The Holy Pentecost
`The Holy Sunday of Pentecost
Epistle Reading (Acts 2:1- 11)
“When the day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitudes came together and were confused because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another,” Look, are not those who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear each in our own language in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia, and, Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs - we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.”
Gospel Reading (John 7: 37 – 52, 8:12)
“On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out saying,” if anyone thirsts let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the scriptures has said, out of his heart will follow rivers of living water. But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
Therefore, many from the crowd, when they heard this saying, said, “Truly this is the Prophet”. Others said, “This is the Christ”. But some said, “Will the Christ come out of Galilee? Has not the scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was”? So there was a division among the people because of Him. Now some of them wanted to take Him, but no one laid hands on Him.
Then the officers came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why have you not brought him?” The officers answered, “No man ever spoke like this man.”
Then the Pharisees answered them, “are you also deceived? Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd that does not know the Law is accursed.”
Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them said to them), said to them, “does our Law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing”?
They answered and said to him, “are you also from Galilee? Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee.” And everyone went to his own house.
Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”
Synaxarion of Great and Holy Sunday of Pentecost
In a mighty wind doth Christ distribute the Divine Spirit
In the form of fiery tongues unto the Apostles.
In one great day, the Spirit was poured forth upon the Fishermen.
I- Definition of Pentecost:
The word Pentecost is from the Greek πεντηκόστη ἡμέρα which means the Fiftieth Day and was used by the Greek translators of the Torah.
Pentecost is one of the three major Jewish feasts: Passover, Pentecost, the Tabernacles.
- Pesah’ or Passover was celebrated because the angel of the Lord passed over the homes of the Hebrews, sparing them from the plague of death by which the Lord struck the first-born in Egypt. This was meant to oblige the Pharaoh release the Hebrews. On that night the Lord commanded the people to sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice on the doorposts, and their firstborns were saved (the firstborn is the first male child).
The Passover also commemorates when the Hebrews passed over the Red Sea as if it were on dry land. This translates their liberation from the Egyptian slavery, and their entry into the Promised Land. It also parallels the Christian Pascha, as the passage from death to life, from sin to grace, and from the land of sin to the paradise of heaven, by the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ.
- Pentecost is celebrated by the Jews to commemorate how after much effort and weariness, they entered the Promise Land, where they enjoyed the wheat and wine, fifty days after their departure from Egypt. They also celebrate the reception of the Law by Moses, 50 days after leaving Egypt. Hence, here the feast is also called “the fiftieth day” or Pentecost. As for us Christians, we celebrated receiving the Holy Spirit, the Lawgiver and Guide to the truth, which dispenses all God pleasing things,
- The feast of the Tabernacles: The Jews used to celebrate it after the harvest every year, on the 15th of the seventh month, which is 7 months after the Passover. They commemorate the day when Moses set up the Tabernacle, which he saw while under the cloud on Mount Sinai; it was produced by Bezalel the head of the carpenters after Moses’ instructions. The Jews would celebrate the feast by making tents (sukkah) while living in the fields. They also would collect the fruits of the toil with thanks to God. To the Christians this is a figure of their resurrection from the dead where they enjoy the fruits of their toil, celebrating the feast in their eternal tabernacles, after our physical tabernacles will decay and be fashioned anew.
II- The Event of the Feast
Chapter 2 of the Acts of the Apostles describes what happened in Pentecost:
“When the day of Pentecost had fully come they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues (Acts 2: 1-4).
- In the Old Testament, it was the 50 days after the Jewish Passover; at the same time it was 50 days after the resurrection of the Lord from the dead.
- In the old times, that day commemorated the reception of the Commandments from God by Moses.
In Christianity, it commemorates when Jesus’ disciples received the law of the Spirit from the Lord.
- As of old, Moses declared to the people of the commandments of God, now Peter announces Jesus’ glory to the people.
- In the days of Old, Moses addressed the people who was getting ready to enter the earthly Jerusalem. On that day too, Peter addressed the people and called them to enter the heavenly Jerusalem.
III-Pentecost in Relation to the Old Testament:
It is natural that this feast may be related to agriculture, thus reflecting the life of the Jewish people at the time, and their work in the soil.
The agricultural seasons used to form the basic stances of the people’s life.
In the beginning, the feast was known as the feast of the harvest. We read in Exodus “and the Feast of Harvest, the first fruits of your labors which you have sown in the field; and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you have gathered in the fruit of your labors from the field” (Exodus 23:16). Therefore, it was also called the “Feast of the first fruits” Yom HA Bikkurim and the Feast of the weeks. This appellation was determined by its timing, i.e, seven whole weeks after the Jewish Passover.
Hence, it is called in Hebrew שבועות Shavouot, meaning “weeks”.
But since the second century B.C. the feast took another concept for it became related to the covenant between God and his people on Sinai and the coming down of the commandments on the Jewish people by Moses. In fact, the Law came down on them 50 days after crossing the red sea.
Now here we stop at two points:
1- The Old Tower of Babel and the New Tower
What occurs here in Jerusalem with the Apostles is the opposite of what had occurred in the tower of Babel. There, the people used to speak one language, and the Lord came down confusing their tongues so they began to speak different languages without understanding one another. But here they spoke different languages, and understood the one language of the Holy Spirit.
In the past, a dissension happened among people because of the confusion of tongues, but now they all became one family, the family of the Kingdom.
This is the language of God which people speak, and are called to speak it with one another. The more man goes away from God, the more he is inwardly divided (alienated from himself), and his contact with his fellow men becomes confused. The people of Babel intended to count on themselves, and this is what caused their dispersion.
2- Connotations of the Word “Spirit” in the Old Testament:
1- Wind: in Hebrew, there is no difference between Spirit and Wind, the divine living breath as in (Genesis 1: 2); it may also mean breeze.
2- Power: when King Saul rebelled, the divine commandment, the Spirit of God abandoned him. It was replaced with an evil spirit. When Samuel anointed David, the Spirit of the Lord dwelt upon him (1 Samuel 16:1-13).
This royal Spirit is the prophetic spirit, that is why Micah the prophet said, “But truly I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord, and of justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin (Micah 3:8).
3- Prophecy: "I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Joel (2:28).
There are other signs that appeared, such as:
- Joseph and Pharaoh: Pharaoh said to his servants, “Do we see such a man with the Spirit of God” (Genesis 41:37)? Joseph could prophesy and interpret Pharaoh’s dreams because he was full of the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit.
- Moses and seventy presbyters: Moses could not bear the responsibility alone, so he gathered seventy men. “Then the Lord came down in the cloud, and spoke to him, and took of the Spirit that was upon him, and placed the same upon the seventy elders; and it happened, when the Spirit rested upon them, that they prophesied” (Numbers 11: 25).
- The Holy Spirit: In psalm 50 which emphasizes repentance, we clearly read and for the first time: “And your Holy Spirit, do not take away from”. The Spirit of the Lord: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me to anoint and preach the poor” (Isaiah 61:1).
IV- Pentecost in Christianity:
In the New Testament the word “Spirit” has acquired a wide meaning. Prophet Isaiah preached and said: “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:1-2). This has come true in fullness in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The pouring of the Spirit in the Old Testament used to be done or performed on the heads of the kings by anointing them with oil, which is poured by the hand of the prophet on their head. On the other hand, it is performed in the New Testament directly by God himself so that we all may become kings for God the King, who made us children, and heirs, in his only Son Jesus Christ.
The Pentecost is the culmination of the Passover for all the events that had occurred to the Lord Jesus Christ; and every word that he said would be understood by the apostles today.
This is what he said to them on his farewell speech: “But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you (John 14:26). From now on they shall preach to the whole world.
Therefore, it is possible to compare the unleavened bread served on the Passover and the leavened bread that is brought from the first grain of wheat, saying that Pentecost in the perfection of the body of Christ, that is symbolized by the bread.
When the Lord Jesus was baptized before he started his mission, He revealed the nature of God and his mission as Son of God. And the Apostles were baptized in the Holy Spirit before starting their predication.
We have also to be born again before starting our preaching.
This is to assure what the Lord had said in the tongue of prophet Ezekiel: “I grant you a new heart and make a new Spirit in your hearts” (Ezekiel 36: 26).
5-The Liturgy of the feast:
Pentecost is preceded by Soul Saturday. (As it also precedes the beginning of Great Lent).
There are three stations we have to stop at:
1- Vespers: it is characterized by three readings of the Old Testament and with prayers that explain the meaning of the Feast:
i. In Numbers, prophet Moses gathers 70 presbyters (11:16)
ii. In Joel: “I pour my Spirit on every man” (2:28).
iii. In Ezekiel: “I grant you a new heart” (36:24)
Important note: At the Vespers of Pentecost we chant to the Holy Spirit "O Heavenly King", for the first time after the Resurrection, and we begin with it the prayers again.
2- The Orthos and the Liturgy of the feast:
The service of Pentecost is distinguished by a clear faith and dogmatic confession of the divinity of the Holy Spirit. It explains what is stated in the Nicene Creed and includes pieces of prayer that introduce the faithful into the spirituality of the feast.
- “The Father is Light; the Word is Light; and the Holy Spirit is Light”
- “The Holy Spirit hath ever been, * and is, and shall be, * neither beginning nor ending; * but He is ever ranked and numbered together with the Father and the Son. * He is Life, and life-creating; * Light, and light-bestowing; * by nature good, and the source of goodness; * through Him the Father is known, and the Son is glorified; * and thereby all acknowledge a single sovereignty, * single covenant, ** one adoration of the Holy Trinity.”
3- The Gospel Reading of the Feast
The Gospel passage is from chapter 7 of the gospel by St. John (7:37-52). The core is : “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Jesus continues: “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water".
Let us raise the question: what is this living water? Prophet Isaiah answers: “Behold, God is my salvation … He also has become my salvation. Therefore, with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation (Isaiah 12:2-3).
The Gospel passage starts as such: " On the last day, that great day of the feast” (John 7:37). This reading completes the passage read at Mid-Pentecost. It is the Feast of Tabernacles, a feast of an agricultural characteristic, when the multitudes gather to pray for rain. The rituals included remembering the miracle of the water in the desert. Many prophecies were read about water springing out of earth (Ezekiel 47 and Zachariah 14:8).
The living water symbolizes the Holy Spirit. So we sing on Mid-Pentecost, (Wednesday between Pascha and the Pentecost): “In the midst of this Feast, O Saviour, give thou my thirsty soul to drink of the waters of true worship”. This is why John the Evangelist says: “The law was given through Moses, but Grace was in Christ” (John 1 :17).
3- The Kneeling prayers:
These are read to call for repentance. They start as such: “On bended knees, let us pray to the Lord”.
Important note: The first Sunday after Pentecost is dedicated for all the saints, for the Holy Spirit sanctifies all the faithful, and this is something specific to the Orthodox Church. For example, we celebrate St. John the Baptist the next day after the Divine Epiphany.
St. Seraphim of Sarov says: “The goal of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.” This acquisition demands struggle, toil, determination, and perseverance.
Just as on this day of Pentecost, according to the Greek name, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and gave them strength from above, if we honestly ask for it, it comes to us since we are, originally, temples of the Holy Spirit.
With the intercessions of the Holy and pure Apostles, O Christ, have mercy on us and save us, Amen
The Troparion of the feast: “Blessed art thou, O Christ our God, who hast revealed the fishermen as most wise, having sent upon them the Holy Spirit, and through them hast fished the universe, O Lover of mankind, glory to thee”.