The altars were prepared. The calf was sacrificed. The servants of Baal chanted from morning to noon, calling their god to pour fire from heaven. Nothing happened. Elijah taunted them, crying, “Shout louder! Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping.” The heathens prayed more fervently, but nothing happened still. Finally, Elijah took his stand. “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.” Again, and again, they doused the altar with water. Elijah prayed to the God of Abraham, and fire rained down. The sacrifice, wood, stones, and soil together burned to ashes. This is the fire of the true God, which is lit today on Pentecost.
The disciples were gathered under one roof when the fire came.
“Suddenly a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:1-4).
Why celebrate Pentecost Day? The Church holds this feast in the highest honor. It is the triumph of the year, second only to Pascha. Historically, Christians celebrated Pentecost with an enthusiasm that we can hardly imagine. Why? Because Pentecost marks the moment when fire was lit in the human soul.
The scriptures describe God as consuming fire (Deut. 4:24). When He appeared to Moses, He came as a blazing fire in a bush (Ex. 3:2-3). He led the Jews from captivity as a pillar of fire (Ex. 13:21). Taken up in a vision, Daniel records, “[God’s] throne was ablaze with flames, its wheels were a burning fire.” God is the essence of energy and dynamism. He is life itself.
Pentecost marks a day when that life is poured into humanity. Long ago, Isaiah prophesized about Pentecost. He wrote, “And the light of Israel shall be as a fire, and the holy One thereof as a flame” (Is. 10:17). The “Holy One” is clearly Christ. Fully God and fully man, he sits enthroned in paradise. Yet, now Israel too is called a fire. The Holy Church is born. That same vitality and life, the fire of God, is given to us in Christ.
Without the Holy Spirit, we are dead men. We are like Philistines beating their drums for nothing. All our technology, our IPhones, our righteousness and morality, are useless. Everything dies and turns to dust. With the Holy Spirit, everything is different. We have life.
St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “The manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all. For to one is given the word of Wisdom…to another the word of knowledge…to another faith…to another gifts of healing…to another the working of miracles…” (1 Cor. 12: 7-8)
In similar words, St. Augustine explains: “If you wish to have the Holy Spirit, attend to what I say…Consider what the soul does within the body. It gives life to all the members. It sees through the eyes, hears through the ears, smells through the nostrils, speaks by the tongue…Such is the Church of God. In some of its saints it works miracles, in others of the saints it utters truth…What the soul does in all the members of one body, this the Holy Spirit does through the Church.”
When we feel useless, we have to remember these words. When we feel like a deadweight or unable to do anything good, we have to come back to Pentecost. As members of the Body of Christ, God has given all of us the gifts we need to do His work. Regardless of sex, age, or health, regardless of mental sharpness or simplicity, the Holy Spirit has equipped each of us with the gift needed to play a part in God’s holy kingdom.
Elijah took a stand against the world. On one level, the contest around the altar looks like a bunch of men flexing muscles; a religious arm-wrestling competition, of sorts. Yet, on a deeper level, everything hinged on it. It was a foreshadowing of the entire gospel. Whose god is real? Whose god is power?
The worshippers of Baal were upstanding citizens of their times. They were the establishment, the Dicks and Janes of the 9th century BC. Who is Baal? Pick up your newspaper or surf the web. Call it what you want, consumerism, liberalism, progressivism, or Baal. It is all the same. When Elijah challenged the heathens, he stood on behalf of all of us who struggle to live a Christian life in the 21st century. He pulled down the mask of Baal and showed it for what it is: a sham. Elijah stepped up and called to the Christian God. The fire fell down from heaven to remind us, once and for all, where is true life.
We too must stand against the world. This is the message of Pentecost Day. For all its show and noise, the world has nothing but lies. It is infertile, useless, and dead. We, on the other hand can make a difference. Equipped with the Holy Spirit, each man and woman in the Church has everything needed for God’s work. We have the Holy Spirit. May God give us the strength to listen and follow.