The Pentecostal Liturgy
Fifty days after Pascha we come to the feast of Pentecost, the feast of the descent of the Holy Spirit, the feast of the Holy Trinity. When our Lord was preparing His apostles for His Pascha and His going to the Father He told them: “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14.2b-3).
The apostles, troubled by this announcement and fearful of losing their Lord and Master, one after another begin to question Him about His departure. Then He told them:
If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. (John 14.15-18)
The apostles, fearful of abandonment, receive from Christ the promise of the Holy Spirit, the other Helper (Paraclete), a promise that through the gift of the Holy Spirit Christ Himself will come to them: “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”
This promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost when the apostles and the other disciples with them, gathered in the Upper Room, received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. St Peter interpreted the event to the onlookers this way: “Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, [Jesus] poured out this which you now see and hear” (Acts 2.33).
This theology of the ascended and exalted Christ is further elaborated in the letter to the Hebrews. There (see Hebrews 8.1-6) Christ is identified as the Heavenly liturgist (NKJV in v. 2 reads “Minister”), the High Priest of the True Temple in Heaven who, having made the offering of Himself as the only true sacrifice, has obtained a more excellent liturgy (NKJV in v. 6 reads “ministry”).
With all of this in mind let us turn to the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. In the anaphora prayer the priest prays:
Remembering this saving commandment and all those things which have come to pass for us: the Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection on the third day, the Ascension into heaven, the Sitting at the right hand, and the second and glorious Coming, Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee, on behalf of all and for all.
The “saving commandment” remembered here is the Lord’s imperative to offer the Eucharist and to partake of it. Furthermore, we offer the Eucharist by specifically remembering the events of the Paschal Mystery from the Cross and Resurrection through to the Second Coming. This self-offering of Christ is what we call “Thine own of Thine own” and is what we, in turn, offer to God, for what other offering do we have that is acceptable?
All of this fits precisely with the theology that we see above from the letter to the Hebrews: Christ, having offered Himself as the true sacrifice, has become the Heavenly Liturgist of the Heavenly Liturgy. And, as St Peter said on the day of Pentecost, having been exalted thus Christ receives the promised Holy Spirit which He in turn pours out on the Church. It should be no surprise, then, that in the Divine Liturgy, immediately following the prayer quoted above, the priest prays:
Again we offer unto Thee this rational and bloodless worship, and ask Thee, and pray Thee, and supplicate Thee: send down Thy Holy Spirit upon us and upon these Gifts here offered....
What this means, quite simply, is that the Divine Liturgy is Pentecost. For in the Divine Liturgy we offer to God the only acceptable sacrifice, that which is offered eternally by the Heavenly Liturgist in the Heavenly Liturgy. And in response He pours out on the Church the Holy Spirit.
Finally, returning to the Gospel of John, we remember our Lord’s words: “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” The Holy Spirit, who is poured out on the Church in the Pentecostal experience of the Divine Liturgy, is the Spirit of adoption (Rom. 8.15), whom St Basil’s Liturgy calls “the Spirit of sonship”. By pouring out the Holy Spirit on the Church and into our hearts, Christ, the Son of God, makes us sons of God.
Do you see what a miracle the Divine Liturgy is, then, and what it accomplishes in us? Let us, then, with the Apostles, draw near to the Upper Room and await, in the fear of God and with faith and love, the gift of the Spirit.
With Love In Christ, Fr John