The power of the Holy Spirit is revealed to us each time we celebrate Pentecost. We hear the Pentecost story of the rush of wind, the appearance of flames upon the heads of the apostles, and the reception of the gift of tongues. The deeper miracle is that the apostles received the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. The understanding of these gifts empowered them to teach, to heal and to lead our church. We continue their work which began on the first Pentecost.
The Gospels and Epistles of the Sundays following Pentecost are filled with the stories of the apostles’ miraculous healings of the sick, the wisdom of their teaching, and their courage in times of opposition. They were not able to do any of these things until they received the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
We receive the Gifts of the Holy Spirit when we are initiated through being Baptized, Chrismated and receiving the Eucharist. Because each of us receives the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, we all have a little of the same powers that were displayed in the lives of the first apostles.
A common question asked is: Why do not all Byzantine Catholics display the power of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit? Some people display an overflowing abundance of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and some seem to have received less. For everyone, there are times that we feel a stronger presence of the Holy Spirit, and there are times we feel it less.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem gave an answer to this question in talks given to the newly baptized. He said: “…though remission of sins is given equally to all, the communion of the Holy Spirit is bestowed in proportion to each man’s faith. If you have labored little, you receive little; but if you have wrought much, the reward is great. You are running for yourself, see to your own interest” (St. Cyril of Jerusalem Catechetical Lectures: Lecture 1).
To follow St. Cyril’s advice we need to believe and we need to pray to receive the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Our personal daily prayers open us to the mysterious sacred divine presence. Like the invisible air that we breathe, we must realize that our lives are possible because of the invisible but real presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Together we follow St. Cyril’s advice concerning spiritual labors each time we celebrate the Divine Liturgy. The concelebrants invoke the Holy Spirit at the beginning of the Divine Liturgies after the feast of Pentecost. The concelebrants chant: “Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, everywhere present and filling all things, Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life, come and dwell within us, cleanse us of all stain and save our souls, O gracious One.”
The entire Divine Liturgy is a time which is filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit. For those who believe, the singing, incense and the participation of the people enrich us with manifestations of the Holy Spirit. After the prayers of consecration, the Holy Spirit is called down upon the sacred gifts upon the altar. “Moreover, we offer to you this spiritual and unbloody sacrifice; and we implore, pray, and entreat you: send down your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts lying before us.”
Whether it is two or three or many gathered, each Divine Liturgy is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. For those who receive the Body and Blood of Christ, the spiritual reward is greater. The reason the Divine Liturgy and other prayers have continued for over 2,000 years is that prayer connects us with these sacramental mysteries. Neither persecution nor challenges from nonbelievers in the time of the Apostles or in our current age has been able to silence the singing of the Divine Liturgy. The unseen but heartfelt grace of the Holy Spirit gives us the reason why we pray. The experience of the Holy Spirit working in our lives inspires us to give our time, talent and treasure to aid our families, build up our churches and to reach out to those who do not believe.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend William C. Skurla, D.D.
Metropolitan Archbishop of Pittsburgh
Apostolic Administrator of Parma