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Celebrating Pentecost

By Matushka Ioanna Callinicos Rhodes

After the Ascension of Christ the disciples were eagerly awaiting the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem as was promised them by Christ.  They had no clue as to when this occurrence was going to happen. They never realized what the impact of that moment was going to be and how it was going to affect them. Finally, ten days after the Ascension, the Holy Spirit descended as in tongues of fire over them, and a new life was given to them. They were filled with wisdom and knowledge never known to them before.  It is the Wisdom that can only come from the Grace of the Holy Spirit himself. It is this Grace that renews our life.

In Christ’s Resurrection we receive the “New” Pascha (Passover), Christ passing over from death to life. It is not the old Passover of the Old Testament, which commemorates the deliverance from the Angel of Death as he passed by the Jewish homes, but the actual destruction of death. It was not by accident that the Crucifixion and Resurrection occurred at the same time as the Jewish Passover. The two had to be connected.

In much the same way, the descent of the Holy Spirit was connected to the Old Testament Pentecost (Shavu’ot).  This period is counted from the second day of the Jewish Passover for seven weeks which equals 49 days + 1 day to equal the fiftieth day. Originally this day was the day the first fruits of the harvest were brought to the temple. Later on it became the time that commemorated the giving of the Torah (the Law). The Jews see this as being redeemed spiritually from bondage to idolatry and immorality.

The fiftieth day is considered to be that of new beginnings. The Jews see this as a season to be redeemed spiritually from bondage to idolatry and immorality. Also, in ancient times, Jews would plant trees for each newborn child; a cedar for a boy, a cypress or pine for a girl. Today in Israel, it is customary to plant trees and play outdoor games. In other countries: oranges, figs, dates, raisins, pomegranates, and, other fruits that grow in Israel are eaten by Jews.

With this background, one can see why the giving and descent of the Holy Spirit had to be on the fiftieth day after Pascha. Indeed, the new Pentecost transformed the old!  In the old Pentecost we had the giving of the Law. The sages of the Old Testament make the distinction between the giving of the Torah (Law) and the receiving of the Torah (the Law). They say that man is constantly in the process of receiving the Torah (the Law), that it is received every day, but that it was given at this appointed time.

In the “New” Pentecost  we have the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the giving  of the Grace and Wisdom of God. It is no more God’s Law but God’s Grace which bestows His Wisdom that is being received—and we are continuously in the process being filled with the Grace at every moment.  It truly is “The New Beginning” and the beginning of “New Life.”

Historically, it was also during this time period when many were baptized and were the newly enlightened ones ( νεοφωτιστοι − neophotisty = neophytes). It was the start of a “new” beginning for them. This is the reason Pentecost  was referred to as Whitsuntide, because of all those who were baptized and who wore their white baptismal garments . It is referred to as “Wisdom Sunday,” also, because the Holy Spirit is the “Wisdom of God” as mentioned before.

In the Ukraine it is known as “Green Sunday” and in Poland as the ‘Green Feast.” The color green symbolizes “New Life,” again, a new beginning but now it is in the Grace of the Holy Spirit. Greenery and flowers are brought into the home and into the church. In some parts of Greece it is customary to break off branches from walnut trees and/or flowers, and placed on the floor of the church to kneel on during the kneeling prayers. In Russia it is common to have flowers, green grass or hay on the floor for the same purpose. Many times the laity brings bouquets of flowers to hold during the service.  The church is completely dressed and decorated in greenery. The vestments, altar covers and any other church cover are all green.  It is the celebration of the renewal of the earth.