A Pastoral Exhortation
by V. Rev. Timothy Cremeens, PhD
So many Orthodox Christians believe that celebrating the Feast of Pentecost is simply the observance of a biblical/historical event that took place some 2,000+ years ago in Jerusalem. They read about in Acts chapter 2, the sound of the wind, the flames of fire on the heads of the 120 Disciples gathered together in the Upper Room, and who can forget the speaking in tongues, which enabled the 120 to speak in languages they had never learned, the “mighty works of God.”
Unfortunately, so many Christians focus on the wind, fire and the tongues and forget the most important thing that happened that day; the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life descended from heaven and FILLED all 120 who were gathered there, as Jesus had commanded them (Acts 1:6-8). As a result of that event, which then led to Peter’s sermon, some 3,000 people accepted the Good News of Jesus Christ and were baptized that day. Pretty good for Peter’s first sermon.
Now some might think that that was the last time the Holy Spirit came and filled the Disciples. If we continue reading in the Book of Acts we see over and over again, men, women and entire households hearing the Good News of Jesus, being Baptized and then being filled/baptized in/with/ and by the Holy Spirit!
The coming of the Holy Spirit is not a one-time event. Rather the coming of the Holy Spirit is an experience, an encounter WITH the Holy Spirit! There is the initial coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), but then we see Him coming over and over again, sometimes on the same people, who were filled before (Acts 4:31), and other times people right after they embraced the Good News about Jesus (Acts 10:44-48).
It is the teaching of the Orthodox Faith that we are regenerated by the Holy Spirit and Baptized into the Body of Christ (the Church) in the waters of Holy Baptism. The Orthodox Faith also teaches that we are “sealed” with the gift of the Holy Spirit in Chrismation. However, and we must be very clear about this, the Sacraments (Mysteries) of Baptism & Chrismation are not “magic”. By this I mean, that the Sacraments are initially efficacious, but, it is dependent upon the person who is Baptized and Chrismated to “increase the grace” that is given to them in Baptism & Chrismation. Tragically there are children who are brought to the Baptismal Font, are Baptized and Chrismated, but their parents, while they are children, and themselves when they get older, totally ignore the grace given to them in Baptism & Chrismation and the need to increase and to grow in Christian life and discipleship. Parents assume that because their children are Baptized that they are “saved” and do not even concern themselves about their children’s spiritual growth in Christ. They never attend to their spiritual life and their soul and the Baptismal & Chrismational grace given to them all but dies in their heart and soul. They seldom, or never, pray, or read the Scriptures or attend Liturgy, or come to Confession or receive the Holy Eucharist. These are the actions needed to sustain and “increase the grace” given to them in Baptism & Chrismation.
In these cases, a person is deeply in NEED of spiritual renewal! The grace they received in Baptism and Chrismation has lain dormant in them for years, perhaps decades. There should be real fear that when they stand before the Great Judgement Seat of Christ that they will hear Him say, “Depart from me I never knew you.”
So, I want to ask you some very important questions, and by your honest and truthful answers, you should determine whether you are in need of personal Spiritual Renewal, recommitting your life to Christ and renewing the life of the Holy Spirit in yourself.
1). Do you each and every day renounce Satan/ the Devil and all of his ways, his works and his worship? (This is practically shown in how you live your life each day, by what you say & do, how you spend your time & money, and what you allow your mind to dwell on.)
2). Have you united & do you unite yourself to Jesus Christ each and every day? Is He the center of your life and to be with Him eternally is your heart’s desire?
3). Do you desire to live each day by doing what you know to be God’s will and when you do not, which is sin, do you repent of your sins and ask His forgiveness?
4). Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your King and God, as well as those things declared in the Creed?
5). Are you seeking to “increase” the grace given to you in Baptism by a). praying every day b.) reading the holy Scriptures every day c). receiving holy Communion as much as you can by attending Divine Liturgy every week, unless you are sick or physically unable to do so?
6). Do you sense the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in your life?
7). Are there times when you feel, or sense, that the Holy Spirit is speaking to you, assuring you of His love, making you feel guilty for the sins you’ve committed, confirming in your heart that He has forgiven you after you have confessed and ask for His forgiveness?
If you can answer “yes” to most of these questions then it is a pretty sure thing that God’s presence is active in your life. Otherwise, you need to seriously consider your need for Spiritual Renewal in your life. You may ask, “How do I do that? It is simple, but it takes genuine humility, faith and courage. This might be of help to you.
1). Pray to the Lord Jesus and admit to Him that you are not really following Him as your Lord. That you have for all intents and purposes, been ignoring Him.
2). Renew the vows that were taken for you, by your godparents, when you were Baptized.
a). Verbally renounce Satan/the Devil by saying: “I renounce Satan and all his works, and all his worship, and all his angels (demons), and all his pride.” (And as at Baptism you can repeat it three times.)
b). Verbally unite and commit yourself to Christ by saying, “I unite and commit myself to You Christ. (Again you can do it three times as in Baptism.)
c). Verbally confess Him by saying, “I believe in You Jesus Christ as my Lord & God.” (As in the Baptism service you can then bow down, either making a full prostration or bowing from the waist.)
d). Then you can verbally confess/say the Creed:
I believe in one God, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not created, of one essence with the Father through Whom all things were made. Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man. He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried; And He rose on the third day, according to the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father; And He will come again with glory to judge the living and dead. His kingdom shall have no end. And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Creator of life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke through the prophets. In one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come. Amen. (GOARCH)
If you do these things, and you do them with sincerity of faith, heart and mind, you have begun the steps to be renewed in Jesus Christ. But again, just as Baptism is not “magic” neither are the above words you say with your mouth. These words must be sincere and with faith and also with the intention that you now will live as an Orthodox Christian each day and that you will attend to your spiritual life, to prayer, confession of sin, repentance, reading Scripture, attending Divine Liturgy and participating in the worship and sacramental life of the Church.
If you follow these things then you will truly be prepared for Pentecost and while you might not hear rushing wind or see tongues of fire, if you ask Him He will RENEW the gift of the Holy Spirit in your life and you will NEVER be the same again.
THE HYMN OF THE FEAST OF PENTECOST
Blessed are You, O Christ our God, who made fisherman all-wise, by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit, and through them, drawing all the world into Your net. O Loving One, glory be to You.! (GOARCH)
V. Rev. Fr. Timothy Cremeens Ph.D. serves a parish in Huntsville, Alabama and is a member of Orthodox Christian Laity’s Advisory Board.