ByzCatholic, Feasts, Riteology

Pentecost in the East and West

Mnohaya lita! Mnohaya lita! Mnohaya lita! Vo zdraviye, vo spasenniye! Na mnohaya lita!

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Pentecost is one of my favourite feasts of the church year. Even more so now that I’ve been exposed to the Byzantine celebration of Holy and Glorious Pentecost. I love green, so the fact that the liturgical colour in the East for this day is green brings me lots of joy.

The word Pentecost comes from the Greek word pentecoste, meaning 50th. Pentecost occurs 50 days after Easter, and coincides with the Jewish feast Shavu’ot that follows 50 days after Passover. (Shavu’ot is the festival of weeks, for the 7 weeks that pass between Passover and Shavu’ot). The Feast of Pentecost is also called Descent of the Holy Spirit, especially in iconography. This is the feast day of the third person of the Trinity.

Pentecost in the East and West

A lot about the celebration of Pentecost is the same in the East and West. The focus is on the Holy Spirit, and priests wear the liturgical colour representing the Holy Spirit. Only, in the Western Church, red is the colour used to represent the Holy Spirit. Red represents the Holy Spirit because of the tongues of fire. In the East, green is the colour of the Holy Spirit. This is because green is the colour of life, and the Holy Spirit gives us new life in Baptism and Confirmation.

In the East, many people bring flowers or green branches to church to represent this new life. This also ties in with the Jewish feast celebrated at Pentecost, since it was a feast to thank God for the harvest. Jews decorated their homes with greenery and flowers from the harvest fruits for this feast. We do the same, but the flowers and greenery represent the Holy Spirit and the new life given to us. They remind us of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Eastern Churches also have two other names for the feast of Pentecost. These are “Green Holidays” and “Feast of Roses.” Again, these names stem from the tradition of decorating homes and bring flowers and green foliage to church.

Pentecost Liturgies

The Feast of Pentecost brings the Easter season to a close. We return to praying the Heavenly King prayer at the opening of Divine Liturgy instead of singing Christ is Risen. We also return to praying the prayer which goes: “We have seen the True Light, we have received the Heavenly Spirit, we have found the true faith, we worship the undivided Trinity for having saved us.”

During the Liturgy, however, we pray “all you who have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ, alleluia” instead of the Trisagion hymn.

The troparion for Pentecost is in tone 8: Blessed are You, O Christ our God who revealed the fishermen as most wise by sending them the Holy Spirit; through them you caught the entire world. Loving Master, glory to You.Ways to Celebrate Pentecost

The kontakion is also in tone 8 and goes: When the Most High came down and confused the tongues, He parted the nations. When He divided the tongues of fire, He called all to unity; thus with one voice we glorify the all Holy Spirit. Finally the Prokeimemon for Pentecost: Their utterance has gone forth into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world. 

Instead of the prayer beginning “It is truly right,” we pray the following prayer in tone 4: O my soul, magnify the one Divinity in three persons. Rejoice, O Queen, boast of virgins and mothers, for every tongue, though capable and eloquent, cannot hymn you as is your due, and every mind is confounded I’m seeking to comprehend the way in which you gave birth. Wherefore with one accord we glorify you. 

Ways You can Celebrate Pentecost

On way you can celebrate Pentecost, either by yourself or with your family, is doing a little bible reading. Start with Acts 2:1-41, which is an account of Pentecost. Then, you could go on to read about the biblical symbols of the Holy Spirit. There are seven symbols: anointing (Luke 4:18-19), cloud and light (Exodus 40: 34-38), dove (Matthew 3:16), finger (Exodus 31:18), fire (Acts 2:3-4), hand (Acts 8: 17-19), seal (Ephesians 1: 13-14), and water (John 7:38).

Then wear green for the Green Holidays! Wear green to church for sure, but also try and wear green for the post feast days. If you have green decor, use it! Our home is already decked in green since it’s both my husband’s and my favourite colour. So we might work green into our meal plan for the week, making sure there is something green to eat at every meal. We also might light a candle at the supper table to represent tongues of fire.

Another thing you can do is buy or grow a new plant for your home. This follows the ancient tradition of decorating your home in greenery. You could also buy flowers or roses to honour the Holy Spirit for this feast day.

The Byzantine Life

If you enjoyed this week’s article, you might also be interested in reading about Liturgical Colours in the East and West, The Sacraments of Initiation in the East, and how our family lives out Eastern and Western traditions together authentically.

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