The Coptic Orthodox Church spends forty days celebrating the Feast of the Holy Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Following this, we celebrate the feast of the Ascension of Christ to the Heavenly Father. Ten days afterwards, on the fiftieth day, we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. ‘Pentecost’ comes from the name of the Jewish festival ‘Shavuot’, a Hebrew term meaning ‘weeks’. The origins of this harvest festival can be found in Exodus 34, when God gave Moses the prophet the Ten Commandments to the land of Israel. The feast was celebrated by the Jewish people on the fiftieth day, after Passover.
While discussion on God’s abundant blessings and gifts to mankind are infinite, one can interpret the tablets given to Moses as one of the most profound Divine gifts in the Old Testament. Similarly, scripture several times prepares us for the coming of the Spirit of Truth, one of the greatest Divine gifts to mankind. The breath of life can be attested to in, for example, the books of: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, 1 Samuel, Isaiah, Joel and Isaiah. The New Testament then revealed among God’s greatest gifts to humanity, the descending of the Holy Spirit. He, as God, chose Himself to live in men, to make His home in our hearts.
Pentecost is one of the seven major feasts in the Coptic Orthodox Church. Pentecost was not only a major historical event to those who witnessed it, but an event with essential spiritual impact on the disciples and the beginning of the Christian church.
The magnitude of Pentecost can only truly be understood by those who feel, hear and see the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. The Holy Spirit, the Life-Giver, the Paraclete is a promise that was fulfilled by Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 NKJV).
In the book of Acts of the Apostles, we see St. Luke describing the events on the third hour (as read on the Third Hour of the Agbeya; 9am) of this most blessed day: “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1-4 NKJV). The disciples and the holy Theotokos were “all with one accord” – a sense of unity and to be further united by the gift of the Comforter. The Holy Spirit filled them, and subsequently fulfilled us, as sons and daughters of the Holy Trinity.
The Grace of the Holy Spirit removed the doubt, weakness, and fear from the disciples, who were able to preach courageously the following day, after being witnesses to this Divine miracle (Acts 2:36). The power of the Holy Spirit allowed St. Peter to baptise three thousand souls and begin their journey as Christians (Acts 2:41). New believers are baptised in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit: The Holy Trinity. The Holy Spirit granted to us by the Grace of God removes our anxieties, strengthens us, gives us courage and enables wisdom “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7). He also reminds us of His own commandments (John 14:26), rebuke us of our sins (John 16:8) and even prays on our behalf (Romans 8:26). This is the gift of the prayer of the Spirit, the highest level.
For us, Christ is the ultimate role model. He, being both Divine and Human, received the Holy Spirit in the Theophany. It is only through the Sacrament of the Holy Liturgy of the Baptism, that we become transformed into a temple of the Holy Spirit.
The book of Acts is the only book in the Bible that does not end with ‘Amen’. For the simple reason, that the work of the Holy Spirit is still ongoing today and the blessing has been bestowed onto us to aim to continue the work of our forefathers. It is our duty not to quench the Holy Spirit, and allow Him to work within us (1 Thessalonians 5:19). We must not see the Pentecost as merely a historic event in scripture, but as a revelation that allowed the Holy Spirit to descend on humanity, to dwell inside of us and guide us on our paths towards righteousness and eternal salvation.
“Let us extol the grace of the Holy Spirit in spiritual hymns, since grace has, on this day, manifested itself to us from heaven. Even though our words are inadequate to express the magnitude of this grace, we shall praise its power and activity insofar as we are able. For the Holy Spirit delves into all things, even the profundities of divinity.”
(St. John Chrysostom, Homily on the Pentecost).