It has been fifty days since we celebrated the Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Feast of Pentecost today for us is the celebration of the Descent of the Holy Spirit to the Holy Apostles and the Church. We learn about the feast in chapter two of the Acts of the Apostles. The Holy Apostles were gathered together in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon them as tongues of fire, but what were the Holy Apostles celebrating on Pentecost if the Holy Spirit had not yet descended?
By the time of Christ, the Jewish Feast of Pentecost, fifty days after the Feast of Passover, celebrated both the harvest and the giving of the Law by God to Moses. It was one of three major feasts in the Jewish world for which people would travel in a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. There was a direct connection between Passover, which commemorated the Exodus from Egypt, and the giving of the Law to Moses which outlined a new life for the Jews. Having been set free from slavery, now God had given them a new way of living, a way of holiness.
As Orthodox Christians, Pentecost is also a day of pilgrimage as many will attend Church to celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit. The hymns of today remind us of God’s promise to lead the Church into the promised land, heaven. When God gave the Law to Moses, it was to guide the people into the truth of God. Christ promised the Holy Spirit would guide the Church into all truth (John 16.13) and the Kingdom of Heaven.
The life we live today as Orthodox Christians, or at least the life we are invited to live, has been established by the Holy Apostles who were present on the day of Pentecost, who received the Holy Spirit, and who were guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit. We can trust the way of life the Holy Apostles have provided for us, because just as the Law was given to Moses to lead the people, the Holy Spirit was given to the Church to lead the people.
In one of the oldest sources available (70AD) with teachings from the Holy Apostles, the Didache to the Nations, we hear these opening words...
There are two ways, one of life and one of death; but a great difference between the two ways. The way of life, then, is this: First, you shall love God who made you; second, your neighbor as yourself; and all things whatsoever you would should not occur to you, do not also do to another. And of these sayings the teaching is this: Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those who persecute you. For what reward is there, if you love those who love you? Do not also the Gentiles do the same? But love those who hate you, and you shall not have an enemy. Abstain from fleshly and worldly lusts. If someone gives you a blow upon your right cheek, turn to him the other also, and you shall be perfect. If someone impresses you for one mile, go with him two. If someone takes away your cloak, give him also your coat. If someone takes from you what is yours, ask it not back, for indeed you are not able. Give to every one that asks you, and ask it not back; for the Father wills that to all should be given of our own blessings (free gifts). Happy is he that gives according to the commandment; for he is guiltless. Woe to him that receives; for if one having need receives, he is guiltless; but he that receives not having need, shall pay the penalty, why he received and for what, and, coming into straits (confinement), he shall be examined concerning the things which he has done, and he shall not escape thence until he pay back the last farthing. Matthew 5:26 But also now concerning this, it has been said, Let your alms sweat in your hands, until you know to whom you should give.