Each year, as we progress in the Eastern Orthodox calendar through Lent, Holy Week, Pascha and Pentecost I’m struck by how Pentecost is the fulfillment of all things. It is the last, great day. If Pascha is the seventh day-plus one (the eight day: the beginning of the new creation), Pentecost is the seventh seven-plus one, the fiftieth: Super-Pascha. Pentecost does not look back to Pascha. Pascha points us forward to Pentecost, the Day of the Holy Spirit, the Day of the Kingdom.
I won’t try to explain this. Go to http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/pentecost and listen to Fr. Thomas Hopko’s excellent discussion of Pentecost and the Holy Spirit as the Kingdom of God.
I want to follow up on this idea with a weak attempt at a correction of our normal view. You see, what we usually experience and think is that Pentecost ends the festal season; that afterward we return to “normal.” Those of us involved in liturgical ministry certainly seem to experience this. We take up the typical psalms at the Liturgy, we sing the usual Communion Hymn and troparion after Communion, etc. At the Creed we use the usual greeting.
But therein lies the mistake: The Season of Pentecost remains unfulfilled. “Christ is risen!” is not the end. It is the beginning. “Christ is ascended!” is merely a restatement of the same thing, and anticipates what is to come. “We have seen the True Light; we have received the Heavenly Spirit” is the proclamation to which the whole action and experience of Pascha-Ascension points. Before Pentecost, it is Christ Who has risen and Who has ascended. But in Pentecost, He pours out His Holy Spirit, and His Pascha becomes our pascha, His Ascension our ascension, His Kingdom our kingdom.
The greeting, “Christ is in our midst! He is, and ever shall be!” does not end. It is the gift of Pentecost. We do not say it because we have nothing better to say. What can be better? “Christ is risen!” is indeed supremely joyful and victorious and triumphant, and we do well to shout it with all our might. “Christ is ascended!” is a supreme triumph, because He Who trod the “winepress” and Whose garments are “bloodstained” enters into His glory, and takes our human nature with Him. And we share in His joy. But in Pentecost, His joy and glory becomes our joy and glory.
The season of Pentecost – which lasts the entire year – is the season of “Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise Him in the highest!,” “Christ is in our midst!,” “We have seen the True Light; we have received the Heavenly Spirit” and “O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth: come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls!” These proclamations and this prayer can only be made after the Lord’s Pascha. It is the season of the Kingdom, the season of the Spirit’s life, the season of our sanctification.
A lot of talk is given in American politics these days of “the new normal.” In the Church, Pentecost announces the new normal: “Christ is in our midst! He is, and ever shall be!” If in Paschaltide we celebrate Christ’s miracles (the Blind Man, the Paralytic, etc.), in the season of Pentecost, we celebrate Christ’s miracles in His saints. This proclaims the spread of His Kingdom into the world at large. In a way, Pascha is the doorway into the New Life in which saints are made, martyrs revealed, sins healed. New Life isn’t merely in that mystical but unseen place called Hades and Sheol, where the Old Adam and Eve are raised. It is here and now, before our very eyes. Human beings – neighbors, family, friends, the poor, the unnoticed – are made into christs.
“The kingdom of God has come among you!”