It is in a way providential that the Feast of Pentecost arrives this year just as our country is going through a convulsive social crisis. For the Holy Spirit, whose coming we celebrate on Pentecost, is a power meant to transform the world, or in the language of Psalm 104, “to renew the face of the earth.” Pentecost, accordingly, is never simply for the Church; it is for the world by means of the Church.
One of the principal biblical metaphors for the Spirit is the wind, and indeed, on Pentecost morning, the Apostles heard what sounded like a strong driving wind as the Spirit arrived. But the wind, elusive and unpredictable, is never really known in itself, but only through its effects. On the scriptural reading, the first effect of the Holy Spirit is the formation of an ekklesia (a church), which in turn is designed to transform the wider society into the Spirit’s image. In the words of the Nicene Creed—accepted by Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christians—this ekklesia is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.” The wind of the Holy Spirit produces these qualities, and therefore, it is by them that the Spirit’s action is discerned. So let us analyze them one by one.
The Acts of the Apostles gives us the great icon for the unity of the Church in the picture of the Apostles gathered in prayer in one place with the Virgin Mary on Pentecost morning. The Holy Spirit is nothing other than the love that connects the Father and the Son, which explains why one of his great titles in the tradition is vinculum amoris (chain of love). Thus the Spirit draws all of the followers of Jesus together in unity. This is not an oppressive or imperialistic oneness, for indeed there is a marvelous variety of personalities, theological schools, and pastoral emphases in the Christian community. But in essentials, the community of Jesus is meant to be united, and in that unity to find its power to unify the world. Origen of Alexandria said “ubi divisio ibi peccatum” (where there is division, there is sin). Consequently, the Church’s missionary task is to overcome division, wherever it might be found. The night before he died, Jesus prayed “that they might be one, as you, Father, and I are one” (John 17:22). In this prayer, he intended not just the Church to become one, but the world by means of the Church.