Sermon by Archbishop Feofan (Bystrov, +1940) of Poltava on the Pentecost
We celebrate the feast of Pentecost
and the coming of the Spirit,
the appointed day of the promise, the fulfillment of hope.
How majestic and great is the mystery!
We must consider the descent of the Holy Spirit not only as a miracle which glorified the Apostolic Church, but as an event inseparably united with the matter of our salvation. This feast day is not simply a reminder of a past event, but a continuation of the Apostolic preparation for the receiving of the Spirit, breathing where It will without end. We prayerfully invoke the Consoler, the Spirit of Truth, to come to us, as the Spirit once came upon the Holy Apostles. But in order for our prayer to succeed, we must know what it is we are to ask.
We dare not speak now of the Holy Spirit, Who is the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, issuing from the Father and abiding in the Son. Only the Divine Spirit, “searching the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11) knows the mysteries of His being and opens His mysteries to the worthy. The Spirit is sent by the Son from the Father (John 15:26) in gifts of salvation and actions upon the human soul. This is a matter only perceivable to the mind only of those “which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves” (Romans 8:23). The action of the Holy Spirit upon the human soul is mysterious and unfathomable—it is effective and palpable for those to tend to themselves. The Spirit is like the wind, noticed by the movements it causes, but not by seeing Those Who comprise it. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
What are the notable changes which the Divine Spirit can incur upon the human soul?
There are moments when even a person wholly devoted to this world and to the things of the flesh awakens from the slumber which possesses him. He suddenly sees everything clearly, he sees that his previous life on earth was nothing but a chain of errors, weaknesses, transgressions, betrayals of God, that his actions were naturally the seeds of future punishments and that all his virtues will not withstand the gaze of the Eternal Judge. Beholding all this, he condemns himself, trembling to the core of his being, and, disillusioned with himself, through this despair turns with hope to God. This disposition towards repentance is nothing but the “rushing of a mighty wind” which precedes the descent of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:2).
It will be the very fear of the Lord when we feel the Spirit of Divine Salvation “as with child,” as the Prophet said (Isaiah 26:18)? Blessed are they who with servility give themselves up to be drawn to the Divine Spirit! For such a person, “strait is the gate” (Matthew 7:14) of selflessness, which will force him to reject all that he had sown earlier, and destroy all that he had built, teaching him to suffer and to “rejoice in sufferings” (Colossians 1:24), to “crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Galatians 5:24), in order to perfectly remit the soul to the hands of God. Step by step, the rushing wind will turn into small, unspoken breaths which the Spirit Himself makes intercessions for (Romans 8:26), and that “living voice God hath sent forth… crying, Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6), and then man will fulfill Christ’s commandment “that men ought always to pray” (Luke 18:1). Entrusting all solely to one’s own power is impossible, with one’s proclivity to carelessness and ignorance of the subjects and image of true prayer.
While practicing constant prayer, spiritual solitude becomes necessary, in which the Christian, “entering his personal closet” (Matthew 6:6), abides in the expectation of the promise of the Father (Acts 1:4). He does not submit to those distractions like those who love the world, bound by daily habits, who rarely return to their inner selves, but “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5), all his desires are lifted on high, and “life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3), and he is consoled within, where grace reveals “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). If a person makes the firm decision to always retain within himself this state of inner prayer, self-discipline and self-denial, then the thirsting wilderness of his soul will “blossom as the rose” (Isaiah 35:1). And through the rotting casing of the old man, a new man will slowly shine forth, created according to God “in truth and renewed in knowledge” (Colossians 3:9). And the Spirit of holiness will breathe in all his abilities and actions.
Grace transforms everything it touches within a person into an invaluable treasure, and then spiritual wisdom will shine in every thought. His will shall be moved by the spirit of freedom, alienated from enslavement by passion. In the depths of his heart the spirit of peace will reside, “which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
What more is there to say?
The joy of being the vessel, the abode and armament of the Divine Spirit is incomparable with anything! This heavenly bliss on earth is genuine. It is a mystery which holds all that the human soul seeks and for which all of creation “groaneth and travaileth in pain” (Romans 8:22).
But, o Lord! “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed” (Isaiah 53:1)? The world will not receive this mystery. The Divine gift of the Spirit seems a rare phenomenon in this world. There are even those among Christians for whom the notion of the gifts of the Holy Spirit seems so strange that even if they don’t dare reject it, at least they ascribe these gifts only to others and to ancient times. They think nothing of spiritual rebirth, satisfied either with false hope in nothing but the sacrifice of our Intercessor, Christ, or even their own virtuosity.
If mankind does not notice the actions of the Holy Spirit, or has eyes but does not see, “when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth” (Luke 18:8)? The moment is coming, and the world will find itself gasping its last breath. The universe knows what happened when God spoke the irate words: “My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh” (Genesis 6:3). Not only lawless mankind, but creation itself which unwillingly submitted to its disorder, were come upon with waves of the Great Flood. A similar calamity will come—the fiery flood of the final Judgment.
But as long as God preserves our existence, Christians, and the splendor of His Church, we cannot doubt that the Divine Spirit will abide in her. Just as during the creation of the world, He “moved upon the face of the waters,” so does He move now, with the continuing recreation of mankind over the void of our chaotic nature and by His life-creating presence brings forth fruit for grace-filled rebirth.
Let us devote ourselves to His all-powerful action, let us bring to Him our thoughts and desires from the interference of the world and the flesh, let us call out from the depths of our fall that His grace come down upon us, through the intercession of our Redeemer, and cleanse, illuminate, renew, sanctify and save our souls! Amen.
June 10, 1929, Varna, Bulgaria.