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494homily for 6/3/12 - Pentecost - the Mystery of Unity

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  • Fr David Moser
    Jun 3, 2012
      Acts 2:1- 11
      The feast of Pentecost in the Orthodox Church is also often called the
      feast of the Holy Trinity. On this day, fifty days after the
      Resurrection, the disciples were gathered in an upper room in Jerusalem,
      worshipping God. All of a sudden there is a sound like a “mighty rushing
      wind” and tongues of flame descend from Heaven to rest upon the Apostles
      and the Holy Spirit descends upon the gathered household. On this day
      the promise of our Lord to his disciples that He would send to them
      another Comforter Who would enable them to follow Himself was fulfilled.
      The Holy Spirit has descended from Heaven – not as an incarnate man, for
      that was the place of the Son alone, but entering into and filling the
      hearts and souls of all who followed Christ. Unlike the descent of the
      Spirit of God upon the prophets in the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit
      did not simply overshadow the believers, enveloping them for a brief
      period from the outside, but rather He entered into their hearts and
      souls and took up residence – living within them and joining Himself to
      them. This “indwelling” of the Holy Spirit is continued in us even today
      in the sacrament of Chrismation where by the anointment of Holy Chrism
      (bringing the blessing of the laying on of hands of the Apostles through
      their successors the bishops) each new believer is given “the Seal of
      the gift of the Holy Spirit” From this moment on, we are joined to
      Christ not only by the new birth of baptism, but also by the Holy Spirit
      living in us.
      Now it is clear to see how the Holy Trinity is made manifest in this
      feast, but this is not the only feast wherein the mystery of the Holy
      Trinity, one God in three persons, is revealed to us. In the feast of
      the Baptism of Christ (Theophany or Epiphany) the mystery of the Trinity
      is also very plain and clear, as we learn from the troparion of the
      Feast – “the voice of the Father bears witness to the Son .. and the
      Spirit in the form of a dove confirms the truthfulness of His words.”
      What then makes this feast so closely linked with the mystery of the
      Trinity making it more than the others a feast of the Trinity?
      To answer this question we have to look at both the nature of God and
      the nature of man. God is a unity of persons – a unity that is not just
      in name only but also in essence such that these three persons, the
      Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are not three separate beings, but
      one being, One God. This mystery of how the One God can be the unity of
      three persons and yet not be three beings plays at the very edge of our
      ability to understand. We can see some images in nature (such as the
      three states of matter or the sun as a unity of light, heat and the orb
      in the sky) that present a metaphor, but these metaphors are inadequate
      and don’t communicate the depth of the reality of both the unity and the
      diversity of the unconfused union of the persons of the Trinity. Truly
      this is a great mystery.
      There is another unity of persons in the Creation that exists but which
      we do not see because that unity has been marred and broken and we can
      only see it from inside. That is the unity of mankind. God created man
      in His image and likeness. Among the many things that this tells us
      there is the fact that mankind was created to be, like God, a single
      being manifest in many persons. We see this in the creation of Eve. She
      was not created of the dust of the earth as was Adam, but was drawn from
      his very essence, and thus shared his essence. They were two persons and
      yet united as one being. Had they continued to live in that unity, both
      with God and with one another, the unity of persons of the Trinity would
      be evident in our very nature, for we too would be many persons, but a
      single entity. The joys and sorrows of one member would be born by all
      the members together for all were united in essence, and separate only
      in hypostasis. But the unity of mankind was broken and shattered when
      our first parents sinned. The effect of the ancestral sin was to shatter
      that unity and destroy it so that Adam and Eve, who were once two
      persons in one entity were now two separate individuals, their inner
      unity broken by sin.
      That broken unity is with us even today and only shadows of it remain.
      The unity of the family, of the husband and wife or of the parents and
      children; the unity of the clan or tribe calling itself “the people”:
      these are echoes of the unity which we had at our creation but which we
      lost through sin. Not only did sin break our unity with God, but it
      broke our unity with one another. Now we are caught in the trap of
      viewing the entire universe through the filter of the duality of “I” and
      “not I” (to use language of the 19th and 20th century philosophers). “In
      our direct consciousness, a person is something absolutely separate from
      other persons” (Metr. Anthony Khrapovitsky). Our unity is shattered,
      broken, destroyed and image and likeness of God in us is marred and hidden.
      Now there is a new “unity” which is opened to us – and that is the unity
      of the Church. The Church is the Body of Christ and the Apostle speaks
      extensively on this idea of this Body in which all the believers are
      united. There is only one Body of Christ, not many and all the members
      of that body, while retaining the integrity of person are joined in one
      entity – in one being. In Christ the unity of the unity of man, the
      likeness of God with which we were created, is restored by the action of
      the Holy Spirit in us. In joining Himself to us the Holy Spirit joins us
      to one another in a dynamic and living way, restoring the unity that was
      broken and lost in the fall. “The Church places the manifestation of the
      Trinity as the very foundation of such a union of the regenerated: ‘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 into
      unity; therefore, with one accord we glorify the All-Holy Spirit.’ (the
      Kontakion of Pentecost)” (Metr Anthony). The first Adam by his sin
      shattered the unity of mankind and led us all to death, but the second
      Adam (Jesus Christ), by His death destroyed death and restored us to the
      unity which is our nature in His Body, the One Holy Catholic and
      Apostolic Church.
      What effect then does this have in our lives. We certainly still do not
      experience this unity in its fullness for we are ourselves still
      habituated to sin and so we do not perceive the things of the spiritual
      life clearly. We can experience that unity in brief flashes, in moments
      of our communal joy or sorrow. This is particularly manifest in the
      common experience of the Church during Holy Week and Pascha as we share
      both the suffering and sorrow of our Lord as well as His victory and
      joy. We see the unity of a husband and wife – especially when that
      marriage has endured all manner of trial and difficulty and has lasted
      throughout many years. We see the unity of parents and their children.
      We see the unity of a nation or culture bound together by blood and
      centuries and generations of tradition and common life (but this is
      becoming less and less as our society destroys these national
      differences in an attempt to create a single homogenous culture
      throughout the world). These are but brief flashes of the true unity
      that exists in the Body of Christ.
      We are given the command to love one another and to love our neighbor as
      ourself. This kind of love is not possible when I see my neighbor as
      separate from myself – as that which is “not I” and therefore opposed to
      all that is “I”. In order to love my neighbor as myself, I must reach
      out and restore that broken unity so that I see my neighbor as myself –
      his joys are my joys and his sorrows are my sorrows. Only when I reach
      out and restore that unity with my neighbor can I overcome the
      brokenness of sin which separates us and truly love him as though he
      were myself. The only way to fulfill Christ’s commandment to love one
      another is for us to enter into the unity of the Body of Christ, to be
      joined together into one entity by the Holy Spirit, to again be “like God”.
      This mystery of the Holy Trinity – the mystery of one God in three
      persons – is the mystery of the Church as well. It is the essence of our
      healing and of the restoration which is begun in us by the rebirth of
      baptism (we are born anew into the new unity of the Body of Christ) and
      continued through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and His ongoing
      action in us. This mystery of the restoration of our unity with one
      another is begun with the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Church on
      the day of Pentecost and for this reason we celebrate today not only the
      events of this feast but also its inner mystery. Today we celebrate the
      unity of the Trinity and the restoration of our likeness to God – the
      unity of persons which is found within the Church. Today the Church is
      born as the Body of Christ and today we are restored to unity with God
      and with one another through the coming of the Holy Spirit to each of
      us. The mystery of the Holy Trinity is inseparable from the mystery of
      the Church for they are one and the same mystery. For this reason on the
      feast of Pentecost we celebrate not only our unity, but also the unity
      of the Holy Trinity.

      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org