Archpastoral Letter for Pentecost 2008
Prot. N. 189
To the Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers and Clergy, and to the Beloved Faithful of this Diocese:
Glory to Jesus Christ! Slava Isusu Christu!
Suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. -- Acts 2.2-4
On the Christian Feast of Pentecost, the fiftieth day after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Mother of God and the Apostles who were gathered together in the Upper Room. John the Baptist once predicted that Christ would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Luke 3.16): at Pentecost, at nine o'clock in the morning, the prophecy of the Forerunner came true in the fullness of divine power and joy.
The fire that blazed in the Upper Room was a sign of the Uncreated Energy, the Grace, of the Holy Trinity. The infinite Love of the Three Persons, One in Essence, spills out in vast profusion into and beyond the entire Universe: and on that spring day in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit glorified Jesus Christ in the everyday reality of common women and men.
St. Basil writes that " ... as the Father is seen in the Son, so the Son is seen in the Spirit ... By means of the illumination of the Spirit we behold the 'radiance of the glory' [Hebrews 1.3] of God: by means of the 'impression' we are led up to Him of Whom He is the impression, exactly reproduced on the seal." Jesus Christ is the complete image of God the Father: the Holy Spirit is the radiance of that Image, and we are bathed in that ineffable glory.
At Pentecost, that ineffable glory of Trinitarian Grace flooded the Upper Room with Uncreated Fire.
The fire is that glory of grace: it is the light and life of the Body of Christ. It is the ground of belief, the substance of faith. It is eternal life that is inaugurated in the here and now. It is what transforms fishermen into fishers of men. It is what amplifies the language of men into the Gospel of God.
The fire of Pentecost is nothing less than the profound presence of the Holy Spirit. It is the only power that constitutes the Church. That Holy Fire is what transforms a society of common folk into the mystical Body of Christ - common folk who become partakers of the divine nature, a chosen people, a royal priesthood who are called by God the Father, fashioned by the Son, and realized by the indwelling and filling of the Holy Spirit. That Holy Fire, which is at the same time a single flame but set individually upon each person, is the sign and reality of sanctification in the present, and the perfection of theosis in the ages to come.
You and I are inducted into that Day of Pentecost which never ends, for Pentecost is the name of this one Christian generation. At Pentecost, the Last Days began and will only finish when the Son of Man returns in glory. Every sacrament completely ushers us into the mystical Upper Room and immerses us in its Holy Fire. Through sacrament we commune with the Holy Trinity. Through prayer the Holy Spirit gives utterance with a language that goes beyond human speech. Through fellowship we practice for Heaven in the New Jerusalem. Through the virtues we set aside the darkness and divisions of the Tower of Babel, and we enter into the sweet family accord of the "peace that passes all understanding" (Philippians 4.7).
All we have to do, you and I, is to trade our lesser things for greater things. All we have to do is to give up our passions and our entanglements, and receive grace and spiritual gifts.
St. Macarius the Great writes of this happy exchange: "If you renounce the life you are leading today and if you persevere in your prayer, you will feel that your effort is securing you great restfulness. You will discover in these slight pains and fatigues a great joy and a happiness that are immense. God's tender love is ineffable. He offers Himself to those who with all their faith believe that God can dwell in the human body and make it His glorious abode. God built heaven and earth to be the dwelling place of the human race. But He also built the human body and soul to make them His own abode, so that He might dwell therein and rest there as in a well kept house ... 'We are His house,' St. Paul writes [in Hebrews 3.6].In their houses human beings carefully accumulate their wealth. The Lord in His house, our soul and body, amasses and stores up the heavenly riches of the Spirit."
How can we refuse this exchange? How can we - knowing that there is so much to gain from repentance and faith - fail to answer the invitation of the Spirit and the Bride, who say, together, "Come!" (Revelation 23.17).
And yet, there are those who refuse. Those individuals are the ones who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, that sin, which our Lord says, is the only sin that will remain unforgiven at the end of all things, on the Last Day: Assuredly I say to you, that all sins will be forgiven the sons of men ... but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation (Mark 3.28-29).
What is this blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? Remember that the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost to glorify the Son of God on this earth, so that we might join with Jesus in His Mystical Body and sojourn with Him to eternal glory. The Holy Spirit testifies to Jesus Christ as the only Son of God. The Spirit says that Jesus is the only Risen One, the only Hope, the only Way, Truth and the Life. The Spirit says that the Upper Room of Pentecost is the only place of Salvation, that the Christian Gospel is the only true message of salvation, that all religion is fulfilled and resolved in the glories of the Apostolic Orthodox Church.
The Holy Spirit pushes and raises, moves and leads, cajoles and calls us in the day and the night, in the sky and the depths of our souls. The Holy Spirit calls us to solidarity with Jesus Christ in the Church. If we say no to that invitation, we commit the sin which will be the only sin that remains unforgiven. And tragically, at the last day, the only ones who will be condemned to the eternal hell of torment will be those who committed the "unforgiven" sin.
There is no such thing as an "unforgiveable sin." That is a term that is alien to the Orthodox Church, for God can do anything He so chooses. And the only sin that remains unforgiven is the sin of refusal - the sin of refusing to repent and commune ... the sin of saying no to the Holy Spirit, when the Spirit calls us to believe ... the sin of not moving, of staying behind, when the Spirit and the Bride say "Come."
Let us cast aside all the passions, the despair and the worldly entanglements that draw us away from belief. Let us lighten ourselves with prayer and freedom, simplicity and love, communion and repentance, so that the Spirit may lift us up from earthly cares. Let us completely and perfectly believe in Jesus Christ. Let us lift up our hearts and gift thanks unto the Lord, so that we may raise on high the King of all, and enter by the door of the sheepfold into that bright Upper Room, in the Morning of Eternal Life which is today, this bright day, of the Feast of Pentecost, the generation of the Apostolic and Everlasting Church of God.
Granting unto you, my beloved, my fervent Archpastoral blessings, I remain
Yours in the Grace of the Holy Trinity,
+ METROPOLITAN NICHOLAS
This Archpastoral Letter is to be read in lieu of the regular sermon during the Divine Liturgy in all the Parishes of the Diocese on Pentecost Sunday, June 15.