The Apolytikion or Dismissal Hymn of Pentecost, chanted by Nikodemos Kabarnos

EuloghtoV ei Criste o QeoV hmwn

O pansofouV touV alieiV anadeixaV

katapemyaV autoiV to Pneuma to Agion

kai di autwn thn oikoumenhn saghneusaV

Filanqrwpe, doxa soi.

Evloyitos i Christe o Theos imon

O pansophous  tous aliis anathixas

katapempsas aftis to Pnevma to ayion

ke thi afton tin ikoumenin sayinevsas

Philanthrope, thoxa si

Blessed are you, O Christ our God

Who showed forth the fisherman all-wise

When you sent down on them the Holy Spirit

And through them you caught the whole world in the fishing net,

O Lover of humanity, glory to you.

The hymn for Pentecost presents some interesting features. First of all, unlike western hymns for Pentecost, this hymn is addressed not to the Holy Spirit, but to Christ. In a certain sense, it really reflects the role of the Holy Spirit; the Spirit’s presence pervades the hymn, but is not contained by the hymn. The Holy Spirit fills and transcends the work of Christ in the world.

We also see the two aspects of the descent of of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. First of all, the disciples, mostly fishermen, are shown to be able to speak to the people each in their own language. They have also become eloquent preachers. Peter’s words “cut to their heart” (Acts 2:37) and that day 3000 people were baptized. In this way, the presence of the Holy Spirit transformed the earthly occupation of the disciples into a missionary occupation. They were literally now “fishing for humans” and capturing them in the net of the Church.

And so, this hymn shows us the operation of the Holy Spirit in the Church. First of all, it transforms our mundane lives into spirit-filled lives. No matter how high or low the world values our occupations, the Holy Spirit finds each one valuable and is able to give a divine wisdom in it, so that the humblest uneducated peasant is able to refute the wise men of the world through the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost[1]

The icon of Pentecost also reflects this truth. As the disciples are seated in the upper room, the Spirit descends on them in the form of tongues of fire. As the flame lands on each one, he turns in a different direction. In this way, the icon shows that each disciples had a particular gift from God, but that all of these gifts were special and unique. The Holy Spirit uses our individual gifts and our individual occupations for a purpose; there is no single mind or single thought in the service of God.

The purpose of the coming of the Holy Spirit is also beautifully expressed in the hymn: mission. The disciples become apostles (from the Greek apostello “to send out”). The first thing the Apostles do is to preach Christ crucified and risen and the need for repentance. The message, the Good News of resurrection and forgiveness of sins is something the world needs. When preached through the power of the Holy Spirit (and not through our own agendas or desire for self-aggrandizement), it strikes to the heart, and captures the world in the fishermen’s net.

Each Orthodox Christian experiences a personal Pentecost when he or she is chrismated after Baptism. Also, each Divine Liturgy is a personal and corporate Pentecost, when the priests asks the Father to “send the Holy Spirit upon us and upon these Gifts here offered”. At each Divine Liturgy we are filled with the Holy Spirit, transformed into the Body of Christ and then, like the Apostles on the first Pentecost, sent out into the world as missionaries. Preaching the Gospel is not the realm of specialists; it is the grace of the Holy Spirit working in and through our lives.

If we have not yet struck people to the heart through our preaching, not just in words but, more importantly, in deeds, then we should examine ourselves. Have we been cooperating with the grace of the Holy Spirit, or have we been standing in the way? Have we been conduits or obstructions? Have we spread out the nets, or have we folded them away?

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This question causes brave men to quake! The specter of the IRS looms over us each year, epsecially as the deadline approaches in April, or the extension deadline in October. In spite of all the attempts to make the IRS “people friendly,” the commercials advertising businesses which will “help you deal with the IRS if you have tax problems” speak loudly of our fear and hatred of the tax collectors.

Believe it or not, it was even worse in ancient Palestine. Tax collectors, then as now, were governmental officials. Except then the government was the occupying foreign might of pagan Rome. The tax collectors were seen as traitors and agents of the Gentiles who not only sent money to a foreign governemnt, but also exploited their own people for personal gain.

Then, one day, there was an encounter–a young prophet from Galiliee was passing by the tax office and said three simple words to the man sitting there: Come, follow me. Suddenly everything was different; the world had changed. There was a simultaneous implosion and explosion in Matthew’s world. He left the money sitting where it was, got up and followed. Now he worked for a different power, for the Kingdom of God.

The Christmas Fast gets on its way with the celebration of the memory of this tax collector turned disciple, St. Matthew. We celebrate today the good news of the Fast–Yes, repentance is possible, even if you are the lowest of the low, even for a hated tax collector! No matter where you are in life, you can turn yourself around with Christ; you can get up and follow.

The Holy Apostle and Evangelist Matthew

As with all the disciples, the fire of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost sent Matthew out to the whole world to preach the Gospel. Tradition tells us that he went as far as Parthia (moder Iran). One tradition also tells us that he ended his days in Ethiopia. There he was placed head-first into a fire; miraculously the fire was extinguished, but Matthew then gave up his spirit to his Master.

The beautiful hymns for St. Matthew play on the image of the fire of his martyrdom, the fire of the Holy Spirit which he received at Pentecost, and the fire of zeal for Christ that he continues even till today to communicate through his Gospel.

One of the hymns from Vespers illustrates this comparison:

With your words of ire, you consumed all error, O Apostle worthy of all praise, all-wise Matthew, who received the visit of the Paraclete when He illumined your whole being. Thus you filled with wonder the spirits of those who heard you speak when you announced to the people the magnificence of the Almighty One. Your message, inspired by God, has gone out through all the world. Pray to Him to save and enlighen our souls.

The blaze of this divine fire which animated and filled this ex-tax collector should also blaze in our own souls. Fire warms, but it also consumes. The fire contained in the Gospel does both. It warms us with the presence of the Comforter, but as the Spirit of Truth, the same fire consumes our sins, our pride, our self-absorption. But there can be no fire to animate and warm us if it is never unleashed, if we never open the Gospel to immerse ourselves into the flame! Let us pray to the holy Apostle and Evangelist Matthew that he will inspire us and ingite in us that same fire of zeal for his Master!