The Celebration of Pentecost
Being Filled With The Holy Spirit*
Father Matta El-Meskeen (Matthew the Poor)
Acts 2:2 “And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.”
The Holy Spirit openly announces itself as coming from ‘heaven’. This is the first sign shme‹on with the proclamation expressing the special nature of the Spirit according to the Lord’s words: “the wind (pneàma = the Spirit) blows where it wills” (Jn 3:8). Thus the Spirit and the wind carry the same term to develop an understanding of the nature of the Holy Spirit. With the Arabic term the relation is obvious: ‘rooh and reeh’ but in Greek it is one word pneàma = spirit = wind and from it came pno? mentioned above. The word pneàma is mentioned in the book of Ezekiel (37:9) in an expression that links together the work of the Spirit to the work of the wind: “Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath pneàma, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, “Thus says the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath,” and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.’ ” The reader will notice here the reciprocity between the Spirit and the wind and his words to the Spirit ‘breathe’ exactly as if it were to the wind.
“A sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house”:
The reader must note that it was not an ordinary wind, current of air, or any other natural movement, but a sound from heaven. A sound that filled the whole house, meaning it was heard by all those who were present in the house as emanating from heaven. It is most probable that it was not a sound that could be heard by the normal ear but by the spiritual ear that was prepared to listen to the Spirit and its inward motion. To the extent that St. Ephraem the Syriac says that it filled the house with a beautiful scent. Naturally this scent is for those who inhale the Holy Spirit and recognize it. The sound or scent that fills every human being is not necessarily the same for everyone. Nor is it one of the expected requirements of the Holy Spirit that comes with its coming and leaves with its leaving. But the Holy Spirit wanted to reveal itself, its existence, and inflow within the human soul and take hold of the senses to insure the reality of its existence and the truth of its work till it consolidates faith and cling to its presence. This is clear in the word “suddenly”, meaning it did not go from room to room, but bolted from above to fill all, at once, for all to feel a visit from heaven. The overwhelming feeling they sensed with its descent at that sound and the surprise without fear or shock, was due to them being in the state of deep prayer; praying that had lasted ten days in utmost concentration and anticipation.
“It filled all the house”:
Here is the first time we hear that the Holy Spirit filled a place. The place is that in which the Lord met with His disciples and loved ones during the previous feasts of the Pentecost. Here, today, the Holy Spirit is consecrating it in the presence of the same disciples and multitude that had come to attend the feast prayers for which they had fasted until the prayers ending at ten in the morning to meet and together partake the Agape. At this point, the house, and everyone together with the food were consecrated: a whole church in its absolute form with the Lord in its midst, according to his promise:
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20).
“And lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20).
Acts: 2: 3 “And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them.”
This is the second sign shme‹on. The manifestations of the Holy Spirit, the wind and the fire, were hence completed. If the wind reveals the disappearing nature within the Holy Spirit “The wind blows where it will, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so is it with every one who is born of the Spirit” (Jn 3:8). Now, it is the hearing of the strong sound that expresses the descent of the Spirit to fulfill its dangerous task followed by the appearance of fire to reveal the Spirit’s nature and the nature of the task the Spirit will carry out as a spirit of burning and purification: “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled” (Lk 12:49). Both of these integrate together to complete the illustration and the subject the Lord had previously proclaimed to His disciples that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit, and in accordance to the Baptist’s words: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Lk 3:16). John did not say ‘tongues of fire’ but “as of fire” glîssai ?seˆ pur?j, for they carry the form of fire and not its natural burning effect. “For our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29) that devours sin and anything removed from God, or from His kindness, sanctity, or righteousness, which therefore will not exist because of God’s kind, sanctified and righteous nature. The action of God’s fire is positive. He burns the negative to increase the positive, to increase kindness, holiness, truth, and justice.
When he says: “resting on each one of them (meaning the twelve)” it means that the fiery Spirit rested in their apostolic persona to change it into a holy persona, “… you are God’s temple and … God’s Spirit dwells in you” (1 Cor 3:16), and to work at the same time in them and with them! Because he said later that he did not enter them but filled every one of them! To be filled with the Spirit is that the Spirit occupies all the human being so as to become a living being for God, a body for Christ! Filling is a union between the Divine being and the human being. Out of this came the speaking with tongues a physical and, at the same time, a spiritual utterance, a Divine and human act, a miracle that is both Divine and human. The disciples acquired in this manner baptism, purification, and sanctification through the invisible presence of the Lord, and through His Holy Spirit.
Thus the Church was born in the persona of the twelve, one divine being in one body and its members. As the Holy Spirit descended upon the Virgin, and the power of the Highest sheltered Her so that Her Holy Born Child was named God’s Only Son, so did Christ in the same way—according to St. Paul’s expression—betroth a pure virgin to Himself, and descended upon the Church with His Holy Spirit bestowing it with power from above. Born of His bride are His sanctified and redeemed people, His Apostolic Universal Church, the Church of a Living God. As when Christ was baptized, in the river, the Holy Spirit settled on Him in the physical shape of a dove denoting the work and task of Noah’s dove, an announcer of peace on earth after the flood, so was the Church baptized through the Holy Spirit, and tongues of the Spirit appeared as fire dividing and settling on them denoting the descent of the Spirit, sanctifying and purifying them, then working through them.
At this point we have to underline that it is not the wind, the tongues, or the fire that are the subject of our concern, but our subject is the Holy Spirit. As for the rest they are its signs that aid its existence and work, not as if they were its nature, but to prove its invisible nature.
Acts 2: 4 “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
Here we have a new aspect of the Holy Spirit’s work, which is the immediate filling and immediate utterance in a current language or in a tongue, alien to the person’s tongue, bestowed by the Holy Spirit. This is to prove the work of God, meaning a miracle that is equal to the primary task of the disciples, being to teach the whole world in various tongues. There are examples that demonstrate it: “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to the ‘Rulers of the people and elders …’ ” (Acts 4:8), and in the same chapter: “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). Also: “But Saul, who is also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said: … “And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind” (Acts 13: 9,11). Speaking in another language other than the preacher’s, which means speaking in tongues, will be mentioned later.
“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit”
To begin with we must know that there is a filling with the Holy Spirit that happens once during baptism, and there exists another filling after baptism that is repeated whenever the Spirit desires and the preacher needs it. The first filling during baptism is a consecration of the human temple of man for the Spirit to live and dwell in: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16). This is the filling that qualifies us for communion with the Holy Spirit and Christ and consequently for a membership in the body, i.e., the Church. As for the repeated filling, it is a surprise visit by the Holy Spirit that happens within the limits of certain actions God sets as being the preacher’s responsibility, to proclaim God’s truth and bare witness to Christ.
There is also a difference between the descent of the Holy Spirit upon prophets and kings in ancient times, where it was liable to depart from the person it descended upon, and that of the descent of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, for its action is inwards. This is the filling and is liable to grief and extinction. As for him who scorns it, he cannot be saved but will be annihilated.
Speaking in tongues or in a tongue has many aspects. Here in the book of the Acts of the Apostles is the clearest illustration and its most powerful actions mentioned as the apostle speaks in a language he does not know and utters words beyond his will. This is an obvious declaration of the existence of the Holy Spirit, its activities, and its strong participation in bearing witness to Christ. For that reason it preceded Christ in St. John’s Gospel with the words; “But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you, ….he will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses (simultaneously)….” (Jn 15:26, 27) There also exists speaking in tongues of an incomprehensible language that needs a translator as we heard in the words of (1 Cor 14:27, 28). There also exists talking in a tongue no one can understand not even the speaker, being a mere response through the Spirit. There also exists talking with a false tongue of evil spirits and St. John therefore says: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn 4:1). The test is to make sure that these spirits bare witness to Christ and speak of the glories of God.
“And they were all filled”:
“All” are the twelve, and are the only ones who represent the One Apostolic Church, meaning the one body. But everyone received that filling, for it was the filling for each Apostle, and the same filling for the twelve. Here the sacred union is revealed that tied all in the One: the One being the Holy Spirit and Christ. This is Holy Communion through the One Spirit in the One Spirit. It is identical to being united together, and in Christ through the Holy Spirit: “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me and I in you” (Jn 14:20). Thus we understand and are assured that the origin of a united Church lies in the filling with the Holy Spirit of every individual equally to the other. We say: the filling of every individual with the Holy Spirit and the filling of every one like the other. This is the basis for the mystery of unity in the Church and consequently the mystery of communion in Christ. It is also clear therefore that the unity of the Church is not a unity that is fabricated or composed but a Divine unity whose source is filling with the Holy Spirit from above, which is itself, the filling of renewal, the filling of the new creation. Now finally we can easily and with certitude say that the unity of the Church is itself the new creation represented in the twelve. If the Church is the new creation then it is the Kingdom, the Kingdom of Christ on earth that includes, through the Apostles or their teachings, i.e., the Gospel, all those who are saved to be in the end with Christ forever.
Whoever, after that, is filled with the Holy Spirit through the Apostle’s teachings, then baptism, praying and fasting and the prayers practiced by the twelve apostles as the unavoidable example for those who want the Holy Spirit to descend on them and be filled with it, becomes qualified to unite with Christ having gained the filling that is in the Church. We thus say, after he has partaken of the Lord’s Body and Blood that he has united with the Body of Christ, i.e. the Church, and has become a member of the One body. To the extent that St. Paul became audacious and moved it to the extremely high, and exalted level of mystery saying: “For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones” (Eph 5:30). The union is not of the imagination or mind, not even of a theory in accordance to the words of faith or teaching, but it is an actual union created by Christ, in His nature, before giving it to us through the sacrament. For Christ in His divine nature united with our flesh and our bones through His incarnation, so that His flesh and His bones became our flesh and bones. Thus through His divinity He became united with us and we became united with His divinity after He had united with our humanity. Truthful are the Church riddles we repeat in the hymn: “He took that which is ours and gave us that which is His. Let us therefore praise, glorify, and exalt His loftiness” (Fridays’ Theotokia).
To proclaim the filling of the Church with the Holy Spirit, that is in accordance to His blessed promise, the Lord said that the Holy Spirit claims its due and informs His saintly Apostles he said: “ If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Thus the works of filling with the Holy Spirit were defined in the twelve Apostles who, in their turn, gave them to those they entrust with the Holy Spirit and its works.
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