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Asking the clergy: Why is Pentecost important to Christians?

The Rev. Michael Sniffen, Dean at the Cathedral

The Rev. Michael Sniffen, Dean at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City Credit: Cathedral of the Incarnation

Pentecost Sunday, which, this year, is celebrated on June 4 in Christian churches, commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of Jesus Christ. This week’s clergy, from three different Christian perspectives, discuss the significance of Pentecost.

The Rev. Michael Sniffen

Dean, Cathedral of the Incarnation, Garden City

Pentecost, which comes after the 49 days of the Easter season, highlights the coming of the Holy Spirit as described in the book of Acts. A Greek word simply meaning “50th day,” Pentecost also describes the biblical feast of Shavuot, the feast of weeks, celebrated 50 days after Passover. Pentecost celebrates the fulfillment of the promise made by Jesus that he would send the Spirit of God to lead his followers in the right way. In John’s Gospel, Jesus says it this way; “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth . . . ” (John 16:12-13)

Important to the feast of Pentecost is the notion that God is not finished speaking to humanity. God’s revelation continues through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Christian tradition is not closed, but rather open-ended. The truth, according to Jesus, is too much for us to bear all at once. So, the Spirit of God leads us over time more deeply into the truth. God continues to challenge and guide us in the ways of justice, freedom and peace all our days. Pentecost celebrates, among other things, that people of faith are never alone in their search for meaning. God’s spirit is among us to lead us and guide us along the way of life. We continue to learn and grow, by God’s grace. God has more to say to us, as he did to the first disciples. On Pentecost, we remember to listen closely for God’s voice speaking a language of love that sets everyone free.

The Rev. John Fendt

New Apostolic Church, Woodbury

In countries such as the United States, Christian holidays such as Christmas and Easter are well known even by non-Christians. However, many Christians do not seem to regard Pentecost as highly as Christmas and Easter, even though the fundamentals of faith of most Christians are tied to this day. Fifty days after Jesus resurrected from the dead, “in the place where Jesus’ followers were gathered, there was the sound of a mighty wind and tongues as of fire appeared, resting on each of them” (Acts 2:1-3).

Thus, Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit was fulfilled. Until Pentecost, Jesus’ followers kept to themselves. Christians believe that it was the Holy Spirit who inspired Jesus’ followers to speak openly about his life and teaching. For this reason alone, the day of Pentecost is critical for Christians. Without this crucial event, one can only wonder if Jesus’ teaching would have faded into obscurity or if Christianity might have morphed into a Jewish sect.

In addition, one can also recognize in these events a characteristic that has become fundamental for Christian churches and their members — that is to be witnesses of Christ to the world, i.e., to speak about him and his teaching. This witnessing has served to spread the teaching of Jesus Christ. Another effect of witnessing is that if one is to speak about his or her faith, one must grow in his or her understanding thereof. Pentecost was, in effect, the “coming out” for Christianity and, thereby, is of critical importance to Christians.

The Rev. Andrew D. Cadieux

St. John The Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, Blue Point

Pentecost is fundamental within the life of the Church. Without it, the faith of the apostles would have withered away. This holy day rejoices that the church that Christ founded is able to transcend earthly barriers to proclaim the Gospel throughout the world.

Pentecost is a Judaic feast celebrating the first fruits of harvest, and it is celebrated 50 days after Pascha (Easter). It commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire, transforming the disciples into apostles.

In the Orthodox Church, when we are baptized we also receive the sacrament of Chrismation which is a sign of the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Preaching the Gospel enlivens and actualizes this seal. The apostles actualized their gift of the Holy Spirit by preaching the Gospel throughout the world; of specific note, St. Peter preached in Asia Minor and Italy, St. Thomas in India and Persia, and so forth. Pentecost is a religious remembrance that all Christians are called upon to preach the Word of God.

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