Pentecost is at the heart of our Faith, and our life as Orthodox Christians begins with experiencing the power of the Pentecostal Spirit. That is, it begins with baptism, and as our Lord said, that baptism is not simply a baptism with water (as was the baptism of St. John the Forerunner), but also a baptism in the Holy Spirit. Shortly before His Ascension, our Lord told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father, “for John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5). That word was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, when the disciples were gathered together in one place. “Suddenly,” St. Luke reports in Acts 2, “there came from heaven a noise like a violent, rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting, and there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributing themselves and resting on each one of them, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit”. It was this experience that the Forerunner predicted when he said that the Messiah would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Lk. 3:16). This fiery baptism was not just for the disciples who sat in that upper room. It is for us as well. As Metropolitan Kallistos Ware once wrote in his classic The Orthodox Church, the Church is “a continual Pentecost”. The Pentecostal experience which they disciples received on the Pentecost so long ago is the same experience offered us today through Holy Baptism and Chrismation.
Our progress in faith depends upon our continually receiving the inflow of that Spirit. This is what St. Seraphim of Sarov meant when he said that the goal of the Christian life was the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. We receive the Holy Spirit in our baptismal initiation, but that is just the beginning. We are meant to be continually and continuously filled with the Spirit, over and over again, as we live the Christian life participating in the sacramental mysteries of the Church. This should come as no surprise to us. When we say our morning and evening prayers, we begin with the Prayer to the Holy Spirit. Part of this prayer says, “O heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, everywhere present and filling all things, treasury of blessings and giver of life: come and abide in us...” The Spirit came once upon us at our baptism; we pray that He may continually come and abide in us every day after. Our goal is to acquire more and more of Him, to stand in the place of prayer and penitence and expectation long enough for the fire of heaven to fall.
That is what all our fasting and prayers are about—the preparation of our hearts so that the Spirit may come and abide in us with all the fire of God's love. That is what the Eucharist is about. Read the prayers again, and count the number of time the Holy Spirit is mentioned throughout the Liturgy. Listen to what the celebrant says when he begins the Anaphora: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you!” “And the communion of the Holy Spirit”—the Greek word here for “communion” is koinonia, participation, sharing. As the lituriologist Robert Taft reminds us, the thought here is not so much of the sharing inspired by the Holy Spirit, but rather of sharing the Holy Spirit Himself—it is the Holy Spirit which we share. The priest prays for this again during the Anaphora, asking that the Eucharistic Gifts “may be to those who partake for the purification of soul, for the remission of sins, for the communion [or sharing] of the Holy Spirit”. Through receiving the Eucharist, we partake of the Holy Spirit.
I have always been drawn to Pentecostalism. But not (I hasten to add) the Pentecostalism of which I see so much today, and which seems to consist largely of a name-it-and-claim-it health and wealth gospel, and of loud “praise bands”. The true Pentecostalism is that which yearns for the heavenly fire, which longs for the flame of God's Presence to burn brightly in our hearts, consuming the dross of our sins. The true Pentecostalism yearns to stand in one place until the fire falls, and then to sing, “We have seen the true light; we have received the heavenly Spirit!” The true Pentecostalism is Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is not primarily and fundamentally a matter of icons, and candles, and brocade. These things are not ends in themselves, but simply means to the end, the end being “the acquisition of the Holy Spirit”. We forget this at our peril. The next time you say your prayers and ask the Heavenly King to “come and abide” in you, remember Pentecost. Remember what it really means to be Orthodox.