(8th Sunday after Pascha)
By Sergei Bulgakov
From Handbook for Church Servers,
2nd ed., 1274 pp., Kharkov, 1900, pp. 608-613.
On the tenth day after the Ascension of Jesus Christ during the Jewish feast of Pentecost, at the third hour, but according to our reckoning at nine o'clock in the morning, when people usually go to the temple both for offering up a sacrifice and prayer  all the disciples were assembled in Jerusalem, in the upper room (Acts 1:13), which was "on Mount Zion", "and suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind," (as though from an unusually strong wind)." Actually there was no wind rustling, but the noise was similar as if it were from the strength of a wind, but without the wind." This noise "filled the whole house where they were sitting", - not only of the apostles, but, according to the commentary of St. John Chrysostom, even other believers in Christ (Acts 1:16). In that instant in the middle of the house in the air appeared many tongues as of fire, being carried above the heads of the disciples, dropped down and rested on them. They were not really fiery tongues, but were "as if of fire", i.e. it only had the appearance of fire; they shone only, but did not burn. Directly behind these, or even together with these external appearances, the event followed the internal, completing in the souls of the believers: "all were filled with the Holy Spirit" .
As fast as the Divine Fire flared up in the souls of the believers, they were filled with holy ecstasy and in reply to the gift of Heaven have lifted up to Heaven a word of praise and thanksgiving to the Great God for the benefactions to the human race. And they all "began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance": each of these gifted ones began to speak in whatever language even if the other language was unknown to him, in the language of a country where he never lived or a language which he never studied; the knowledge of this language for him was exclusively a gift of the Holy Spirit; and the power of the Holy Spirit first of all was found out by their ability in languages, because this ability first of all was necessary for the apostles, so that they could preach the Gospel message all over the world.
Meanwhile the stormy noise of the breath from Heaven attracted many Jews to the apostolic quarters. Seeing the people gathering for them, believers with praises and hymns on their lips they went on the flat roof of a house where they were; for it is natural to assume that they were filled with holy joy, the desire and zeal to announce the glory of God revealed in them to other people. They spoke about "wonderful works of God" (Acts 2:11), which now opened for them in all the fullness and light; they praised the omnipotence, mercy and wisdom of God, they magnified the Lord Jesus, they confessed that He is the Christ announced by the ancient prophets, the Redeemer of our sins, that He is risen and, ascended with glory into Heaven to the Father, who sent the Holy Spirit, who teaches all wisdom, and finally, they thanked God for everything that they have received through grace from Christ. Hearing these words of praise and thanksgiving, all those gathered in the apostolic quarters were amazed by the new unexpected and not clear to them revelation: the disciples of Christ, whom the greater part were Galileans by birth, people who were not learned, were uneducated, from whom they could not expect any knowledge of any foreign languages, except their Galilean speech, - each of these people spoke some kind of dialect, so, as the gathered crowd spoke various languages according their origin, each, however, heard something which glorified God in the language of his country from any one among those who spoke about the great works of God. Surprise turned into fear: for all saw the unusual, heard the wonderful, and no one could explain what they saw and heard: "they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, whatever could this mean" (Acts 2:12)?
But the impious were also found, who began to swear at the God-inspired preachers . Then the Holy Apostle Peter raised his voice and delivered his first sermon, in which he pointed out the glorious events accomplished in this day, the fulfillment of ancient prophesies and the completion of the great work of salvation of the people, which was fulfilled on earth by the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. This first Christian sermon was simple and brief, but since the Holy Spirit spoke through the mouth of the Holy Apostle Peter, his words penetrated the hearts of the hearers and won over their obstinacy. "Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?' (Acts 2:37). "Repent", the Holy Apostle Peter answered them, "and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ" and you will not only be forgiven; but you shall also "receive the gift of the Holy Spirit". For the promise of the Holy Spirit is given not only to us, but also even "to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call." (Acts 2:38-39).
"Then those who gladly received his word" that is of the Apostle Peter immediately repented, believed, and were baptized (Acts 2:41), and the new Church has grown from 120 (Acts 1:15) to 3000 men. Thus ended the events, now celebrated, have ended in the complete celebration of the Holy Spirit over the unbelievers. In memory of this wonderful and glorious event we refer to this day as the day of the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles . This feast is still called Trinity Day; because the appearance of the Holy Spirit has revealed to the people in a very clear light, how necessary the mystery of the Holy Trinity was for them; and therefore even for the Holy Church, teaching us "in an Orthodox way" and piously to confess the All-holy Trinity, for in its prayers and hymns for this day it honors and praises all three Persons of the Holy Trinity, who participated in the descent of the Holy Spirit: God the Father, who sent the Holy Spirit, God the Son Jesus Christ, who entreats the Father to send the Holy Spirit, and God the Holy Spirit, who descended appearing as fiery tongues.
This feast was named Pentecost because commemorated on this day was an event in the Old Testament called the feast of Pentecost, and also because this feast necessarily comes 50 days after the Christian Pascha. Especially important is the concurrence of the time of the descent of the Holy Spirit with the time of the Old Testament feast of Pentecost. The descent of the Holy Spirit on the believers in Christ was the crowning of the redemption and salvation of man by God. During the time of Pentecost the disciples of the Lord have blossomed and have grown spiritually; then the fullness of the gifts of the Spirit of God descended on them, and they became the first fruits of the redemptive work of Christ. Together with these revelations, the Church of Christ began on earth .
The day of Pentecost was the day, when the Old Testament theocracy which began on Sinai and ruled the people through the written law, the law of slavery and of death, was replaced by the New Testament law, where the people are led by the Spirit of God, the spirit of adoption and freedom (Rom. 8). Thus, as the Pascha of Christ abolished the Old Testament Pascha, the New Testament Pentecost replaces the Old Testament one, from which life under the law began.
In the hymns of the church for the day of Pentecost the event, the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles, and the beneficial fruits of this great event are praised. "Today", - sings the Holy Church, - wondrous things were done before the face of all peoples "in the city of David, when the Holy Spirit came down as fiery tongues", upon the disciples of Christ; now "The Spirit of salvation, purifying the hearts of the apostles"; now, "the apostles clothed with the power from on high by Christ: for the Comforter revives them"; now, the Holy Spirit "revealed the unlettered to be orators", the fishermen, "bridling the mouths of sophists in abundance with a word, and raising from the deep night unnumbered people"; "they know in three persons One unerring, unapproachable, timeless Essence; for light has shone, the grace of the Spirit "; "When the power of the divine Spirit came down, it divinely united in one harmony the voice divided of old (i.e. the language of the people) of those who had wickedly agreed together, as to believers it gave understanding of knowledge of the Trinity, in which we have been established." ; now, "The Holy Spirit gives all things: makes prophecies flow, perfects priests, taught the unlettered wisdom, revealed fishermen to be theologians, welds together the whole institution of the Church"; "That which was proclaimed of old in Law and Prophets has been fulfilled; for today the grace of the Divine Spirit has been poured out on all believers"; "now the Advocate Spirit has been poured out on all flesh: for beginning with the choir of the Apostles, from them he has unfolded grace by participation to the faithful;" "The strength which has come down today is the good Spirit, Spirit of the Wisdom of God; Spirit proceeding from the Father and made manifest to us the faithful through the Son; giving freely to those in whom he dwells of the holiness in which he is perceived by nature."; "O light-formed children of the Church, receive the Spirit's fire-breathing dew, a redeeming purification of offences; for now a law has gone out from Zion, the torch-tongue-formed grace of the Spirit".
Praising the Zion event and showing its fruits, the Holy Church lifts up our minds and hearts even to the knowledge of God's attributes and actions of the Heavenly Visitor, the Spirit of God. In the words of St. Gregory the Theologian: "The Holy Spirit always was, and is, and will be; neither beginning nor coming to an end, but always ranked and numbered with the Father and the Son"; "He is the life and creator of life; He is the light and the bestower of light; He is the pouring out of goodness and source of goodness"; "through Whom the Father is known and the Son (John 16:14) is glorified, and by all is known"; "He is the Spirit of wisdom, understanding"; "He is God and deifier." "He distributes the gifts" (1 Cor. 12:11), "crowns the prophets, apostles and martyrs ".
Glorifying the Holy Spirit, the solemn Worship of the actual day also includes within itself the thanksgiving glorification of our Lord Jesus Christ, "Who on this final great and saving day of Pentecost revealed to us the mystery of the Holy, Consubstantial, Coeternal, Undivided and Uncompounded Trinity", and "poured out the Comforter upon the disciples, as was promised", and "setting them as Evangelists of our true faith, revealing them as confessors and heralds of true theology". "In your courts", exclaims the Holy Church, "I will sing your praise, as the Savior of the world, and bending the knee I will worship your invincible power, at evening and morning and midday, and at every moment I will bless you, O Lord."
The Holy Church uplifts also the general doxology to the Most Holy Trinity and inspires us, that we, "bending the knee of souls and body", praise you "the Father without beginning, and the Son, likewise without beginning, and Co-eternal and All Holy Spirit", "the Trinity One in Essence", "Identical in power and Coeternal". "Come, you people," the Church appeals to its children, "let us worship the Godhead in three persons, the Son in the Father, with the Holy Spirit; for the Father timelessly begot the Son, co-eternal and co-reigning, and the Holy Spirit was in the Father, glorified with the Son; one power, one essence, one Godhead."
But that our glorifications do not remain fruitless, the Holy Church often appeals to the very Spirit Comforter with the prayer: "O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth who art everywhere and fillest all things. Treasury of Blessings, and Giver of life: Come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One."(1967 OCA translation).
(Liturgical texts above mostly from Archimandrite Ephrem (c) 10 Feb. 2001)
1. Pentecost for the Jews was one of the three great annual feasts (Exodus. 23:14, 16, 17; Deut. 16:16). By the day of Pentecost the Jews had finished the harvest, which began with the feast of Pascha, according to that the fiftieth day after the first day of Pascha was actually the feast of the ending of the harvest, in which under the law they should offer to God a thanksgiving sacrifice from fruits of the earth. (Exodus. 23:16; Num. 28:26). Over time this feast began to incorporate and commemorate the giving of the Sinai law received by the Hebrews within 50 days after their exodus from Egypt. For the Jews this feast was solemn and joyful (Deut. 16:11), and for this feast they flocked to Jerusalem in great numbers. Each of them considered it a sacred duty to visit the Holy City, in order to bring in gratitude to God the sacrifice from the gathered harvest, established by the law, (Lev. 23:17, 30), and it was considered obligatory not only for Palestinian Jews, but also for those outside of Palestine living in countries all over in the then known world. Therefore in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost it was possible to meet those arrived from Rome, Egypt, Crete, Mesopotamia, from all areas of Asia Minor and Western Asia, from "all of the people under Heaven", not only Jews, but also proselytes, i.e. those converted from paganism (Acts 2:5, 9:11, 20:16).
2. The mighty wind was closest to the prophecy, and the appearance of fiery tongues was seen as the sign of the coming of the Holy Spirit. The mighty wind and vision of fiery tongues proceeded not for long, maybe for a moment; but the Holy Spirit has always poured himself out into the souls and hearts of the believer. Being most pure and bodiless, the Holy Spirit has selected a physical sign to more perceptively manifest His presence. "For", reasoned St. Gregory the Theologian, "as the Son of God was seen to be visible on earth, it also was necessary for the Holy Spirit to be seen to be visible. But "yes who will not think", teaches St. Leo the Great, "that what was visible with physical eyes was the most Divine essence of the Holy Spirit." "That which actually belongs to His essence is hidden in His Divinity, because human sight, as it cannot see the Father and Son, also cannot see the Holy Spirit". "According to His nature the Holy Spirit is invisible, similar to the Father and Son; at His descent only the attribute is revealed in His service and action in such signs, as He Himself wishes." And He without any special purpose has now selected these, rather than other signs: by logic nothing happens without a purpose. Instead of the darkness and thunder at the giving of the Law on Sinai, here was heard "a sound from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind", that openly was that same Holy Spirit, then and now who gives the law, who sanctifies it and who fulfills it. The strong sound signified that a mighty power was transferred to the apostles; the movement from the Heaven signified that this wondrous power proceeded from the One who ten days before these events ascended to heaven. The filling of the whole house by the noise and the blessing of the assembly through the fiery tongues signified that all of them were washed and baptized by the Holy Spirit and by the abundance of gifts received from Him. The fire expressed the revitalizing power of the words of the Gospel, which should cleanse the hearts of the people, and expressed the light of faith, the warmth of love, both in the ardent zeal of the preachers and the devoted attention of the hearers of the Gospel. Fiery tongues lay on the heads, because the head of man is the noblest and main part of the body. The meekness of the fire, which lay on the heads, signified the mercy and grace of God. The tongues signified the gift of words and the knowledge of many foreign languages, which up to that time were unknown to them, that were bestowed on them for the preaching of the Gospel throughout the world. The divided tongues signified that the Gospel would be preached in different countries and to various peoples. The Holy Spirit descended on them after the passing of ten days, instead of immediately after the Ascension, so that those who accepted Him would be made most ardent. The Holy Spirit descended within fifty days after Pascha as a reminder of the old law, for Israel received the Ten Commandments after the passing of 50 days after crossing the Red Sea. At the third hour, on this one day the Lord God granted the grace to inspire us to honor the three Persons in one essence. On the feast the descent of the Holy Spirit takes place in order that the many who have gathered has carried the message about this event everywhere, and so that those present at the feast of Pascha and former eyewitnesses of events with Christ may understand their extraordinary significance. On Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended, because in that time before the law was given, it was necessary at the same time to pour out much grace of the Spirit. (Synaxarion on Monday of Pentecost; 2nd Canon, 7th Ode, 3-rd troparion; Church Messenger 1888, 23; 1895, 20.).
3. These fools, who dared to explain to one another what they did not at all understand, "sneering, said" that the apostles "drank sweet wine" (a favorite morning drink in antiquity)". Thus blasphemous levity always sneers at sacred inspiration. So they always also are cold to subjects of faith: if they are not able to understand something, then they make an effort to make fun of anyone who speaks of higher things. Carnal people do not know of other pleasures, except for the sensual; they judge from their own experience, and - blaspheme!
4. Three times, it is spoken in the Synaxarion that Christ gave the Holy Spirit to the disciples: it is implicit before His suffering (Mt. 10:1,20), it is clearer after His Resurrection through breathing (John 20:22), and now He has sent Him in essence; it is better (to say), He Himself has descended, more perfectly enlightening and illuminating them, and through them converting all the ends of the world (see the St. Petersburg Theological Messenger, 1886, 19). But we must not represent this descent of the Holy of Spirit anthropologically. The Holy Spirit, as God, is omnipresent; He has no place from which to descend and nowhere to go; He is everywhere and fills all things. To descend, to come may be only a limiting of the essence, but not of God. All these expressions, as St. Chrysostom notes, are used about God according to need, for in human language there are no words for expressing Divine actions in their very essence; all these expressions mean nothing other than the new appearance of the power of God, the special revelation of His presence. Where the power of God opens itself, where He perceptibly appears as His presence, there, according to our weak understanding and still weaker expression, it is as if God comes. So, the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles, actually speaking, is not the descent of the Spirit on them, but the appearance of His power in them, opening in them His special presence. The Holy Spirit also acted before in human generation. The Holy Spirit, as the Church wisely sings, "always was, and is, and will be". He was even in the Old Testament, in the patriarchs, in the prophets and in any pure soul; without Him no truly good work was ever accomplished. But the appearance of His power in the apostles was most crucial and beneficial for the entire human race. In the eternal council of God concerning the salvation of the race of man it is necessary, that the Son of God, after the fulfillment of his most magnificent work on earth, has risen to Heaven and that, according to the departure of the Savior to Heaven, the Holy Spirit has come to make what was begun by the Savior, to enable the apostles to preach the Gospel to the whole world, to prepare the hearts of the people for the acceptance of the Gospel message, to instill in their life service to the Redeemer, to inform them of a new spiritual force in the fulfillment of a new law of grace, is briefly: to enable the human race make those Divine Gifts their own, which they acquired by the suffering of the Son of God (see page 600, footnote 2). Therefore the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles however is His solemn entrance to the high post of Consecrator of the sinful human race; it is a solemn sanctification of a new, worldwide, eternal Church; after this sanctification the Consecrator already began to visibly and continually act in it. And by this fact alone it reveals how important and beneficial for the entire human race is the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles. If He did not descend upon them; the work of our Savior would remain unfinished; the apostles would not be able to preach about Him to the entire world; the world would not know their Savior; there would not be a Christian faith in the world and all of us would remain in the darkness of idol worship. (The Works of Innocent, Archbishop of Cherson, vol. 1, pages 387-8).
5. "Brightly and triumphantly", says His Grace Theophanes, Bishop of Tambov, "the Holy Church celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles." And how can she not celebrate? Because the Holy Spirit actually created the Church of God on the foundation established in the Lord Jesus Christ: He finally reveals and explains to the Apostles the mysteries of the kingdom and the entire Christian teaching, by Him all languages are mastered and are given to the hearers of the faith, He bestows all powers "to those living in godliness, He is the source of all their rules and institutions for the development, strengthening and protection of the believers, He from here on keeps whole and undamaged the pledge of our salvation. Remembering this great work of God, the Holy Church can exult and praise the great in her.
6. In this hymn it is pointed out that with the same descent of the Holy Spirit appeared the gifts of God, there never was punishment for the self-deluded pride of the people. There never was a time, when "all the earth would speak with one mouth and with one voice." But the people, who were threatened with dispersion and slavery, thought, contrary to any definition of God's Providence, by general consensus and with the ability to fulfill an insane enterprise, began to build a tower up to Heaven to get glory for them and so not be dispersed over all the earth. Then God sent down various languages to the unreasonable workers, and it so divided them that they were not able to finish the work, because of the differences among the parties. (Gen. 11). Now the division of languages appears as such a heavenly gift, which up to now divided and separated the nationalities, is through the preaching of the Gospel brought all together in one entirety, in one Church of Christ (see the Kontakion for the feast).
The Troparion, Tone 8
Blessed art Thou, O Christ our God,
Who hast revealed the fisherman as most wise
By sending down upon them the Holy Spirit;
Through them Thou didst draw the world into Thy net.
O Lover of Man, Glory to Thee!
(1967 OCA translation)
The Kontakion, Tone 8
When the Most High came down and confused the tongues,
He divided the nations;
But when He distributed the tongues of fire,
He called all to unity.
Therefore, with one voice, we glorify the all-holy Spirit!
(1967 OCA translation)
We magnify Thee,
O Life-giver Christ,
And we honor Thy most Holy Spirit,
Whom Thou didst send from the Father unto Thy disciples.
The Rubrics require that the All-Night Vigil be served on the eve of Trinity Day [7.]. In Matins for the Magnification the icon stand with an icon, representing either the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, or the Appearance of the Lord to Abraham as the three Travelers is placed in the middle of the temple. In the canon sing the refrain: "All-holy Trinity, our God, glory to Thee".[8.] At the Liturgy sing the festal antiphons; instead of the Trisagion sing: "As many as have been baptized into Christ"; instead of "It is truly Meet" sing the Irmos of the 9th Ode of the Canon: "Rejoice, O Queen".
Readings (1) Num. 11:16,17, 24-29. (2) Joel 2:23-32. (3) Ezek. 36:24-28. Epistle Acts 2:1-11; sel. 5. Gospel John 7:37-52, 8:12; sel. 27.
7. The readings from Holy Scripture and the church hymns for this vigil belong to a great event commemorating the day of the Holy Trinity. In the Vesper readings the Church changes from a New Testament event to its ancient prototypes and its promises, indicating those very internal ties between the Old and New Testaments. In the first reading the narration about the appearance of the Spirit of God on the 70 Israelite elders during the wandering of the people of God in the desert is offered. In the second reading are the prophetic words, with which the Apostle Peter (see Acts 2:4-21) explained to the surprised people the great mysterious event of Pentecost, i.e. the promise given through the Prophet Joel about the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on all flesh. In the third reading the prophecy is pronounced about spiritual absolution by means of water and the gift of the Spirit of God, to the believer who holds to the preservation of the commandments of the Lord. These prophecies clearly emphasize the spiritual renewal and enlightenment of the sons of the New Testament by water and the Spirit.
8. In the Rubrics, the Paschal Triodion, and the Irmologion it is not prescribed to sing any refrain to the Irmos of the 9-th Ode of the Canon, and it is necessary to sing this Irmos without a refrain. But in the liturgical practice of some dioceses such a refrain is used in 9-th Ode of the canon: "The Apostles, having seen the descent of the Comforter, were amazed, how in the vision of the fiery tongues the Holy Spirit was revealed". Because this refrain is found in the Obikhod with music (2 parts), published by the Holy Synod in 1798 for use in the divine services and has managerial importance in the business of church notated singing, the refrain, placed in it, can be used in liturgical practice (Manual up to now 1886, 44). Translated by Archpriest Eugene D. Tarris