St. Nikolai Velimirovic, in his beautiful poetic commentary on the Lord’s prayer, writes:
Thou makest us ashamed every day, O most Merciful. For when we are expecting punishment Thou sendest to us Thy mercy; when we are expecting Thy thunders Thou sendest to us a quiet evening; and when we are expecting darkness Thou sendest to us the sunshine. Thou art always sublime above our sins, and always magnificent in Thy silent patience.
Let us for a moment return in thought to Great and Holy Friday, which was at once the low point of human history, on which man judged and crucified his Creator, but also the day on which God tore up the handwriting of of mankind’s sins. What could man reasonably expect after such vile deeds? What punishment, what thunders? The darkening of the sun, the earthquake, the veil rent in twain, all of these, frightening though they must have been, were still very mild in comparison with the sin of deicide. Moreover, consider how shortlived these signs were. If God dealt with us as we deal with our brother when He wrongs us in far less significant ways, would He have left one man living on earth?
But as St. Nikolai says, “Thou art always sublime above our sins, and always magnificent in Thy silent patience.” No, far from destroying us, He turned the evil intention and cruelty of man into the instrument of our salvation. In return for his their murderous intention, He rewarded mankind with everlasting life. In return for man’s attempt to reduce Him to the dust of the earth, He arose from the dead incorruptible, the firstborn of the dead, a living promise and embodiment of our own future Resurrection. Indeed, man sought to confine Our Lord into the very bowels earth, but He in turn has raised up man to the height of Heaven, higher than the angels, taking our own human nature with Him to sit at the right hand of God the Father. But even this was not all that God’s beneficence had in store for us. For even though the Lord Jesus Christ remains united to us in the union of His two natures, human and divine, and so has never truly left us, today on the Feast of Pentecost He sends us the Divine Comforter, of one essence with the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit, Our Lord and God. To fallen man, who could not live in peace either with other imperfect men or with the Perfect God-Man, he has offered the opportunity to abide forever in the life and love of the Holy Trinity.
What greater expression of the Divine love for man are the twin miracles of the Incarnation and the Descent of the Holy Spirit? In spite of all that we do to one another, to ourselves, to God Himself, He deigns to dwell with us and among us, to teach us and guide us despite our frequent rejection of that instruction. Yes, we reject Him, but He gives us His very Self in the Holy Mysteries. We seek fulfillment in the creation, but He offers to make us, “partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:4) For all of human history man has striven in vain to find truth in the starry heavens or in the minute details of material creation, sometimes devoting a whole lifetime to the pursuit, but in an instant, God brought His holy Apostles, and through them His Church, “into all truth.” (John 16:3)
We will never surpass the faith and depth of spiritual understanding of the faith that the Apostles possessed on Pentecost. The Church has at times clarified her doctrines by the writings of the Fathers, by the decrees of Councils Ecumenical and local, but not one added an single iota to the Truth to which the Apostles were guided on this Holy and saving Feast: they only defended it from attacks from within and without. All of the work of the Church, all the labors of the saints after our Lord’s Resurrection, find their beginning and wellspring in the grace poured out on this day. But he will not force any of us to live according to that grace. He calls, beckons, chastises, and reminds us, but he does not force us. We can reject our calling as did Ananias and Sapphira so soon after this day, or we can be wholly transformed as were the Holy Apostles, even the one who began as a persecutor of Christians. If we are willing, we need look no further, no where else, for the truth that all mankind seeks so ardently. That Truth is here, God Himself, manifested in tongues of fire, offered to all nations, all peoples, if they will only turn to Him in faith.
As was Pentecost for the Apostles, this day in the Church calendar is a new beginning of our labors and struggles. After a brief week without fasting, we will begin the Apostle’s Fast. Let us draw strength and encouragement from the grace which is offered to us so freely on this day. Later today, at Vespers, we will prostrate again in Church for the first time since Holy Week, and the priest will read special prayers that we only hear once each year on this day. In the third part of the prayers, he will address God the one “Who… on this all-perfect and saving feast has deigned to receive propitiatory prayers for those that are kept in hades, giving us great hope that through Thee release and consolation may be sent down to those held there in the bondage of vileness.” If the prayers of the Church are so powerful that in them we may even have hope—not small but “great” hope—for those imprisoned ones, for whom the doors of repentance are forever closed, who cannot so much as pray for themselves, then how much more should we be emboldened to throw off the shackles of whatever sins and passions still bind us, when the opportunities for repentance and spiritual struggle are still open to us.
Let us each ask Our Lord, the All-Holy and Good and Life-Creating Spirit, to give us the strength to accept these freely given gifts, and to enlighten the dark and sinful recesses of our hearts. Amen.