The slow of tongue, covered in divine darkness,
Proclaimed the law written by God;
For shaking the dust from his mind’s eye,
He sees the One Who Is, and is initiated
Into knowledge of the Spirit, as he gives praise with songs inspired.
– Irmos from Pentecost
Pentecost is the feast of Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks in ancient Hebrew tradition. Celebrated fifty days after Passover – Pentecost is Greek for fiftieth day – it is the commemoration of the giving of the Torah. Moses, after leading the people out of bondage to Egypt, gives the Torah. The Passover and Exodus prefigure Christ’s Pascha, the new Passover. Christ has lead us out of bondage to death. He has passed over from death to life. On the fiftieth day after His glorious resurrection we hold festival. Instead of the giving of the Torah – the teaching or instruction – we are given, as Christ Himself says in the book of John, the “Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” – John 14:26
The descent of the Holy Spirit upon those gathered in the upper room is the beginning of the Church. We are in the Church because of Pentecost. I will not reprint here the telling from Acts, but do urge you to read it and meditate upon it. Plum the depths of Luke’s account and you will find reward. Instead let us today ponder the icon of Pentecost in an effort to enter into the feast with more attentiveness and clarity.
In my parish, this icon hangs on the back wall of the nave above the doors to the narthex.
I would like to focus on two aspects of it. The first is the Theotokos at the center. The second is that she is flanked by Peter and Paul and the rest of the Apostles.
The Theotokos at the center reveals a typological aspect of her life. She is many things to us, but here we see her as a type of icon of the Church. Through the Holy Spirit she brought Christ into the world: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” Luke 1:35
So too the Church in and by the Holy Spirit brings Christ into the world, in both a mystical and carnal sense. The Gospel of Christ is communicated by the Holy Spirit. Prayer for the world is accomplished in the Holy Spirit. The bread and wine – offered upon the altar on behalf of all and for all – at the epiclesis (the invocation of the Holy Spirit) becomes the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
The second element I wish to draw attention to is the Apostles and more specifically Peter and Paul. Obviously Paul was not with the disciples and the women at the Descent of the Holy Spirit. By placing Paul among those in the upper room the icon reveals the mystical reality of the church. Paul is an Apostle. The Apostle to the Gentiles. Nearly half of the books comprising the New Testament are attributed to him. Here in Peter and Paul we see another image of the Church. Peter and the twelve represent the Israelites – Paul the Gentiles. Here is the Church – the fullness of humanity gathered in the Holy Spirit.
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27
Oh Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth,
Who art everywhere present and fillest all things,
Treasury of blessings and giver of life,
Come and abide in us, cleanse us from all impurity,
And save our souls, O Good One.