11. THE PENTECOST
Fifty days after Easter Sunday, our Church celebrates the feast of the Pentecost, in remembrance of the visitation of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of the Lord. This visitation took place on the day that the Jews celebrated their own feast of the Pentecost. This feast was originally for the Jews to give thanks to God for the grain that they harvested, hence, the Pentecost was called the 'harvest feast' or 'the feast of the first fruits'. During the time of our Lord, it had another significance. It was a memorial day for an important event of their religious history: the delivery of the Law by God to Moses, which occurred on the 50 th day after the Jewish Passover.
It was on this same, official day, that the Lord's promise to His disciples for the sending of the Holy Spirit - the "power from on high" - was fulfilled: " And they beheld flame-like tongues splitting apart and landing on each one's head, whereupon they became filled with a Divine Spirit, and they started to speak in other languages, in the manner that the Holy Spirit had accordingly given them to speak ."
The Apostle Paul, now inspired and reinforced by the Holy Spirit, spoke on the day of the Pentecost to the crowds that were gathered outside the apostles' domicile. " Having joyfully accepted his ( Paul's ) words, a number of them became baptized, so that on that day, another three thousand souls were added " (Acts 2, 41)
With the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of the Pentecost, the Church - who continues the Lord's work on earth - made its first official appearance in the world. At Mount Sinai , the delivery of the Law to Moses made the Israelites God's 'chosen people'. Now, with the effusion of the Holy Spirit over the apostles, God's new 'chosen people' - our Holy Church - was born.
Pursuant to the things we said about the history of the Pentecost feast, we shall proceed with the description and the significance of the figures in the icon. " It is by no means a simple depiction of the Acts text. It compares all the Scriptural texts, it follows the liturgy, and it engraves a vast prospect that surpasses a section of history, in order to portray the esoteric meaning of the event " (P. Evdokimov)
1. Description of the icon. The Pentecost icon shows a loft; it is the loft " where the apostles resided " after the Lord's Ascension. Divided into two groups, they are seated in a continuous, semi-circular bench with a back and footrests underneath. At the apex of the semi-circle are the two leading apostles, Peter and Paul. Third to the right of Peter is the apostle and evangelist Luke, and opposite him is the apostle and evangelist Mark, who is the third next to Paul. The remaining apostles are then placed in order of seniority. Last in line on both sides are two, young in age pupils. Everyone is calm, with a docile expression and a pensive look. They are each holding a scroll, except for Paul who is holding a book. This is symbolic of the tutorial status that they received from the Holy Spirit. Between the two leading apostles, there is a vacant seat. This is the place that belongs to Christ, the divine head of the Church that is symbolized by the Pentecost.
At the top of the icon, the heavens are depicted by a partial circle, from which two groups of rays emanate - twelve in total - that descend towards the twelve apostles.
" Below the bench on which they ( the apostles ) are seated, the figure of an old man is portrayed, with a crown on his head and with a defined, round beard, who is holding out a sheet with both his hands; on this sheet are twelve scrolls, which are rolled-up papers. This old man represents the World, and the paper scrolls represent the twelve cycles that were ordained for the spreading of the Gospel throughout the World by the twelve Apostles. In older icons of the Pentecost, in place of the World (the old man) we find depictions of assorted people of different nations dressed in unusual garments, all looking upwards as if listening in amazement to the Apostles' kerygma, and above them is the inscription: PEOPLE, RACES AND LANGUAGES. These figures represent the people of various nations, who happened to be in Jerusalem on the day of the Pentecost at the moment of the descent of the Holy Spirit, and who, on learning of the tumult that was caused by the visitation of the Holy Spirit, crowded into the building that housed the apostles and then stood in amazement, when each one heard -in his own language- the sermon that came forth from the mouths of Christ's disciples, exactly as reported in the Acts of the Apostles." (Fotis Kontoglou)
1. The significance of the icon. As we are told in the Acts of the Apostles, about one hundred and twenty people were in the loft on the day of the Pentecost. Therefore it is most likely, that it was not only the twelve apostles who received the gifts of the Holy Spirit; all those present "became filled with a divine spirit". Furthermore, in his homily on the day of the Pentecost, the apostle Peter assured them that whomsoever repents and becomes baptized shall receive "the gift of the Holy Spirit". Therefore, it is the one hundred and twenty disciples who represent the overall Church. To the Byzantine hagiographer, they are the representatives of the Church of all generations and all time. For this reason, albeit the seated persons are twelve in number, their number does not correspond to the twelve apostles. The Apostle Paul and the Evangelists Luke and Mark who appear in this picture did not belong to the inner circle of Christ's disciples.
Our eyes therefore wander from the inner circle of disciples to the broader circle, then to the populous world of the Church.
In contrast to the saintly forms of the apostles is the symbolic depiction of the World. We read from a relative, 17 th century text: " Why is it, that during the descent of the Holy Spirit, we see the depiction of a man seated in a dark area, bent over with age, garbed in red, wearing a royal crown on his head and holding a white cloth in his hands on which there are twelve inscribed cylinders? The man seated in a dark area signifies that the world was -until then- without faith. He is bent over with age, because mankind has aged on account of Adam's sin. His red garment signifies the wily one's bloody sacrifices. The royal crown signifies the sin that ruled the world. The white cloth that he holds in his hands with the twelve cylinders signifies the twelve apostles who brought the light to the world, through their teachings ."
Thus, in our icon, this contrast is vivid. At the top, is the light, the glorious realm of the Spirit. Below, is darkness, the world of ignorance and sin.
Christ, our Lord, " the most wise, who made the fishermen prominent ", is " yesterday and today the same, as He will be, throughout all time " (Hebrews, 13, 8). That is why we must beseech Him to enlighten and sanctify by the Holy Spirit, who is " the guardian and the sanctifier of the Church, the governor of souls, the commander of sufferers, the guiding light of the misled, the event-placer and the award-giver to the victors ."