We often remember Pentecost as being the day of the descent of the Holy Spirit. We remember the tongues of fire and wonder what that experience would have been like. Perhaps we also limit the important events of that day to the room in which the Apostles were waiting as Christ had commanded them to do when he ascended into heaven. We may not think about the rest of that day, or what happened beyond the room.
Pentecost is considered to be the birthday of the Church. After all, it was on this day that the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles. That, in itself, was an event worth celebrating, but it did not just happen for the Apostles’ edification. When He descended upon the Apostles, the Holy Spirit enabled them to fulfill Christ’s command to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. We don’t always ponder that connection when we celebrate Pentecost.
Let’s take a moment to think together about what actually happened that day. When the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, He gave them the ability to speak in other languages. And they didn’t just sit there and marvel at what had happened. Instead, they immediately put that ability to use. They left their secluded room and went right out into the world around them where many people of different languages were gathered. The Apostles began to speak to these others, sharing with them the good news about Christ. Miraculously, because of the Holy Spirit, they could speak to these strangers in their very own languages! And what happened? Acts 2 tells us that more than 3,000 people became part of the Church on that day! That’s quite a birthday celebration!
The icon of Pentecost shows the Apostles in their room with the tongues of fire over their heads, but it also speaks to the rest of the day’s events. If you look closely at the icon, you see an old crowned man at the bottom of the icon. He is called “Cosmos” and represents the people of the world. He’s crowned to show that people rule over the world itself, but he’s in the dark to remind us of the darkness that everyone is in without Christ. Cosmos is holding 12 scrolls, representing the 12 Apostles who left the safety and blessing of the Spirit-filled upper room to carry the good news of the Gospel to all corners of the world. So, right there in the festal icon, we see this link between Pentecost and missions.
So as we celebrate Pentecost, let us not just focus on the coming of the Holy Spirit. Yes, His descent upon the Apostles (and on us) is hugely important! We need Him just to breathe and live! But let’s also remember that Cosmos is still in the dark, whether “he” is down the hall, across the street, in another corner of our country, or another part of the world. Just like the Apostles, we must take this gift of the Holy Spirit, which we were given at baptism and Chrismation, and share the good news of the gospel to every part of the world where we find ourselves. We don’t need to fear not being able to speak the right words: the Holy Spirit will provide (Luke 12:12), just as He did for the Apostles on Pentecost.
Let us celebrate the birthday of the Church with joy. But let us also continue to do our part to accomplish the purpose for Pentecost: that is, to fulfill Christ’s command of going into all the world and preaching the Gospel! May the holy Apostles intercede for us as we go.
Blessed art Thou, O Christ our God,
who hast revealed the fishermen as most wise
by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit:
through them Thou didst draw the world into Thy net.
O Lover of Man, Glory to Thee
(Troparion for the Feast )