The feast of Pentecost marks the beginning of the New Testament Church, when the Apostles and disciples of Christ received the Holy Spirit. From that time on, every believer who had been baptized and chrismated by the Apostles or their successors, the bishops and priests, received the Holy Spirit, making them members of the Body of Christ and temples of the living God.
We know that no one can say Jesus is Lord and mean it with understanding without the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, we know that no one can come to the knowledge of the truth, be healed of their infirmities, or freed from their passions without the Holy Spirit. It was through the empowering and transfiguring energy of the Holy Spirit that ordinary fisherman became “fishers of men.” Likewise, as in the case of many of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit transformed otherwise uneducated men into theologians and superb missionaries and evangelists. One sermon, from the Apostle Peter, converted over three thousand souls. We know through history that men and women, who have surrendered to the power of the Holy Spirit, have literally uprooted paganism and converted an entire Empire to Christianity in just a few generations.
The Apostles and the subsequent generations of Christians have not accomplished these might works based only on their own abilities. They were not willing to suffer so much and even die simply because the cause was good or to feel good about themselves. All these virtuous and heroic acts have come about precisely due to the presence of the Holy Spirit in these men and women’s lives. When we say “presence,” we do not simply mean the reception of the gift of the Holy Spirit at chrismation, but we mean these men and women we honor as Saints were filled and guided by the Holy Spirit. Each of them could say along with the Apostle Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ (through the Holy Spirit (through the Holy Spirit) who lives within me.” To fully love Jesus Christ and to accomplish the works He would will for us requires our surrender to His Holy Spirit, for with God all things are possible, but without Him we can do nothing.
This is why our holy Orthodox Church considers the Holy Spirit to be the most precious gift we have received from our Lord Jesus. Jesus plainly told His disciples that it was better for Him to leave this world and go to the Father, that He may send His Holy Spirit into the world, into the heart of all believers. If we have been baptized and chrismated in the Orthodox Christian Church, we can be sure that we have received the Holy Spirit. The paramount question still facing each of us, however, is to what degree are we allowing the Holy Spirit to direct and guide our lives? Put another way, are we cooperating with Him or stifling His lordship over us through a lack of cooperation? The only thing that separates the average Orthodox Christian from the Saints is his/her willingness to be obedient to the Holy Spirit. Salvation comes about through the Divine operation of God and the human cooperation of man.
Our annual celebration of Pentecost is a reminder to us all of our all-important responsibility to be good stewards of the gift of the Holy Spirit. When we receive the holy mysteries of initiation into the Church, but refuse to surrender ourselves to the Spirit, we grieve God. Baptism and chrismation are commanded by God and are necessary, but by themselves, they do not save. Salvation comes about when we are faithful stewards of God’s greatest gift, the Holy Spirit. As we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost on May 31st, let us commit ourselves to further bowing our wills before the Holy Spirit, just as did the Apostles and the Saints throughout the centuries.