On the Acquisition of Grace - A Sermon for the Feast of Pentecost (2023)

On the Acquisition of Grace - A Sermon for the Feast of Pentecost (2023) - Holy Cross Monastery



The Feast of Pentecost, also called “Trinity Sunday,” is a Feast which affirms the role of the Trinity in the creation of the material world and the role of the Trinity in the recreation of humanity who at one time only looked down towards the earth and towards earthly delights, but now is able to look up to the heavens and the delights that come from the heavenly world.

As the Psalmist writes, “Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth (Ps. 104.30).” We witness this renewal around us being in the spring of the year when the sun begins to warm the earth, the grass grows, and the flowers begin to bloom. Therefore, using earthly means to draw our minds toward the heavenly, we adorn the church with flowers and trees which point toward the new life which the Holy Spirit creates within us.


In ancient times, the Hebrews annually celebrated several minor feasts, but three major feasts. These are:

  1. the Passover, which commemorated God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery to the Egyptians;
  2. the Feast of Weeks, also called Pentecost, which consisted of fifty days of festivity following the Passover wherein the Israelites celebrate Moses’ receiving God’s law on Mt. Sinai and is paralleled with their thankfulness for the first fruits of the wheat harvest; and
  3. the Feast of Tabernacles, celebrated in the Fall and commemorating the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land of Canaan and of the bounty of the land of Canaan.

For each of these feasts, all Hebrew men that were able, were expected to be in Jerusalem to celebrate, therefore, as we have just heard in the reading from Acts, “When the day of Pentecost had fully come (Acts 2.1), that is, the fiftieth day after the Passover, that “there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven,” them being Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs.

The significance of this geographic representation is that, one, they all become a witness to the miracle of Christ’s disciples speaking their regional language, as the Apostle Luke notes, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance… And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language.”

And, two, the Apostle Peter unfolds the life of Christ to this now captive audience who will soon be returning home and will be able to carry with them what he tells them – that Jesus Christ, who was prophesied in the Old Testament, has risen from the dead, only fifty days ago, ascended into Heaven only ten days ago, and it is He who is the Messiah.


I. Jesus attests to being the Messiah, the Son of God

The Apostle Peter begins his discourse to the Jews by citing the Prophet King David’s adherence to the resurrection, that after his death in this world he will be transported to another world, a world from which he would arise and be with God.

In Psalm 16, he writes:

I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell (לשְׁאוֹ (Sheol), ᾅδης (Hades) that is, not in a place of fire, but the place of departed souls, in the afterlife), neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance. (Ps. 16.10 [LXX 15.10])

What is more, David refers to the Messiah as “thine Holy One,” and Peter, explaining to this crowd, says that the “Holy One” is Jesus Christ; He will not see corruption because He has resurrected from the dead.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus demonstrates that He is “the Holy One”, He is the Son of God, the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world, and this is evident in at six least instances:

  1. In John 17, at the “last supper” and in front of His disciples, Jesus prays to God addressing God as His Father and Himself as God’s Son (1-13);
  2. to the man born blind, to whom Christ gave vision, Jesus asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of God?” He answered and said, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” And Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.” (John 9.35-37);
  3. the Samaritan woman at the well says to Christ: “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.” (John 4.25-26);
  4. Jesus performed innumerable miracles, not least, healing the lame man, who laid by the Sheep Pool named Bethesda, and had been infirmed for thirty-eight years (John 5.1-15)
  5. His rising from the dead was announced by an angel to Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome when they came to His tomb to anoint His body with spices (Mark 15.43-16.8); and, finally,
  6. Jesus’ resurrecting from the dead and retaining the nail marks on His hands and feet as well as the mark from the spear, signs which were to be a witness to Thomas that He is the same Christ which Thomas had always known but He was now risen from the dead, as He foretold (John 20.19-31).

If any of this sounds familiar, it should, these six points are each from the Gospel reading for the Sundays following Pascha, because the Gospel reading and the theme of that Sunday relates to Christ being the Messiah who was prophesied about in the Hebrew Scriptures.

II. The gift of the Holy Spirit is Jesus’ promise

It is this Messiah, Jesus Christ, who says “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive…” (John 7.37-39f)

[But] why do we need the Holy Spirit? St. Macarius of Egypt (300-391) writes that, “The soul is neither by nature divine nor by nature part of the darkness of wickedness, but is a creature, intellectual, beautiful, unique and admirable.”[1] It only enjoys eternal life, not because of something inherent within itself but because of God’s Holy Spirit, which St. Macarius writes, becomes our spiritual meat and drink and heavenly clothing which is “the true life of the soul.”[2] As the body does not have life in itself but draws it from meat and drink so is the Holy Spirit to the soul.

Therefore, if we eat and drink little our bodies will grow weak, our mind dims and our judgment is impaired. The same is true in the spiritual life, for if we do not nurture our souls with the food of the Holy Spirit, then we grow weak spiritually. This sustenance is Christ Himself, as the Lord said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.”

And how do we acquire the Holy Spirit? We acquire the Holy Spirit through grace, which only comes when we live for Christ. As St. Seraphim of Sarov explained to Nicholas A. Motovilov,

Prayer, fasting, vigil and all other Christian activities (to which we can add feeding the poor, nursing the sick, alleviating the suffering), however good, he says, however good they may be in themselves, they do not constitute the aim [the goal] of our Christian life, although they serve as the indispensable means of reaching this goal. The true aim of our Christian life consists in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. As for fasts, and vigils, and prayer, and almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christ’s sake, they are only means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God.

Living for Christ, fasting for Christ, keeping vigil for Christ, doing prostrations for Christ, feeding the poor for Christ, nursing the sick for Christ, alleviating the suffering for Christ, is what draws the grace of God to us, but, as the Fathers say, prayer draws it even more. If we do not live for Christ in this way, and if we misunderstand the purpose of fasting, vigils, prostrations, and the gifts which God has given us to help humanity; if we think they are an end in themselves and we take satisfaction in the people we help or how much we are able to fast, then it is not the grace of God which we acquire. Instead we are left still looking at the ground and looking towards the earth when we should be using these tools, these therapies, to be looking up to the heavens, and there find Christ.

Perhaps, it is at this point, that many will recall that eleventh-century prayer entitled Saint Patrick’s Breastplate which concludes with:

Christ with me, Christ before me,

Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left

Christ where I lie down,

Christ where I sit,

Christ where I stand. 

Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks to me,
Christ in the eye of every man that sees me,
Christ in the ear of every man that hears me.


Reverend Fathers and Fathers and Brothers, Mother, sisters, friends, may it be today, on the Feast of Pentecost that as we see all of this beauty around us in the greenery and blossoming flowers, the fragrance of Spring, the beauty of the icons and the beauty of the church and the Divine Services, that we lift up our hearts and minds to desire and aspire for the spiritual life more, of acquiring the Holy Spirit and being able to hold onto that grace, as though we were walking on tip-toe, or were carrying a cup of fine tea, and may we not dissipate what we do have because of our passions and sins. May we make continuous ascents by looking to the things above and be acquiring greater and greater grace, for, as we chanted last night,

All things doth the Holy Spirit give: He maketh prophecies come forth, bringeth priests to perfection, teacheth wisdom to the unlearned, hath shown fishermen as theologians, gathereth together the whole assembly of the Church, (Stichera at Lord, I Have Cried). 

May this be our goal and may we find our greatest satisfaction in Christ.


[1] Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 1.

[2] Ibid.

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