A translation from a portion of John Chrysostom’s On the Holy Pentecost as it relates to the miraculous event of Pentecost found in the Book of Acts.
As translated from the Greek: Εἰς τὴν Ἁγίαν Πεντηκοστήν by S. Joannis Chrysostomi. MPG Vol. 50, Col. 458 – 461. Homily 1:4(b) — 5. Translation by Charles A. Sullivan.
4(b). Therefore why does it say that such a sign does not happen now? Keep your attention with me along with important details here. For I hear from many, continually and always seeking this question. Why then were all those speaking in languages at that time, and now no longer? We must first learn in this instance what is the act of speaking in languages and then we will discuss the case as well. Therefore, what does it mean to speak in languages? The person in the process of being baptized immediately was uttering in the sound of the Indians, Egyptians, Persians, Scythians, and Thracians — one man was taking on many languages. And indeed if these ones back then had been baptized now, then you are to immediately hear at that moment these uttering in different sounds. Additionally, with Paul, it says [in Scripture], since he found some who were baptized in the baptism of John, he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.””1 And he immediately urged them to be baptized. “And when Paul lays his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they were speaking in all languages.”2
Why then had the gift been limited, and now this has been removed from mankind? Do you see that the manifestation of signs which has been withdrawn is not a feature of God dishonoring but of Him exceedingly honoring us? How? I am going to relate. Men were disposed to a most stupid ideal back then. Since these ones were recently delivered, their reason was still really thick-witted, and lacking common sense. For they had been fervent and occupied with anything pertaining to the corporal, and not once, never did the thought of the incorporal gifts exist with them, neither did they know at some point what a grace is seen only with the mind,3 and being observed by faith alone. For that reason the grace begat signs.
For regarding the gifts of the spirit, some are invisible, and are understood by faith alone and some display a visible sign for the sake of assuring unbelievers. But on the other hand concerning these invisible things, it is exhibited as an observable sign for the sake of assuring unbelievers. I am going to relate such a thing. The remission of sins is a matter of heart and mind,4 a grace that is invisible. For how our sins are being removed, we do not see with eyes of the flesh. What kind of thing is this? Because the soul is the thing which is being cleansed, the soul does not observe with the eyes of the flesh. Therefore, the cleansing of sins is a kind of gift that is apprehended by the mind, which cannot be visible to the eyes of the body. Now even though speaking in tongues itself comes from the spiritual work of the Spirit, it nevertheless provides a sign that is physically perceptible and easily seen by unbelievers. For regarding the work which happens inside the soul, I say of the invisible, because the external language being heard is a certain manifestation and proof. According to this thought Paul says, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”5
I emphatically do not have the need for signs now. On what account? I have obviously learned to believe in the Master also apart from a giving of a sign. For the unbeliever requires an assurance. I believe that I am in no need of an assurance nor a sign. But even if I should not speak in a language, I know that I have been cleansed from sins. However, these ones were not to believe at that time, unless they received a sign. For this reason a sign was given to them, which they believed as an assurance of the faith. Therefore, the giving of the signs was not as for the believers, but as for the unbelievers in order that they should have become believers. So that Paul likewise says, “The signs are not for those who believe, but for those who are unbelievers.”6 Do you see that the manifestation of signs which has been withdrawn is not a feature of God dishonoring but of Him honoring us?7 For if one wishes to demonstrate our faith, we believe this has been done without an assurance of a pledge or signs with it. Except those ones who have received first the sign and pledge, do not believe it concerning the unseen things. I, on the other hand, indeed show a complete faith without this. This is therefore the reason why signs are not happening now.
5. I wished to also speak about the occasion of the festival and demonstrate in the end what Pentecost is, and a reason why in this festival the grace is being given, and the reason why with languages of fire, and why after ten days. But I see that to be a teaching extending out for a long time. On which account I am going to bring an end to the word while adding a few thoughts:
“When the day of Pentecost had come… there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves.”8
Not “fire,” literally, but “as fire,” so that you should have suspicion of nothing perceptible relating to the Spirit. For with respect with what happened at the Jordan rivers, the dove did not descend literally, but in the form of a dove. Thus, it is also in this place here not literally a fire, but a kind of fire. And it was majestically said, “like a violent rushing wind,”9 Why did Ezekiel not receive the gift of prophecy through the likeness of fire but through a book,10 but the Apostles receive the gift through the agency of fire? For concerning this it says that he gave the head of a scroll11 into his mouth, and there was written lamentation, a mournful song, and woe, and it had been written on the inside and outside. He ate it and it became in the mouth as sweet as honey. When it comes to the apostles it is not so. Rather “and they appeared to them tongues as fire.”12 Why then was there a scroll and letters there, but tongue and fire here? Because the former goes forth to speak out against sins, and to mourn the Jewish calamities. The latter were going forth to destroy the sins of the world. For this reason Ezekiel was receiving a small book, telling of the coming misfortunes, but the apostles were receiving fire, so as to thoroughly burn-up the sins of the world, and to obliterate all of it. For just as the fire falls upon thistles13 and easily destroys all of it, thus also the grace of the Spirit consumes the sins of mankind. But the stupid Jews, while these things were happening, ought to be fearful, tremble and revere the gift being bestowed, contrarily point it out as a silly state, accusing drunkenness against the apostles who have been filled of the Spirit. “These ones, it says, “are full of sweet wine.”14 Pay attention to the senseless pride of mankind, and contemplate at this moment the integrity of angels. For the angels see the start of our rising-up, they were rejoicing and said, “Lift up your heads, O gates, And be lifted up, O ancient doors, That the King of glory may come in!”15 These men on the other hand say, who had just seen the grace of the Spirit descending to us, that the ones who are receiving the gift are drunk, and the season of the calendar did not constrain them. For wine in the springtime would not likely have been found at any occasion, nevertheless it was still spring. Therefore, let these ones be left alone. We nevertheless go about considering the reckoning of a benevolent God. Christ received the first fruit of our nature and rewarded us with the grace of the Spirit. Just like it was produced in a lengthy war, and when the battle was in the process of being finished, and peace was going to be accomplished, and those who have enmity towards others offer pledges and securities to these parties. It has also happened in this way between God and human nature. He sent in it pledges and securities, the first-fruit which Christ took up.16 He himself sent back to us the Holy Spirit in place of pledges and securities.17 That indeed we have pledges and securities, evident from this time forward. For it is necessary the offsprings of royalty to be pledges and securities. It was on this account that the Holy Spirit had been sent down to us, as to whom is the substance of the most high king, and the one who had been raised up was from the offspring of royal lineage on our behalf. After all, he was from the seed of David. On which account I am no longer scared because our first fruit rests on high. Therefore, granted that someone should say to me “endless worm”, even “unquenchable fire,” and about other penalties and retributions, I do not dread any more. Well, I do indeed fear, but albeit I do not despair about my own salvation. Really, unless God was thinking about the great deeds about our offsprings, he would not have taken the first fruit on high. Before this, these ones watch throughout heaven, and reflect upon the non-material deeds, we see more clearly our worthlessness after the comparison regarding the deeds from on high. Now, still while we wished to know our nobility, we look up on high to heaven to the royal throne itself. In fact in that place the first fruit which had been taken up from us, was about to seat down. Thus, the Son of God also will come judging us. On which account we are going to be prepared, so as to not be deprived of this glory, because by all means He will come, the person connected with our Master will last. He will come bringing armies, brigades of angels, companies of archangels, hosts of martyrs, choirs of righteous ones, assemblies of prophets and apostles, and in the midst of these immaterial armies, the King appears in something which is too great for words and unexplainable glory. ■
The Greek text can be found at the Orthodox Fathers website, Εἰς τὴν Ἁγίαν Πεντηκοστήν