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Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Fire of Pentecost in Orthodoxy

No one, of course, can describe the fire that fell on the Apostles at Holy Pentecost. At most we are told that the Spirit appeared “like tongues of flame lighting upon the heads of the Apostles.” Not much a description. Other times in Scripture we are told of a Pillar of Fire and of the bush that burned but was not consumed. Again, this is very little information.
To this day, there occurs a miracle of fire at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The Orthodox Patriarch, having been searched by the authorities, enters the Tomb of Christ with an unlit torch of candles. He prays. Year after year he has dones so, and year after year emerges with what in Orthodoxy is known as “The Holy Fire.” It seems to have the odd property of not burning people (at least at first). Video’s (I’ve included one here) show the enthusiasm of the crowd (it seems to have a distinct Middle Eastern flavor – imagine that). This one includes some shots of people virtually “bathing” in the flame.
Of course this has gone on for centuries with little fanfare, at least in comparison to the fanfare most Christians are used to in our modern world. But the fire continues. For those interested here is a youtube of the event from last Pascha:
Of greater interest to me (my faith in Christ’s resurrection from the dead has nothing to do with the nature of the phenomenon of the Holy Fire), is the fire spoken of by the Desert Fathers, when we are urged to become flame.
Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, ‘Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’ then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.’
 This fire can consume our passions, consume our hearts with the love of God. It can consume our desire for worldly things and set us on the path of salvation. There is a fire that can be ours – and burn endlessly without consuming. But there will be no advertisements or movements which shout to us, “Come to this city or that city and experience the Holy Fire.” Indeed bathing in the Holy Fire in Jerusalmen will not change your life. Like all fire that changes us, only the fire of ascetism and true yearning for God will change us. And then we will shine like the sun. 
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor. 4:6)
This is the great miracle for which our heart yearns – to know in our inmost self that God has become man, and in turn has called us to union with Himself. Anything less would be nothingness.
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