spirit“.
Our actions mean little when we do not acknowledge the One who has given us the strength to do them or else we stumble in our pride. This also means that as temples of the Holy Spirit, we do not house Him as some mystical, impersonal force that can be summoned at will. The Holy Spirit is God working in us and sustaining us. He pricks our conscience. He “helps in our weaknesses” and “makes intercessions for us…with groanings that cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26). This is how we are comforted by the Comforter.
The Holy Spirit appeared in the form of “divided tongues, as of fire” (Acts 2:3). This helps us remember that the God who appeared to Moses was one in the same to the disciples, and that He would baptise the disciples with “the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16). Also, as the Burning Bush which Moses had conversed with was not consumed by the fire, so too did the Holy Spirit not consume the disciples. It instead purified them, as a blacksmith would temper and purify metal. It is this act of purification we undertake during our sacramental life with the Holy Spirit that we return to our very first question: it is not ‘what’ that is important at our very core, but ‘who’.
Through the Comforter, we learn that despite what is given or taken away from us, “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). We remind ourselves of Christ’s commission to preach the Gospel: that we should not sit on our laurels and keep the blessings to ourselves. “The aim of Pentecost”, says Bishop Kallistos Ware, “is the continuation of Christ’s Incarnation within the life of the Church”.
If we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, then surely during this coming fast we can be faithful over a few things. We can change the core of our being to purely Christ, we can have Christ define us and we can preach the good news to others just as the Apostles did. We face a world of hurt, loneliness and longing for something that can comfort them. Who better to introduce to them but the One who “binds up our wounds, and heals them” (Psalm 147:3)? All it takes the opening of our hearts and remembering that it “is the home of the Father, the altar to the Son and the workshop of the Holy Spirit” (St. Nikolai Velimirovich).
SAYG ~ anonymous.