As we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, we remember the power which the apostles received when the Holy Spirit descended upon them, fulfilling our Lord’s promise to them that, “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
This power, which the disciples received on the Day of Pentecost, is clearly seen in the Book of Acts where it is written that after the Day of Pentecost, St. Peter stood courageously and powerfully witnessed to his Teacher and Savior infront of all the Jews, telling them, “Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:36) This was the same Peter, who in the past was fearful and trembling, denying his Master in front of a servant girl. Afterwards, we find him strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. By the power of the Holy Spirit, he attracted three thousand souls to believe in Christ, and they were baptized.
The disciples, who were previously fearful and gathered with the doors shut, because of fear from the Jews, and who doubted and didn’t believe the news about Christ’s resurrection, became strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. By the power of the Holy Spirit within them, the apostles witnessed to our Lord Jesus Christ’s resurrection and great grace was upon all of them (Acts 4:33).
The Holy Spirit, the spirit of power, (Is. 11:2) changed the apostles from a small weak group, who argued among themselves as to who was the greatest amongst them, into a strong group, which had one heart and one soul (Acts 4:32). By the power of the Holy Spirit, they changed from a group shaken in their faith to a strong group, whose members performed many signs and wonders among the people (Acts 5:12).
The apostles, who were not able to stay awake with Christ for one hour in Gethsemane, became, by the power of the Holy Spirit, not fearful of the high priest and all the Jewish elders. They were not afraid of their threats and command not to teach in the name of Jesus Christ. Instead, they answered them, “We ought to obey God rather men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.” (Acts 5:29-31)
After the Pharisees have beaten the apostles, commanding them not to speak in the name of Jesus, they released them, and the apostles were joyful that they suffered for the name of Christ and continued in their ministry and witnessed to Christ everywhere. “So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” (Acts 5:41-42)
The Holy Spirit is the spirit of power and many were strong in the Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit. St. Stephen, the first deacon was “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, did great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:51) When some from the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia) disputed with him, they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke (Acts 6:9-19).
St. Paul was strong by the power of the Holy Spirit and in his preaching, he did not depend on human wisdom, but rather on the power of the Holy Spirit. He said, “And my speech and my preaching were not with human wisdom, but in demonstration of the spirit and of power that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Cor. 2:4-5)
St. John the Baptist was strong in the Lord and went in the spirit and power of Elijah (Lk. 1:17), because he was filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb. Therefore, his ministry was strong and inflamed (kindled) by the fire of the Spirit. In a few months, he was able to prepare the way for Christ and “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Lk. 1:17)
David the prophet was strong in the Lord and faced Goliath while he was a youth. By the power of the Holy Spirit, he was able to silence the one who disgraced Israel. (1 Sam. 17)
Moses the prophet, when he was 80 years old, was strong in the Lord, and by the power of the Holy Spirit led the stiff-necked Israelites through the wilderness for 40 years.
Daniel the prophet and the three youth were strong in the Lord. They refused to defile themselves neither with the king’s delicacies nor with the wine. Therefore, the Lord gave them health and wisdom more than all the other young men. The three youth refused to bow down to worship the king’s golden image and were strong in the Lord. Therefore, the fire did not harm them, because the fiery power of the Holy Spirit kept them safe from harm.
All the martyrs: males, females, and children were strong in the Lord in the power of His might. Therefore, they did not fear torture. Instead, they powerfully witnessed to Christ and their injured bodies conquered the tools of torture. Their blood became the seeds of the Church.
The heroes of faith such as St. Athanasius, St. Cyril the Great, and St. Dioscorus were strong in the Lord and stood against the heretics and the deviations in the faith. Thus, they were able to preserve for us the Orthodox faith.
St. Anthony, St. Macarius, St. Pachomius, St Shenouda, as well as others of the desert fathers were strong in the Lord and became vessels for the Holy Spirit. They lived in the desert and wilderness and presented to us living examples of a life of purity, asceticism, and holiness.
Our Need to Be Strong in the Lord
As we look at our own spiritual lives and find ourselves defeated by the temptations and passions of the world, we ask the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of power, to give us the power of purity and asceticism to live as our holy fathers lived.
As we hear of divisions and schism between the Christians and even within the same church, we ask that the Holy Spirit unite us and give us the power to be of one accord in spirit and heart.
Nowadays, we are flooded by different heresies, and there are strong attacks against our Christian faith by member of other religions and even by heretics within Christianity. We ask that the Holy Spirit give us wisdom and the ability to defend our precious faith and not fear the winds of doubts and religious fights. Instead, let us look up to the heroes of faith such as St. Athanasius, who by the power of the Holy Spirit, was able to stand against the world, defending the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As we see that our ministry is weak, even amongst our own congregations, while the other religions are spreading and adding new members daily, let us not fear or tremble, but become strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. We ask Him to give us the spirit of courage to preach and witness to God’s salvation in front of everyone as our fathers the apostles did. In a few years, they were able to bring Christianity to Asia, Africa, and Europe.
We should not be saddened by our past and our weaknesses, but become strong in the Lord, remembering the Lord’s promise, “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with the wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint.” (Is. 40:31)
On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the Church with might, “Suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of rushing mighty wind…Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire.” (Acts 2:2-3) The Holy Spirit is fiery and can strengthen our weak nature. Therefore, let us not be sad, because of our weaknesses, since we don’t depend on our human nature, but we are strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.
To encourage every weak and fearful soul, I end this article with a quotation from the writings of H.H. Pope Shenouda. “Let us take the lighted coal as an example. Coal by its nature is black and cold. But when it is lighted, its nature changes. It becomes a red ember. Ask yourself: Did the Holy Spirit enflame your black coal? By becoming inflamed, you can joyfully say, “I am dark but lovely.” (Song of Solomon 1:5) the Holy fire has made me an emblem and transfiguration has penetrated my nature giving me heat, brightness, and light that I may forget my first coal nature and become as a fire.”