Holy Pentecost: E Pluribus Unum


Kontakion for Pentecost

When the most High came down & confused the tongues, He divided the nations; but when He distributed the tongues of fire He called all to unity. Therefore, with one voice, we glorify the All-holy Spirit!

From the Canon of Pentecost:

When the disciples spoke, strange things were heard: things foreign to the laws of nature! Speaking with one voice, by the grace of the Spirit, different peoples, tribes & nations heard of the wonders of God, learning of the Trinity!           

This Sunday the Orthodox East celebrates Holy Pentecost, the coming of the Paraclete—the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth—as promised by Christ (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13, Acts 1:4-5). Sunday is also known as Holy Trinity Sunday in which the full revelation & salvific work of the Holy Trinity is celebrated; work which fulfilled & transcended the Old Testament Feast of Weeks or Pentecost meaning 50th. For this reason Christians consider this day to be the birth of the Church. The descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles in cloven tongues of fire enlightened their understanding as it filled them with wisdom, power & grace to fulfill the Great Commission as Christ ordained (Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:15, & Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit thus equipped “the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12) with the necessary spiritual tools with the gift of speaking in tongues being but one manifestation of those tools (1 Cor 12:4-11).

E Pluribus Unum (Latin: Out of Many, One)

One thing that I love about Orthodoxy is the depth of the Orthodox Faith & how the Church through the Church Fathers in their writings & their hymnody formulates connections between the Holy Scriptures that either I have not noticed or not known previously. St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom & St. Gregory Nazianzus link the uniting of languages through the gift of tongues of Pentecost (Acts 2) to the confusion of languages of the tower of Babel (Gen 11).

“Recollect that tower of proud men made after the deluge…In pride they were thinking themselves to be fortified, they builded up a lofty tower, & the Lord divided the tongues of them. Then they began not to understand one another; hence arose the beginning of many tongues. For before, one tongue there was: but one tongue for men agreeing was good, one tongue for humble men was good: but when that gathering together did into a union of pride fall headlong, God spared them; even though He divided the tongues, lest by understanding one another they should make a destructive unity. Through proud men, divided were the tongues; through humble Apostles, united were the tongues. Spirit of pride dispersed tongues, Spirit Holy united tongues. For when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, with the tongues of all men they spake, by all men they were understood: tongues dispersed, into one were united. Therefore if still they rage & are Gentiles, it is expedient for them divided to have their tongues. They would have one tongue; let them come to the Church; because even among the diversity of tongues of flesh, one is the tongue in faith of heart.”

St. Augustine, NPNF, 1st Series, Vol. VIII, pg. 213

“And as in the time of building the tower the one tongue was divided into many; so then the many tongues frequently met in one man, & the same person used to discourse both in the Persian, & the Roman, & the Indian, & many other tongues, the Spirit sounding within him: & the gift was called the gift of tongues because he could all at once speak divers languages.”

St. John Chrysostom, NPNF, 1st Series, Vol. XII, pg. 209

I have been to Babylon (Iraq in our modern day). During the first Gulf War I had the fortunate opportunity to visit the ruins at the archaeological site of the biblical city of Ur of the Chaldeans from where God called out Abraham (Gen 12).The pictures are not mine, but have been taken by my fellow U.S. military comrades-in-arms. I have climbed the steps pictured on the right & taken in the view on the left. I could sense the antiquity & historicity of that ancient land as well as its proud peoples. One does not get this same sense when travelling across America, or at least I do not. Our nation is just still too new as of yet. The ancient tower shown is not that written of in Genesis; the original long ago was destroyed & never rebuilt despite the egotistical desires of many still proud leaders throughout history from Alexander the Great to Saddam Hussein.

It was a personal awareness for me as I climbed those steps dating back to ancient Babylon & witnessed the vast landscape of modern Iraq of the words, “Come, let us build ourselves a city & a tower, whose top will reach to heaven…” My experiences in the land of Babylon itself as well as the Babylon of my life before my Chrismation, also personally make me very aware of the import of the descent of the one Holy Spirit at that first Pentecost made eternally present through my own “personal” Pentecost via Chrismation into that Church which delivered (& continues to deliver) me from my own “personal” Babylon. O Comforter, one in essence & enthroned with the Father & the Son, glory to You!

From the Vespers Service for Pentecost:

The arrogance of building the tower in the days of old led to the confusion of tongues. Now the glory of the knowledge of God brings them wisdom. There God condemned the impious for their transgression. Here Christ has enlightened the fishermen by the Spirit. There disharmony was brought about for punishment. Now harmony is renewed for the salvation of our souls.

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