“Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of truth, present everywhere and filling all things; treasury of blessing and Giver of Life, come and abide with us, cleanse us of every stain, and save our souls, O Gracious One.”
This great prayer to the Holy Spirit, prayed at the beginning of nearly every service of the Orthodox Church, is taken from Chapter 15 of St. John’s Gospel, which reads, “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ was speaking to his disciples and preparing them for his impending crucifixion and death. Aware that the grief of the disciples would be great, the Lord offers the solace that can only come from One who has completely overcome the fear of death. Only by our Lord’s ascension and return to the throne of His Father, could He send the Holy Spirit to be with the Church forever, teaching, inspiring and strengthening all who know and follow Christ the Savior.
The Lord promised his disciples that he would not leave them orphans, and that He would send the Holy Spirit to them. This promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, fifty days after our Lord’s Resurrection. Immediately after receiving the Holy Spirit, the disciples began spreading the Good News of the Resurrected Christ in a variety of languages, traveling many hundreds of miles teaching about Christ, and establishing Church communities.
The Orthodox Church has always understood prayer to be a gift of the Holy Spirit; it is the Spirit that teaches and encourages us to pray. One interesting point about the icon of Pentecost is that in addition to showing the Holy Spirit descending on to the heads of the disciples as tongues of flame, there is another figure at the bottom center, holding a white cloth. This figure represents the human race, who is surrounded in darkness representing sin and evil.
He is holding a cloth which has several scrolls laying on it. These represent the teachings of the apostles as they prepare to go forth and begin spreading the Good News. The feast of Pentecost, then, is not just about the descent of the Holy Spirit, but about the great work of the apostles once they received the Spirit. God and Man working together to accomplish the divine Will of the Father, is the greatest work human beings can aspire to. The feastday of Pentecost is the beginning of this awesome relationship.
This year, the feastday of Pentecost is celebrated on Sunday, May 27. Pentecost Sunday is always preceded by a Saturday of Souls Divine Liturgy on the previous day. Koliva is prepared by any families wishing to do so, and names of the departed may be placed on the memorial table so they can be read during the service.
May the blessing of the Holy Spirit continue to fill our hearts and souls with the love of God the Father and the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ.