The Church today celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Holy Apostles, which took place fifty days after the Lord’s Resurrection. This temporal detail also explains the name “Pentecost.” This day is also known as Holy Sunday or Pentecost.
The descent of the Holy Spirit is the fundamental moment of the Church, through which the first community of believers is formed, and the Holy Apostles become witnesses and heralds of the Resurrection and the teaching of Christ.
Whitsuntide. Holiday history
The feast of Pentecost is the oldest Christian holiday along with that of Easter, being celebrated since the time of the Holy Apostles. I mention St. Paul the Apostle (1 Cor. 16: S) and St. Luke (Acts 20:16). It is also mentioned in the Apostolic Constitutions and by several fathers of the first centuries, St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, St. Epiphanius, as well as Canon 43 of the Synod of Elvira (c. 300) and Canon 20 of the First Ecumenical Council (325, which stops kneeling on the day of Pentecost).
Towards the end of the fourth century and the beginning of the fifth, Pentecost marked a double celebration, both the Ascension of the Lord and the Descent of the Holy Spirit, as the historian Eusebius testifies in the first half of the fourth century. of Caesarea. From about 400 BC, however, the feast was fixed on the 40th day after Easter, as it is celebrated to this day, Pentecost marking only the Feast of the Descent of the Holy Spirit.
What we celebrate at the descent of the Holy Spirit
The descent of the Holy Spirit is narrated by the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke in Acts (Acts 2).
Fifty days after Easter, Christ’s disciples were gathered “all in one place.” The descent of the Holy Spirit was preceded by a roar from heaven, which was heard as a “speeding wind” (Acts 2: 2). The auditory experience of the presence of the Holy Spirit by the Apostles was accompanied by a visual one: each saw on the heads of the others tongues like fire (Acts 2: 3). “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
The roar through which the Holy Spirit made his presence felt appeared “from heaven and without news.” God is perfect freedom. The apostles waited, but they did not decide. The Holy Spirit manifested itself in a very surprising way: “there was a roar, like a rushing wind” – so “something unusual, which shakes you, shakes you, wakes you up”, as Father Constantin Galeriu said.
As soon as they were filled with the Holy Ghost, the disciples of Christ began to speak “of the wonderful works of God” in foreign languages hitherto unknown to them, so that they might be understood by the Jews and proselytes who were then in Jerusalem. each in the language “in which they were born.” On that day there were people in Jerusalem who represented all the tribes of the earth: the Parthians, the Medes, the people of Mesopotamia, Judea, Egypt, Libya, Cappadocia, Pamphylia, and so on.
The Holy Spirit does not descend upon the Apostles “in the form of a blanket of fire, like a covering over them, which would have uniformed them, but in the form of tongues like fire above the head of each one,” says His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel. This fact shows us that the Holy Spirit “does not collectivize, does not uniform people, but cultivates the identity of each human person, distinct from others, enlightens him, enriches him, and makes him communicate with others in the love of the Most Holy Trinity. The Holy Spirit is not a leveler of personal or ethnic identities, but he makes every person, every people grow spiritually ”.
The Feast of Pentecost is the feast of the Holy Trinity, because by the descent of the Holy Spirit, we trust that God is the Trinity. The fundamental meaning of the feast is first of all that on the day of Pentecost, the Apostles understood that the Holy Spirit is a person of the Holy Trinity. And second, the Holy Spirit made the disciples disciples of the Body of Christ and gave them the power to partake of Christ’s victory over death.
In the tradition of the Orthodox Church, on the day immediately following the major holidays, people who are in direct contact with the person or event at the center of that holiday are commemorated. Since the persons of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, are in a direct connection, the Monday after Pentecost Sunday is dedicated to the glorification of the Holy Trinity. In fact, the feast of Pentecost is dedicated to two days.
Christian and Jewish Pentecost
The Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles on the day the Jews celebrated Pentecost. For the Jews, this was the second most important holiday after the Passover. According to tradition, it commemorated the reception of God’s law by Moses on Mount Sinai. Forty days after the first Passover, Moses ascended Mount Sinai, where he received the Law from God. At the same time, however, Jewish Pentecost was an expression of the Jews’ gratitude for the fruits of the earth. Because it coincided with the time of harvest, it was also called the feast of the harvest, and the Jews brought their fruit to the temple.
But Christ makes Pentecost the feast of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the world. Jewish Pentecost was the foreshadowing of Pentecost in the New Testament. If on the day of Jewish Pentecost, Moses received the Law of the Old Testament, on the day of Christian Pentecost, the disciples received the Holy Spirit, by which they lived the Law of the New Testament, that is, the Law of Holy Grace.
The first law was written on stone tablets, but now the law is written in the hearts of the apostles. Christians today celebrate, on the day of Pentecost, “the gift of the New Law, of a new heart, a heart transfigured by the gift of the Holy Spirit,” as the Archimandrite puts it. Placide Deseille (“Blessed Crown of the Christian Year. Sermons on Sundays and Holidays of the Liturgical Year, Doxologia Publishing House).
The Holy Spirit, the promised Comforter
Before His willing passion, knowing all that was going to happen to Him and not wanting to leave the Apostles in despair, Jesus promised to send them the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, to guide them. He will be called the Comforter, because He will comfort all who are guided by Him. “It is useful for me to go; for unless I go, the Comforter will not come ”(John 16: 7). And, “I will pray the Father, and another Comforter will send you the Spirit of truth, which proceeds from the Father” (John 15:26).
And after the Passover, before ascending to heaven, he read to the disciples, “And ye shall abide in Jerusalem, until ye be clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).
Immediately after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon them, the Apostles were filled with joy. For them, this was a new experience. After the Descent of the Holy Spirit, they were no longer mere worshipers of Christ, but came to be in close union with Him. Those who saw the Apostles were amazed, and some said with irony that they were full of must, that is, they were drunk with new wine. (Acts 2:13).
The coming of the Holy Spirit into the heart of man is called by the Holy Fathers “awake drunkenness” (St. Dionysius the Areopagite), a state of deep delight and boundless joy, in which man loses neither his senses nor his reason.
The Holy Fathers teach that although the Holy Spirit works on all people and in the whole edification, but people are partakers of the divine energies according to the receptivity of each one.
The fruits of the Holy Spirit in human life are mentioned in both the New Testament and the Old Testament. The Apostle Paul says, “The fruitage of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, cleanliness” (Galatians 5: 22-23).
The most beautiful and succinct form of presentation of the Holy Spirit is found in a short and profound prayer, which is directly addressed to him, the prayer “Heavenly King,” with which he begins almost every service of the Church, uttering almost the whole church year. , from Pentecost until next Easter.
“Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, Who are everywhere and fill them all, Treasurer of goodness and Giver of life, come and dwell in us, and cleanse us from all uncleanness, and save, O Good, our souls! Amen”.
The history of the Church begins with Pentecost
The event of the sending of the Holy Spirit, which descends upon the apostles in the form of tongues of fire, is a fulfillment and at the same time a new beginning because from the moment of receiving the Holy Spirit, the life of the Apostles changes radically. Transformed by the Holy Spirit, they gain astonishing boldness. While they used to be fearful, they now publicly confess that Christ, the crucified Jesus, rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, sitting at the right hand of the Father. And thanks to the preaching of the gospel by the apostles, a new life begins for all those who, through the Holy Spirit, take part in the life of the Church.
Pentecost is the feast of the founding of the Church, because on that day, following the lively speech of St. Peter the Apostle, they converted to Christianity “as three thousand souls,” who formed the first Christian community in Jerusalem (Acts 2:41). , which is the core of the later Church.
With the Descent of the Holy Spirit, a new age has begun in the history of the salvation of mankind. The Church, that is, the Kingdom of God on earth, was created in the form of the Holy Spirit in the world.
Although each Apostle received the Holy Spirit and all set out into the world proclaiming the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven in the speech of all peoples, then a new, spiritual unity was created, in which all gather as members in one body, forming the Church, the Mysterious Body. of Christ. Thus, Pentecost is the day of the founding of the Christian Church, as a divine-human institution.
The feast of the descent of the Holy Spirit was called in Romanian “Pentecost” from the feast of roses in the Roman world, dedicated to the cult of the dead. Christians have taken up the Roman custom, making Saturday before Pentecost one of the days of general remembrance of the dead.
In some parts of the country, on the Saturday of Pentecost, pots decorated with flowers and a cake on top to commemorate the dead are distributed. On Pentecost Sunday, beautifully decorated plates are distributed for the living.
The custom, inherited from the Jews, of decorating houses and churches with green branches and flowers continues to this day. At the end of the Holy Mass on the feast day of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, the walnut or linden leaves are blessed – a symbol of tongues like fire that stood above the heads of the Holy Apostles. Walnut and lime have a symbolism close to that of the Holy Spirit. Walnut, due to iodine, is known to have therapeutic effects. And the Holy Spirit has therapeutic effects on the soul. And lime, has medicinal and fragrant flowers, like the Holy Spirit, who perfumes our lives with his gifts.
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