The true nature of the Church is revealed at Pentecost. The Church is totally Christ centered and it is through our relationship with Christ that we are united with Him forever. How is it then that the decent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost reveals the true nature of the Church?
Fr. Staniloae writes,
Our salvation is achieved only through Christ, who comes to dwell within us with the body He bore––a body that has risen, ascended, and been made fully spiritual, that is, has been filled with the Holy Spirit and thus has become totally transparent.
Christ had been made fully spiritual, which means He is filled with the Holy Spirit. His body is no longer physical, but spiritual and transparent. He now works through us by the Holy Spirit. He dwells within us mystically.
His indwelling in each of us is what produces the Church. The Greek word is "ekklecia," or gathering. The Church is the gathering of those who have within them Christ Himself. It is through the Church that we received this indwelling at our Baptism. The Church is where the Holy Spirit works for our salvation given to us through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. We can think of this as a process initiated by God involving the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension and then the formation of the Church. His Body and the seed of our resurrection is planted in believers during our baptism and we are then are nurtured spiritually by our ongoing cooperation with Christ in His Holy Church.
This is quite a different view than found in most Protestant churches. There the emphasis is on the Word of God and not on the indwelling of Christ. The role of the Holy Spirit is minimized and the church is simply an assembly hall where prayers are given and people hear a lecture on the Holy Scripture. For Orthodox Christians the physical place where the faithful gather is seen as a holy place, a place where the Holy Spirit is very much present and where it actively works through the sacraments offered to the faithful during each service.
The descent of the Holy Spirit gives the Church it’s purpose and existence and initiates the indwelling of the resurrected Body of Christ in us. Through the Holy Spirit we attain this indwelling and therefore the Church. It is through the descent of the Holy Spirit that came at Pentecost that Christ is able to work through us, that we are able to be in an intimate relationship with Him, enabling us to do His will and to act with love towards others.
It was at Pentecost that the Holy Spirit first shone forth from human beings. On this day Christ sent the Holy Spirit as he promised the Apostles. It descended on them, filling them with Christ’s glory, making them the first members of the Church. After the descent they were filled with Christ and His powers were extended to them. They were able to now go to all nations without fear and spread the Good News, baptizing thousands and growing the Church.
The Holy Spirit is one with the Father and the Son. It must always be considered as the Spirit of Christ. It is not something that should ever be thought of as separate from Christ. God is three persons in One. Where one is you will find the others. Being different persons they act with perfect knowledge of each other and exist in perfect love.
Fr. Staniloae says,
The image of Christ in heaven and of the Holly Spirit in the Church is false, because such a vision does not take the Trinitarian Persons’ unity seriously. This in turn leads to either rationalism or to sentimentalism, or even to both.
It is through the Holy Spirit that Christ penetrates our hearts. The Holy Spirit works to form us progressively into the image of the Son. As we acquire the Holy Spirit in our sacramental life in the Church, Christ imprints Himself more clearly in us, nurtures our love for Him, leading us to follow His will. It is by the Spirit that Christ becomes more evident to us and we receive more and more of His powers. With Him present with us the Holy Spirit penetrates us with His full presence.
It is the miracle of Pentecost that Christ descends for the first time into human hearts. The Church is created and is now maintained by Christ through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is continually available for our benefit in the Church. Through Spirit we are united with Him. The Church is therefore necessary for our salvation.
Fr. Staniloae writes,
The work of salvation, whose foundation was laid in Christ’s human nature, is being fulfilled in the form of the Church, which is our union with God and among ourselves. Only within the harmony between human beings in God is it shown that they have abandoned egoism as a general image of sin, or of their confinement in themselves as narrow monads. That is why the state of salvation is equivalent to belonging to the Church, or to the gathering of those who are saved into the Church with their common participation in the Body that Christ raised up––beyond any self-preoccupation––to the sacrificial state that was made permanent in Him.
On this day of Pentecost we can renew our spiritual understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit. Let us remember to seek Christ within us, not just as a figure described in the Scripture. We need to purify our hearts so that the Holy Spirit and God’s grace can work through us and we can become more and more like Christ. We need to remember the importance of the sacraments of the Church, especially Holy Communion where through the Holy Spirit we are able partake of the Body and Blood of Christ regularly to give us renewed spiritual strength so we can live as He taught us. Let's remember to give thanks for all Christ does for us through the Holy Spirit. Pray for the Holy Spirit to act within you.
Saint Seraphim of Sarov writes,
Acquiring the Spirit of God is the true aim of our Christian life, while prayer, fasting, almsgiving and other good works done for Christ's sake are merely means for acquiring the Spirit of God.
Reference:The Experience of God by Dimitru Staniloae. Vol 4, pp 1--11