Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 
Icon of Pentecost

". . . God will do the Rest"

Homily for the Sunday of the Pentecost

By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros

Sunday of the Pentecost

A bishop in Canada told this story: He had celebrated a liturgy of confirmation (we call it in the Byzantine tradition "Chrismation") to children. After the ceremony he saw a child outside the church and asked him: "were you happy with this sacrament of confirmation?" He said: "yes. I was very happy. "What does it mean to you to be confirmed? The bishop asked. The child answered: "to receive the grace of the Holy Spirit to help me to live like Jesus, who was filled with the Holy Spirit." "Excellent, said the bishop, but suppose you have died before being confirmed, could you be confirmed in heaven?" - "No!" – "Why?" – "Because there are no bishops in heaven!"

Of course I hope that there will be bishops in heaven, but there will be neither confirmation nor any other sacrament, since in heaven we will see God face to face.

The sacrament of Confirmation is the sacrament of the Holy Spirit, as we say when we confirm in our byzantine tradition: "Seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit" What does the Holy Spirit mean? In the Creed we start by proclaiming our faith in God the Father: "I believe in one God creator of heaven and earth…" Then in one Lord, Jesus Christ, then in the Holy Spirit giver of life…; So God the Father is the creator, the source of all life, Jesus is the Son of God and the Word of God, which means the expression of God's mind, and the revealer of God's will. The Holy Spirit is the power of God which enables us to do God's will.

In the Old Testament people knew God's will through the Law, but they had no power to fulfill the Law. The prophets promised that with the coming of the Messiah this power will be given. Jesus had the fullness of the Holy Spirit: He was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit; He taught and did his miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit. And he rose from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. And in his last speech to his disciples during the Mystical Supper, He promised them that he will send them the Holy Spirit: "If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever, the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you."

With the Holy Spirit in us we are enabled to do God's will. This life St. Paul calls it: The life in the Spirit. What does he mean by that? As human beings, we have to choose between 2 ways of life: a life according to the flesh and a life according to the Spirit, a self-centered life, or a God-centered life. Christianity is not a mere belief in ideas; it is a way of life; and it is a way of life, not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. It is a way of life in which we fulfill our true being, the image of God in which we were created.

St. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, explains the difference between these 2 ways of life: the life according to the flesh and the life according to the Spirit. He says: "Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Then he enumerates the acts of the flesh: "The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like".

Then he goes to the acts of the Spirit: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace; patience, kindness, goodness; faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." These are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit. And he concludes: "Since we live by the Spirit, let us walk by the Spirit." (Gal. 5:16—25)

If the world today is in bad shape: wars, murders, divorces, immorality, it is because people live, not according to the Spirit, but according to the flesh. We reap what we sow. Do you want to have peace, love, joy, live according to the Spirit of God, follow the way of the prince of peace, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is "the way, the truth and the life. Be filled with the Spirit of Christ. Let the Holy Spirit be the principle of your life. As the sound tree produces good fruits, so the Holy Spirit who fills our heart produces in it good fruits. By dwelling in us, the Holy Spirit becomes the principle of our actions, God's will becomes our own will, and God's desire our own desire. We become, as Paul says, a "new creature," (1 Cor 2:15).

This will not happen without suffering and death. "Those who belong to Christ Jesus, says Paul, have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Galatians 5:16-24). This is not easy; it is the work of our whole life. But let us remember that Jesus Christ saved us by shedding his blood on the cross, and told us that if we want to follow hi, we have o take up our cross every day and follow him. With the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, we can grow in love, in faith and in hope. "And hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us" (Romans 5:5).

They told that one day the devil put his tools on auction. But he said: "there is one tool I will never sell: It is the discouragement!" Never give up; never lose your trust in God's grace, which is the Holy Spirit himself.

There is a story about a man who passed away and went to heaven. He was met at the gate by St. Peter, who said, "It will take one thousand points for you to be admitted. The good works you did during your lifetime will determine your points." The man said: "Unless I was sick, I attended church every Sunday, and I sang in the choir." "That will be 50 points", Peter said. "And I gave to the church liberally", the man added. "That is worth 25 more points", said Peter. The man, realizing that he had only 75 points, started getting desperate. "I taught a Sunday school class", he said, "that is a great work for God!" - "Yes", said Peter, "that's worth 25 points." The man was frantic. "You know", he said, "at this rate the only way I am going to get into heaven is by the grace of God." Peter smiled: "That's 900 points. Come on in!"

Never give up, never be discouraged, it is enough for us to do our best, with full trust in God's grace, and God will do the rest.

 

"The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit"

Homily for the Sunday of the Pentecost

By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros

Sunday of the Pentecost

John (7:37-52, 8:12)

"The Outpouring for the Holy Spirit"

Today is the feast of the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament the prophets announced that the Spirit of the Lord would rest on the hoped-for Messiah for his saving mission. The descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus at his baptism by John was the sign that this was he who was to come, the Messiah, the Son of God. He was conceived of the Holy Spirit; his whole life and his whole mission are carried out in total communion with the Holy Spirit whom the Father gives him "without measure" (John 3:34).

We read in the Gospel of Luke that Jesus came to Nazareth, and went to the synagogue; and there he was given to him the book of Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" (Luke 4: 18-19). The Holy Spirit is the power of God to do all the good works in the world.

This fullness of the Holy Spirit was not to remain uniquely the Messiah's, but was to be communicated to the whole messianic people, as we heard in the address given by Peter to the crowd referring to the Prophet Joel: "And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all mankind".

On several occasions Christ promised this outpouring of the Holy Spirit to his disciples. During the Mystical Supper, he told them: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Consoler, to be with you for ever, the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you" (John 14:15-17).

And before his ascension to heaven, he told them: "John Baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit… You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8)

This promise he fulfilled on Easter Sunday, according to the Gospel of St. John, and then more strikingly on the day of the Pentecost, according to St. Luke. We read in St. John: "In the evening of that same day… Jesus came and stood among the disciples and said to them: Peace be with you… As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them: receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven, for those sins you retain, they are retained" (John 20:19-23).

On Easter the disciples were baptized by their union to the risen Lord. On Pentecost, which is a Greek word that means the fiftieth day after Pascha (Easter), they were confirmed by the descent of the Holy Spirit, as we heard in the passage of the Acts of the Apostles. The Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles so that they started speaking in several languages "telling the mighty works of God" and preaching, without fear of the Jews, the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. This fiftieth day after the Passover was, for the Jews, the remembrance of the Sinai Covenant in which God gave the Law to Moses and to the Hebrews. After the Resurrection of Jesus we are no more under the Law: the ancient Law was replaced by the Holy Spirit. In this descent of the Holy Spirit lies the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament. We read in the Prologue of St. John: "The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). The grace is the Holy Spirit Himself given to us through the Sacrament of Chrismation (called in the Western Church Confirmation).

What does mean, for us today, to be baptized with the Holy Spirit? It means a radical change in our mind and in our deeds; it means to be a new creation, to have a new mind according to God, not according to the flesh, and to act according to God's will, not according to our sinful egoistic will. God is Love, and His Spirit is the Spirit of Love. When we are baptized with the Holy Spirit, all our deeds must be filled with love. St. Paul says to the Galatians: "Walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh ... Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing and the like." And he adds: "I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God". Then he describes the fruit of the Spirit: "But the fruit of the Spirit is: love, joy, peace; patience, kindness, goodness; faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires". And he concludes: "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another" (Gal. 5: 16-26).

How must be our relationship with the Holy Spirit? Our vocation as new creatures is to follow the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in order to become spiritualized, divinized. Our Eastern Spirituality is a spirituality of divinization. We are not afraid to use this term. Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit to divinize us. There are two phrases in St. Paul which summarize our relationship to the Holy Spirit. In I Thessalonians he writes: "Do not quench the Spirit", and in another translation: "Do not restrain the Holy Spirit", or "Do not stifle inspiration" (5:19). When we hear God speaking to us, and the Holy Spirit inspiring us to do good and to shun evil, let us not close our ears. Otherwise the words of Isaiah will be applied to us; "This people's heart has groan dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed" (Mt. 13:15). That is quenching the Holy Spirit.

Another expression Paul uses in his Letter to the Ephesians is also worthy to keep in mind in our relationship with the Holy Spirit. He says: "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption" (5:30). We grieve the Holy Spirit by our sins. This reminds us of Jesus weeping on Jerusalem: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often have I longed to gather your children, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you refused! Behold, your house will be left to you desolate" (Matthew 23:37-38). Let us not grieve the Holy Spirit by our sins, let us not cause Jesus weep on our house, the house of our soul, which will be destroyed if we "do not know the time of our salvation" (Luke 19:41-44).

Before every office and at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy we pray to the Holy Spirit to come and sanctify us. Let us pray every day this prayer:

"Heavenly King, Consoler, the Spirit of truth, present in all places and filling all things, the treasury of blessings and the giver of life, come and dwell in us, cleanse us from all stain and save our souls, O Good One".
 

Pentecost Message

To the Clergy and Faithful of the Melkite Eparchy in USA

May 26, 2004

My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

On Pentecost Sunday the Church celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and the early Church. It is considered as the birthday of the Church. Pentecost is a feast of unity. The Kondakion sung in the Divine Liturgy of the Feast Day emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit and unity.

Without the Holy Spirit we would not be able to know God. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the world assures our knowing both God the Father and Jesus, the Word made flesh. The Incarnation took place by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1:35) Jesus was commissioned to begin His public ministry after the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Him at His Baptism. (Luke 3:21-22) He read from the prophet Isaiah in the temple, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me." (Luke 4:18) The Holy Spirit has an important role in both the crucifixion (Hebrews 9:13-14) and the resurrection (Romans 8:11) of our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

We know God through His sacred Word. The Word of God is inspired (breathed into) by the Holy Spirit. We know God through Baptism. Baptism makes us children of God and temples of the Holy Spirit. The Baptismal waters are blessed and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. We experience God and receive Jesus in the Eucharist. The bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus at the Epiclesis, which invokes the descent of the Holy Spirit.

We experience God through His Church. As I stated above, the birth of the Church is considered to be Pentecost Sunday. God is present to us through one another in the Church as well as in the teaching authority of the Church. God is present in us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. God's powerful forgiving presence is another way we ‘know' God and experience His love. Forgiveness comes through the Holy Spirit. (John 20:21-23) We are touched by God through His unconditional love. "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us." (Romans 5:5)

The deepest desire of God's heart is our salvation. This is seen both in His sacred Word as well as in the teaching of the Fathers of the Church. God's will for us is that we be holy. We read in Saint Paul's Letter to the Thessalonians, "For this is the will of God, your sanctification" (4:3) We are challenged by the Lord many times both in the Old Testament and the New to be holy. Saint Peter exhorts the early Christians to be holy. "Therefore gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy.' " (I Pet 1:13-16) In Leviticus, we are commanded by the Lord, "Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy; for I am the LORD your God. Keep my statutes, and do them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you." (20:7-8) In Deuteronomy we learn what God requires of us - "to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD." (10:12-13)

Notice, my brothers and sisters in the Lord, that although God requires us to be holy, He also tells us that it is He Who makes us holy. "I am the LORD who sanctifies you." The Holy Spirit living within us is the source of our power to be holy. The Holy Spirit is our strength to overcome sin and evil in our lives. Saint Basil taught, "Nothing is made holy except by the presence of the Spirit. (On the Holy Spirit)

In the Prophet Isaiah we hear about the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives us so that we can overcome sin and be holy. "And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD." (Isaiah 11:2) By tapping into the wisdom and understanding of the Holy Spirit we can do great things in our spiritual lives. Too often we conform our thinking to this world and hold on to our grudges, fears, and passions, rather than being transformed by the renewal of our minds. (cf. Romans 12:2)

The Holy Spirit is about transformation – transformation of our lives though transformation of our minds and hearts. The call to this transformation is the Spirit's. The power is His as well. We can not achieve this transformation by our own will power. Rather we must surrender our will to God and rely on His power to transform us. In the Book of Zechariah we hear the LORD speak. "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts. (4:6) God's might, God's power, and God's strength that the Holy Spirit gives us is often called fortitude. With fortitude we come to a deep love of God, a deep surrender to His will, and the fear of the Lord that the Fathers and Mothers of the Desert speak of so often and so eloquently.

Saint Paul challenges the Christian Community in Galatia to put their commitment to God and life in the Holy Spirit into action. "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law." (Galatians 5:16,18) Then Saint Paul reminds them of the sign of living in the Holy Spirit – a life of virtue with beautiful and lasting fruits. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control … Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another." (Galatians 5:22-25)

Saint Cyril of Alexandria, in commenting on the Gospel of Saint John, sums up well this life in the Holy Spirit. "If we have given up our worldly way of life and submitted once for all to the laws of the Spirit, it must surely be obvious to everyone that … our nature is transformed so that we are no longer merely men, but also sons of God, spiritual men, by reason of the share we have received in the divine nature."

Our Lord Jesus Christ told Nicodemus: "I solemnly assure you, no one can enter into God's kingdom without being begotten of water and the Spirit. Flesh begets flesh. Spirit begets spirit." (John 3:5-6-) May the Holy Spirit, the gift of Jesus to us at Pentecost, and through Whom we are born again into God's kingdom, instruct us through "wisdom and understanding, through counsel and might and through knowledge and fear of God." May He guarantee and strengthen our unity with God, with His Church and with each other. Being the Spirit of Truth, promised to us by Our Lord Jesus, He will guide us to all truth. (Cf. John 16:13) To Him in the Unity with the Father and the Son is all power and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Most Rev. John A. Elya

Eparch of Newton

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