ON THE GLORIOUS COMING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT – NERSESS OF LAMBRON

An excerpt from a homily by Nersess of Lambron (Ներսես Լամբրոնացի) on the events of the Day of Pentecost, translated by Abraham Terian, Professor Emeritus of Armenian Theology at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary. Nersess of Lambron was born in 1153, the son of Shahandookht, the niece of St. Nersess Shnorhali (Catholicos 1166-1173) and Oshin II Lord of Lambron (ca. 1125-1170). He became Bishop of Tarsus in 1175, an office he held until his death in 1198. The full homily is found in the Ճաշոց Գիրք, the liturgical book of the Armenian Church which contains the Bible texts appointed to be read each day of the liturgical year, as well as liturgical texts and instructions, calendrical information, and some patristic festal homilies. The Day of Pentecost launched a global mission to spread Christianity, with Sts. Thaddeus and Bartholomew reaching Armenia. According to Nerses of Lambron, the role of the Holy Spirit is to comfort us in our adverse life, distribute wisdom and faith, strengthen us against temptations, turn our suspicion to firm faith, and enlighten the eyes of our hearts so we may recognize the hope of our calling, and the breadth of Christ’s love.

For it says: “When the days of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one accord. Suddenly a sound of a mighty wind came from heaven and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them separate tongues as of fire and rested on each of them, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in various tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to speak” (Acts 2:1-4). “They were all together,” it says, to show that they were not only the Twelve but also the Virgin Bearer of God together with the women who ministered to Jesus in Galilee and who became eyewitnesses to the Resurrection. Also with them was the band of the Seventy together with their acquaintances. Now, the Holy Spirit came upon them according to Christ’s earlier promise that says: “Behold, I shall send you the Good News of my Father. Stay in the city of Jerusalem until you put on the strength from heaven” (1:4).

He hit with the sound of wind, like thunder, to demonstrate the power of the current over them. Moreover, He is the same Spirit who at the beginning was moving upon the waters who (now) filled the house with intelligible power together with the sense-perceptible token of fire, astonishing those of childish minds. Then, from that very fire individual tongues devolved and rested on each of them, which signified the granting of the gift of speaking in diverse languages. Thus, when visible fiery tongues rested on their sense-perceiving bodies, their minds were made wise with an intelligible power and they began to move their tongues in various dialects. It is for this reason that it says “and they began to speak in various tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to speak” (Acts 2:4). Not that the gift of speaking in tongues is something superior, but because they had no other means at their disposal to proclaim the grace that empowered them. Thus, when they were speaking in diverse languages, the entire city mob, amazed, surrounded them. Wherefore it says: “The entire mixed multitude gathered together, and they all were amazed with astonishment” (2:6), while others upon seeing that incomprehensible transformation said with scorn, “they are drunk” (2:13).

Now, to make the reality of this gift comprehensible to all, we must point out that the descent of the Spirit on them did not (quite) constitute Christ’s promise; it only granted the gift of (speaking in) tongues. For Jesus did not say that “the Spirit will make you speak in tongues,” but that “He will teach and remind you all that I have told you” (John 14:26). But had they received the latter gift first, they would not have been able to attract to themselves the crowd that has now come to see them speak in diverse languages and to admire them. For this reason, the All-wise baffled them first with amazing transformations, like when children are entertained at a banquet. “What is this?” they said, “Galilean men, mere peasants and laborers of yesterday, today are as eloquent as the wise Greeks, and others respond to them in diverse Parthian dialects! Peter, who was born in Capernaum, we hear him speak boldly in the language of the Romans. Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, is punctuating his speech with the language of the Arabs. John, who was raised in Nazareth, how is he questioning us in the language of the Cilicians?” They listen as Thomas reminds them in the language of the Ethiopians of the sayings of the prophets. “Look at dull Thaddeus, how he arranges his speech with the words of Greater Armenia! As though Bartholomew was born as a child in the land of the Medes, he utters their speech! What a wonder! We who were born in foreign lands became familiar with these languages with great difficulty; but they, who had never seen these cities, speak their languages with ease.” They went on to say: “This amazing miracle is (truly) great; but as to where it will lead finally, we cannot envisage.”

Let us pray, bowing down before Him. O Holy Spirit, God, from God and Restorer of all things: The brave Shepherd entrusted His flock to your care and keeping and spread your rays eternally in His Church. Our tongues move by you, to offer you sacrifices of praise. We were appointed as stewards for the administration of your gifts. We all plead with you in unison and speak with you boldly, we the children born of the pangs of your womb. Do not draw back from your flock because of the stench of its abominable sins; do not grieve because of its unbecoming words; but be reconciled with us to the very end, and lead us to your heavenly altars. O Lord, keep us – who were banished into a place of exile – fortified against the piercing arrows of enemies. We do not possess the strength necessary in the arena of perseverance. We therefore ask with sighs that you lead us not into the temptations of the evil tyrant. Give us who are thirsty from the intoxicating wine of your love served today in this sacred Upper-room, so that we may be comforted in these our distressing misfortunes by resorting to the hope of the life to come. O benevolent Holy Spirit, my God, Spirit of meekness, please smell with love this aroma of praise offered to you by your own. And in unison we praise you with the Father and the Son in your eternal existence – without end. Amen.