A Homily for Pentecost
by Bishop Steven Marshall
Pentecost is a very important feast day in our Gnostic liturgical calendar. It commemorates the promised coming of the Holy Spirit to the Disciples, which was predicted by Jesus prior to his mystical death and resurrection. The mythic cycle of the liturgical year seems to come to an end at Pentecost, yet, for the Gnostic, it is the beginning of the true spiritual mission of the Christos. The Pistis Sophia describes twelve years of activity by the Logos among the disciples after the Ascension. It also describes the Apostleship of Mary Magdalen and the mythic cycle of the feminine power represented in the descent, suffering and assumption of Sophia.
Pentecost with the insertion of the Trinity season begins an entire half of the year, representing the mythic cycle of the feminine aspect of God, the season of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost, like Advent, is a beginning, the beginning of a new level of spiritual activity in our archetypal life. The Holy Spirit, like a great wind, blows into our spiritual life with something new, unexpected, and, even if somewhat unsettling, yet as a consoler and comforter that is not of this world.
The Gospel of St. Matthew states quite accurately “The Spirit bloweth where it listeth.” We cannot constrain the Holy Spirit into artificially created, ego-designed vessels. It does not matter how politically correct or psychologically comfortable they may be; it just doesn’t work. The wisdom of the Spirit suggests an entirely different value system than that of the material and ordinary world. The 8th Ode of Solomon gives a speech from the Holy Spirit to humanity. “Your flesh may not understand that which I am about to say to you; nor your garment that which I am about to show you.” The Holy Spirit requires a vessel for its manifestation, but it is not a worldly vessel or garment; it is a vessel of consciousness. The Gospel of St. John calls Her “the Spirit of Truth whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Her not, neither knoweth Her; but ye know Her, for she dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” The world cannot receive Her because it cannot see Her, because it is not conscious of Her. In order to know Her indwelling we must acknowledge Her, become conscious of Her, feel Her presence, see Her, and finally hear Her. The Holy Prophet Mani was such a vessel; even his name means “vessel.” Mani received the visit of his Light Twin whom he recognized as the Paraclete, the promised Comforter, three times during his earthly life. In this instance, the coming of the Holy Spirit is a direct mystical experience of a transcendent reality. The inscrutability and timelessness of the Holy is expressed by the holy prophet Mani by comparing the timelessness of the Spirit as even beyond the task of counting all the grains of the dust of the earth:
“Know that the grains of the dust of the earth can be measured, one can count the grains of the dust of the earth year after year; but the length of time the Holy Spirit passed with the Father, that one cannot count.” (Kephalaia of the Paraclete)
The coming of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles was not something that came and went in History; it is a present and timeless, spiritual reality. Jesus knew of his impending death and told his disciples of the Comforter, who would come after him. He told them to expect the coming of the Holy Spirit which would abide with us forever, who “…shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” Our Teacher of Gnosis is still here. Her voice remains to teach, to guide, to care for us, and to comfort us.
The Kephalaia of the Paraclete by the holy prophet Mani describes how the Holy Spirit not only looks after the sparks of light on earth, but all of the aeons of the light:
“He first formed her in his inner chambers in quiet and in silence; but when she was needed, than was she called and came forth from the father of greatness; she looked after all the aeons of the light.”
In the Gospel of St. John, Jesus reiterates to the disciples the timeless and unworldly nature of the Holy Spirit:
“Jesus said unto his disciples: I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, the she may abide with you forever… Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.”
To know the event of Pentecost as an immanent and interior reality is the goal towards which the Gnostic’s striving is always directed. If we are to know this other Comforter, we must somehow come to the place in spirit where we can reach out and touch this timelessness and transcendence; we must pass over to a non-ordinary state of consciousness and perception.
Pentecost comes from an Israelite harvest festival called the “feast of weeks,” which occurred 50 days (seven weeks) following the Passover. It was a feast prepared from the first fruits of the grain in the form of leavened bread. The leavened as opposed to unleavened bread is symbolic of the power of the Holy Spirit, for the leavening that fills the dough with air and makes it rise has been long regarded as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. The Gospel of Thomas makes such a comparison between leavening and the Holy Spirit. “Jesus said: The Kingdom of the Father is like a woman, who has taken a little leaven and has hidden it in dough and has made large loaves of it.” Here the Holy Spirit is associated with the Kingdom and the feminine task of making bread.
The Coming of the Holy Spirit signifies a recognition, a knowing of the feminine aspect of God. The Holy Prophet Mani also describes the Holy Spirit as a feminine image:
“The fount of every blessing and all the invocations is the mother of life, the first Holy Spirit, the first mother who has come forth from the Father and first appeared, the glorious one who is the beginning of all emanations that have come to this world.” (Kephalaia of the Paraclete)
Jewish Christians known as the Ebionites called the Holy Spirit “The Lady,” and described her as the real Mother of Jesus. They prayed to her as God, but called her an Angel because they experienced her personality so strongly and so personally. The Holy Spirit, as the Mother of Jesus occurs in many places in Gnostic literature. “Even so did my Mother, the Holy Spirit, take me by one of my hairs and carry me away to Mt. tabor.” (Gospel of the Hebrews) In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says, “My mother gave me a body, but my true Mother (the Holy Spirit) gave me life.” As we begin to contact transcendent reality, the feminine image of Deity is almost always the first to be experienced, often as an interior vision and voice.
In the Christian mythos the festival of Pentecost commemorates the descent of the fire of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. Two principle symbols appear here. The first is the tongue of flame. Shin, the name of the Hebrew letter corresponding to Fire and Spirit, means tooth and also tongue of flame. The addition of the letter Shin (the Holy Spirit) to the name Jehovah (YHVH) reveals the mystery of the Spirit in the qabbalistic name of Jesus, YHShVH. In this fashion, the name of Jesus represents the healing of the deficient and unregenerate Demiurge Jehovah (YHVH) by the addition of the missing feminine aspect of deity, the Holy Spirit. The second image in this description of Pentecost is the speaking “in tongues.” This is not described as the babbling of jibberish, but as recognizable languages, symbolizing a speech that was miraculously understandable to everyone regardless of their language: symbolically, a healing of the division symbolized by the division of languages in the story of the Tower of Babel. This “speaking in tongues” suggests a phenomenon of communication associated with experiences of an otherworldly and transcendent reality, yet on a mass scale.
This phenomenon comes about also through the coming together of the feminine and masculine potencies of the Trinity. While the Logos is the Word, the Holy Spirit is the breath that gives it its utterance, that gives it a voice. Whereas the Logos (the Word) is symbolic of the masculine polarity, the voice of the Holy Spirit is feminine. In Qabbalah, this voice, like the Holy Spirit, is represented by a dove, and is called Bath Qol, “the Daughter of the Voice.î” In the Song of Solomon she is the “voice of the dove… heard again in our land.” In the Jewish Targum she is called the “Voice of the Holy Spirit of Salvation.”
The recognition of the Holy Spirit is an essential step to the restoration of the Kingdom of Heaven, the descent of the New Jerusalem, the Kingdom which is spread out upon the earth but cannot be seen by the eyes of the world. As stated in the Gospel of Thomas, “Jesus said: It (the Kingdom) will not come by expectation; they will not say: ‘See here’, or: ‘See there’. But the Kingdom of the Father is spread upon the earth and men do not see it.” In late versions of the Gospel of Luke, the portion of the Lord’s Prayer which reads “thy Kingdom come,” is translated as “Thy Holy Spirit come and cleanse us.” The Kingdom of Heaven is the manifestation in a greater consciousness of the Holy Spirit on earth.
In Qabbalah, the Kingdom is referred to the sphere of Malkuth, which is also titled Shekinah, Matrona and Bride, the Kingdom adorned as a Bride as written in the Revelation of St. John the Divine. In Qabbalistic teachings, the Shekinah is a feminine symbol of the immanent presence of God on earth. Followers of Valentinus called the Holy Spirit, “this Holy Earth,” “Mother,” and “Jerusalem.” In the Gospel of St. John, Jesus tells the disciples of the Holy Spirit that will come in his name and shall bring all things to their remembrance. Remembering the teaching of the Word and the role of the Holy Spirit in giving it a voice gives the Holy Spirit with Her title of “Jerusalem” remarkable meaning. It refers Jerusalem to that spiritual Kingdom of Light, which has been called the New Jerusalem, and which the Gnostics consider their true origin and home. The verse of the 137th Psalm, which is included in our Gnostic Ordination to Cleric reads, “If I forget Thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I remember not Jerusalem above my highest Joy.”
Jerusalem is not for us an earthly city but the celestial City, the Kingdom of Light, our true home among the Aeons of the Light. The Holy City is the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, the coming of the Heavenly City to dwell in our hearts in greater consciousness. Quispel translates Jerusalem as the “Kingdom of Peace.” Such a “Kingdom of Peace” is the Rest, the Repose that the Gnostics used as a metaphor for the Fullness of the Pleroma where all of the warring dualities and opposites are transcended and resolved into a “single one.” Dr Carl Jung, in his treatise on the Trinity, makes a case for the recognition of the feminine aspect of God as the completion and final individuation of the Trinity of God. Therefore, the coming of the Holy Spirit, as an immanent reality in the Gnostic soul, represents not just a beginning but the culmination of Gnosis, both the beginning and the end.
The recognition of the feminine aspect of the Godhead is not a political fancy but a spiritual necessity; our own wholeness as spiritual beings, even the wholeness of God, depends on it. And so we remember this day in honor of the Holy Female Power in every place, who is the Mother of Christ in every heart, and the “wholeness upon which the universe is erected and destroyed.” We, as Gnostics, seek not a political and worldly kingdom on earth but a spiritual kingdom of an interior and transcendent reality that is the manifestation of the Holy Spirit within us. May the Voice of the Holy Spirit guide us on our quest to the Light of the Divine Soul within, comfort us in our travails in the world and restore within us the Kingdom of this Holy Earth within which we “live and move and have our being.” Amen.
Steven Marshall is the Bishop of Queen of Heaven Gnostic Church, a parish of the Ecclesia Gnostica in Portland, Oregon.