Tag Archives: Acts 2:1-11

Preaching the Gospel

Sunday, June 16 (O.S., June 3), 2019: Holy Pentecost-Trinity Sunday; Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Church.

Epistle: Acts 2:1-11

Gospel: John 7:37-52; 8:12

Today, our Lord Jesus Christ sends the Holy Spirit down on the disciples and apostles. Receiving the Spirit, those who were once frightened men and women boldly proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The disciples and apostles don’t proclaim the whole Christian faith in all its particulars. They don’t speak about sacraments and fasting, they didn’t engage others in debates about doctrine and church history. Instead, they proclaim the kerygma that Jesus is the Savior of the world.

While the rest of the teaching of the Church is important–essential in fact–it rests of the foundation of the kerygma. Unless and until a person understands, accepts, and believes that out of His great love for us God sent His only begotten Son into this world as a sacrifice for sin and that by His death and Resurrection Jesus has overthrown the powers of sin and death, the rest of the Gospel is mere moral philosophy. Without belief in the kerygma, what the Church teaches is at best only a set of interesting ideas that have no power to save.

Unlike the disciples on that first Pentecost, not only do we often fail to begin the evangelical work at the beginning–that Jesus loves us–we often speak to peoples whose hearts–unlike the hearts of the “Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven” in Jerusalem–are not ready to hear the Gospel.

At least some of the those in Jerusalem were able to accept the Gospel because their hearts had been prepared by the Law of Moses or the study of philosophy. These were men and women who already believed in God, who cultivated the life of virtue, and who had confidence in the ability of human reason to know the truth.

Today though many of the people–I dare say most–of the people we speak to have hearts that are not ready to hear the Gospel. They have an impoverished view of human reason and they think the moral life is a matter of opinion or preference that has only one standard: that we don’t hurt others.

As for the existence of God, the best we can say is that many–including many Orthodox Christians I’m sad to say–believe in a God Who asks nothing and offers nothing beyond a wanting us to be happy.

Added to all this we must overcome the moralism, bad preaching and erroneous theology that have become associated with the Gospel in our popular religious culture.

Like the disciples and apostles, we have each of us personally received the Holy Spirit not in part but in full. But the way in which we fulfill our evangelical vocation is different than how they did it. Before we can preach the Gospel, we must do the hard work of preparing the hearts of those to whom we would preach.

This work begins in friendship.

Not a calculating friendship that draws close to someone simply to make them Orthodox. We must rather be true friends–to unbelievers and believers alike. We must be committed to seeking what is best for them and we must respect their consciences. Many, most really, of those with whom we are friends will never commit themselves to Christ. Among those who already have, most will likely not become Orthodox.

Whatever they may or may not do, our task is above all else to love them. When and how someone responds to God’s grace is beyond us. This doesn’t mean we are indifferent to the salvation of our friends. It does, however, mean we must remember that while “one sow” it is often another who reaps (John 4:37). We have our role play in the salvation of the world. But frequently it is to prepare the heart so that someone else at some other time, can lead the person to Christ and His Church.

This is why, and this the second thing we must do, we must cultivate a life of prayer. We must pray not only for each other but for our friends and, yes, even our enemies and antagonists. It is much better, to borrow from St Paisios of Mount Athos, to talk to God about our friends than to talk to our friends about God.

To friendship and prayer, we must add respect for the ability of human reason to know the truth and a practical appreciation for the life of virtue. Too many Orthodox Christians I am sorry to say have made their own the world’s conviction that truth is really about power and that what really matters is not virtue but good intentions.

When we deny reason’s ability to know the truth and the necessity of living a morally good life–and please understand, these are two sides of the same coin—we set ourselves adrift in the sea of relativism. This doesn’t free us. Instead, it degrades us.

When “true” means “true for you” and the only moral standard is “don’t hurt others,” we don’t free ourselves from conflict or disagreement–these are always with us–but lose of the desire and the ability to resolve our differences. Absent reason and virtue all we are left with is our desires and so the unchecked pursuit of power.

It was this, the imposition of the strong on the weak, that the Gospel corrected. In Christ, I discover that power, authority, wealth are not for my own self-aggrandizement but of my service to my neighbor.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! We have received in fullness they same Spirit as the disciples and apostles on Pentecost. And, like them, we are called to proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If the particulars of how we fulfill our evangelical vocation are different, the work is the same.

Like the disciples and apostles in Jerusalem, seeing the enormity of the task or the anger of those who disagree with us, we might be afraid. And realizing our fear and seeing the obstacles before us we might be tempted to remain silent and justify our silence by appealing to a false sense of humility.

But when we are overwhelmed by the work to which we are called, we should remember that–like the disciples and apostles–we have received not a portion of the Holy Spirit but the fullness of the Spirit so that, again like the disciples and apostles, we can preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2 ) to the world and so lead others to faith, to the forgiveness of their sins, and to becoming themselves shares in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) and witness to the Resurrection.

Blessed Feast!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

What Gifts Have You Been Given Today?

Sunday, May 27 (O.S., May 14), 2018: Eighth Sunday of Pascha, Pentecost-Trinity Sunday;
Martyr Isidore of Chios (251). Martyr Maximus, under Decius (250). Ven. Serapion the Sindonite, monk, of Egypt (542). Ven. Nicetas recluse of the Kyiv Caves (1109). St. Leontius, patriarch of Jerusalem (1175).

Epistle: Acts 2:1-11
Gospel: John 7:37-52; 8:12

What must that first Pentecost have been like for the disciples and apostles?

Just 10 days ago they saw Jesus ascend into heaven. However joyful that was, it means that–once again Jesus has left them. And the pain of that loss is beginning to make itself felt. As their memories and love for Jesus wane, their fear of the Jews takes hold growing ever stronger.

And so they hide. They return to the upper room where they celebrated their last Passover with Jesus.

And they wait for the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to them that they will be clothed with power from on high.

And as they wait, they wonder. What have they gotten themselves into? Jesus is gone. And, out there, are the people who crucified their friend.

And didn’t Jesus tell them, that they too will be hated? If they crucified Jesus what would they do to his disciples?

And then, FIRE!

Tongues of fire appear and come to rest on the heads of the disciples!

And suddenly, in an instant, fearful men and women become fearless preachers of the Gospel!

And, wonders of wonders, not only do they proclaim the Resurrection, their words are understood by those who don’t speak Aramaic.

At first, they are accused of being drunkards. But just as faith retreated and fear asserted itself, now skepticism gives way to faith. Thousands believe and are baptized.

And then what?

What must it have been like on the day after Pentecost when the disciples and apostles to woke up and realize–however faintly–the enormity of what they did?

Or rather, what God did through them.

What must it have been like to wake up the day after Pentecost and realize that now you were responsible for preaching a Gospel that will in short under turn the world on its head?

What must it have been like to realize that you were now leaders of thousands of new believers in Jesus Christ?

Make no mistake. The apostles were right to be worried.

These weren’t wealthy or powerful. They were illiterate men and women living on the margins of a society that was itself on the margin of a vast, wealthy and powerful empire that, for all its grandeur, was cruel.

The disciples and apostles weren’t anyone’s idea of leaders. Least of all, their own.

And yet, God choose them to be His witnesses to the world. It fell to these poor, illiterate, marginal men and women to renew the human family grown old and rigid because of sin.

Today these men and women receive the “Gift of the Holy Spirit” even as we did at chrismation. In this One Gift we, like them, received many gifts.

And all gifts contained in the Gift have one purpose: To draw others to Christ. To renew the whole human family by the renewal of each human person heart.

Unlike the disciples on that first Pentecost, the Church is now rich and even powerful.

And yet, like the disciples of that first Pentecost, for all that we have gained materially and culturally, we too are poor.

Or maybe better, we too have been given a task that–apart from the gift of the Holy Spirit–is beyond the abilities of even the most talented among us.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! The task given to the disciples on that first Pentecost is given to us today. Their vocation, their calling, is ours as well.

And like the disciples on that first Pentecost, God pours out His Spirit on us today and every day making up by His grace what is lacking in us.

And all this He does for one reason, and one reason only: To renew the human family by restoring each human heart to communion with Himself through His Son our Lord Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit!

So let us take up the task we have been given!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

St Irenaeus: Homily on the Holy Spirit

Sunday, June 4, 2017: Holy Pentecost;: Our Father Metrophanes, Archbishop of Constantinople, Mary & Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, Sophia of Thrace, The Mother of Orphans

Epistle: Acts 2:1-11
Gospel: John 7:37-52; 8:12

When the Lord told his disciples to go and teach all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, he conferred on them the power of giving men new life in God.

He had promised through the prophets that in these last days he would pour out his Spirit on his servants and handmaids, and that they would prophesy. So when the Son of God became the Son of Man, the Spirit also descended upon him, becoming accustomed in this way to dwelling with the human race, to living in men and to inhabiting God’s creation. The Spirit accomplished the Father’s will in men who had grown old in sin, and gave them new life in Christ.

Luke says that the Spirit came down on the disciples at Pentecost, after the Lord’s ascension, with power to open the gates of life to all nations and to make known to them the new covenant. So it was that men of every language joined in singing one song of praise to God, and scattered tribes, restored to unity by the Spirit, were offered to the Father as the first-fruits of all the nations.This was why the Lord had promised to send the Advocate: he was to prepare us as an offering to God. Like dry flour, which cannot become one lump of dough, one loaf of bread, without moisture, we who are many could not become one in Christ Jesus without the water that comes down from heaven. And like parched ground, which yields no harvest unless it receives moisture, we who were once like a waterless tree could never have lived and borne fruit without this abundant rainfall from above. Through the baptism that liberates us from change and decay we have become one in

This was why the Lord had promised to send the Advocate: he was to prepare us as an offering to God. Like dry flour, which cannot become one lump of dough, one loaf of bread, without moisture, we who are many could not become one in Christ Jesus without the water that comes down from heaven. And like parched ground, which yields no harvest unless it receives moisture, we who were once like a waterless tree could never have lived and borne fruit without this abundant rainfall from above. Through the baptism that liberates us from change and decay we have become one in body; through the Spirit we have become one in soul.The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and strength, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of God came down upon the Lord, and the Lord in turn gave this Spirit to his Church, sending the Advocate from heaven into all the world into which, according to his own words, the devil too had been cast down like lightning.

The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and strength, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of God came down upon the Lord, and the Lord in turn gave this Spirit to his Church, sending the Advocate from heaven into all the world into which, according to his own words, the devil too had been cast down like lightning.If we are not to be scorched and made unfruitful, we need the dew of God. Since we have our accuser, we need an advocate as well. And so the Lord in his pity for

If we are not to be scorched and made unfruitful, we need the dew of God. Since we have our accuser, we need an advocate as well. And so the Lord in his pity for man, who had fallen into the hands of brigands, having himself bound up his wounds and left for his care two coins bearing the royal image, entrusted him to the Holy Spirit. Now, through the Spirit, the image and inscription of the Father and the Son have been given to us, and it is our duty to use the coin committed to our charge and make it yield a rich profit for the Lord.

St Irenaeus, “Against the Heresies”

Homily: Today is the Day!

8th SUNDAY OF PASCHA: HOLY PENTECOST: FEAST OF THE HOLY TRINITY. Holy Apostle Jude, the brother of the Lord (ca. 80). Ven. Barlaam of Shenkursk (1462). Martyr Zosimas the soldier at Antioch in Pisidia (2nd c.). Ven. Paisius the Great (5th c.). St. John the Solitary of Jerusalem (6th c.). Ven. Paisius of Chilandari (Bulgarian—18th c.). Repose of St. Job, Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus (1607). (Note: The service for St Jude is transferred to June 20.)

Epistle: Acts 2:1-11

Gospel: John 7:37-52, 8:12

Holy Tradition is the voice of the Holy Spirit leading the Church, according to the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ, “into all truth.”

Church history is as the record of the work of Holy Spirit glorifying Christ, declaring Him to the world and giving to us, His disciples, all the belongs to the Father (see John 16:13-15). And it is through the Holy Spirit that we who were scattered, geographically (because from many places) and spiritually (because of our sins), are “gathered together” (Didache, 9.8) and made “one body in Christ, and individually members of one another” (Romans 12:5). In the Holy Spirit the divisions that plague the human family are overcome and we are made able to love one another (John 13:34-35) by the grace of He Who first loved us 1 John 4:19).

We will sometime hear that the Feast of Pentecost is the “birthday” of the Church. While well-intentioned strictly speaking true this isn’t true. The Church has existed from “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).

Today is the day on which—as we hear in the Synaxarion—“we commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the holy Disciples and Apostles in the form of tongues of fire.”

Today is the day those “who followed the Master gathered in Jerusalem in the upper room of a house to await the Lord’s promise to send the Holy Spirit.”

Today is the day that, “At about the third hour of the day, there came a sound from Heaven as of a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the house. Cloven tongues immediately appeared, like as of fire, and sat upon the head of each of them. The Apostles began to speak, not with the languages of their ancestors, but with other languages with which the Holy Spirit supplied them, as He inspired them.”

Today is not the birthday of the Church but of the “priesthood of grace,” “the fulfillment of the promise of Jesus Christ, and the completion of the undefiled hope of the Apostles” because today in Jerusalem the Holy Spirit came “into the world.”

But not only in Jerusalem.

The same Holy Spirit that inspires the Apostles and Disciples on that first Pentecost and Who guides the Church in this life, causes Christ to come to dwell in our hearts. At Holy Baptism, in Holy Communion and in all the Mysteries of the Church, the Holy Spirit comes and rests upon us and Christ makes His home in each of us personally.

Everything done in the Church is done by the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit because it belongs to the Holy Spirit to reveal the hidden wisdom of God (see 1 Corinthians 2:6-16) and grant to us the gifts of “faith, hope and love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). And how could it be otherwise?

We are, after all, “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.”

We are God’s “own special people” set apart from the human family not for our sake but for theirs to “proclaim the praises” of God Who calls all His creatures “out of darkness into His marvelous light” (see 1 Peter 2:9).

We are, in other words, both priests and prophets of God.

As prophets, we are called by God to proclaim the Gospel, to call others to an obedience born of love; we are charged by God to call all men to repentance.

As priests, we are called to build on our preaching of the Gospel and assist others in being reconciled with God; God has called each of us to lead others to know and love Him.

We ought not to underestimate the importance of what God has called us to do. Without reconciliation, the call to repent is simply cruel even as reconciliation without repentance is a fraud. Both are need, each compliments and fulfills the other even as one, without the other, cripples us.

As I said a moment ago, the Holy Spirit guides the Church and causes Christ to dwell in us. This means that, through the Holy Spirit, the Tradition of the Church is in our hearts. My, and yours, task is to lay aside our sinfulness, quiet our lives—that insistent inner chatter—so that we can hear the quiet whisper of the Holy Spirit pointing us to Christ.

The cultivation of this inner quiet, a prayerful attention to Christ, has been a central goal of our lives these many weeks.

The Sunday of Zacchaeus, the “bright sadness” of the Great Fast, the joy of Pascha, all have led us to this one moment. Not to receive the Holy Spirit—since we have already done so—but to help us hear anew what Christ would say to us and have us do.

All our prayers these last several months, our feasting as much as our fasting, our rejoicing and our repentance, have lead us to this day. Today is the day that we renew of our vocations as disciples of Christ and apostles of His Resurrection.

Today, “rivers of living water” well up and are ready to burst the dam sin creates in our hearts!

Today, “tongues of fire” come to rest on our heads, to make us priests and prophets of the Most Holy Trinity!

My brothers and sisters in Christ!

We fasted with Christ during Great Lent, suffered with Him during Holy Week, rested with Him in the Tomb on Holy Saturday and rose with Him on Pascha! And today?

Today is the day we are called to proclaim the Gospel to the world!

We have no need to fear or hesitate!

The Holy Spirit Who inspired the prophets, strengthened the martyrs, made the Fishermen wise and guided the Church through the generations, has been given to us!

The Holy Spirit that caused the Son to become incarnate of the Most Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary now causes Christ to dwell in our hearts as well.

She became the God-Bearer, we Christ-Bearers!

She becomes the Mother of God, we His brothers and sisters!

She gives birth to God in the flesh, we give birth to God through good works and wise words!

Looking at that to which we are all called, I wonder, how can I do this? Except by the grace of God I can’t. And when, even having received His grace, I would draw back, I need to remember what I am told.

Jesus tells me, tells us, not to “worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you” (Matthew 10:19-20).

God is faithful to His promises to us. Let us likewise be faithful to Him Who today has given us His Spirit!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory