Pentecost is a term derived from the Greek pentekostos, meaning fiftieth, which was applied to the fiftieth day after the passover. It was the culmination of the feast of weeks (Exod. 34:22; Deut. 16:10), which began on the third day after the passover with the presentation of the first harvest sheaves to God and which concluded with the offering of two loaves of unleavened bread, representing the first products of the harvest (Lev. 23:17 - 20; Deut. 16:9 - 10). After the Exile it became one of the great pilgrimage feasts of Judaism, at which many of those who lived in remote sections of the Roman world returned to Jerusalem for worship (Acts. 10:16). For that reason it served as a bond to unite the Jewish world of the first century and to remind them of their history.
In the Christian church Pentecost is the anniversary of the coming of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus ascended, he instructed his disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they should receive power from on high. As a group of 120 were praying in an upper room in Jerusalem fifty days after his death, the Holy Spirit descended upon them with the sound of a great wind and with tongues of fire which settled upon each of them. They began to speak in other languages and to preach boldly in the name of Christ, with the result that three thousand were converted. This tremendous manifestation of divine power marked the beginning of the church, which has ever since regarded Pentecost as its birthday.
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(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)
Pentecost, i.e., "fiftieth", found only in the New Testament (Acts 2:1; 20:16; 1 Cor. 16:8). The festival so named is first spoken of in Ex. 23:16 as "the feast of harvest," and again in Ex. 34:22 as "the day of the firstfruits" (Num. 28:26). From the sixteenth of the month of Nisan (the second day of the Passover), seven complete weeks, i.e., forty-nine days, were to be reckoned, and this feast was held on the fiftieth day. The manner in which it was to be kept is described in Lev. 23:15-19; Num. 28:27-29. Besides the sacrifices prescribed for the occasion, every one was to bring to the Lord his "tribute of a free-will offering" (Deut. 16:9-11). The purpose of this feast was to commemorate the completion of the grain harvest. Its distinguishing feature was the offering of "two leavened loaves" made from the new corn of the completed harvest, which, with two lambs, were waved before the Lord as a thank offering. The day of Pentecost is noted in the Christian Church as the day on which the Spirit descended upon the apostles, and on which, under Peter's preaching, so many thousands were converted in Jerusalem (Acts 2).
(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)
A feast of the universal Church which commemorates the Descent of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles, fifty days after the Resurrection of Christ, on the ancient Jewish festival called the "feast of weeks" or Pentecost (Exodus 34:22; Deuteronomy 16:10). Whitsunday is so called from the white garments which were worn by those who were baptised during the vigil; Pentecost ("Pfingsten" in German), is the Greek for "the fiftieth" (day after Easter).
Whitsunday, as a Christian feast, dates back to the first century, although there is no evidence that it was observed, as there is in the case of Easter; the passage in I Corinthians (16:8) probably refers to the Jewish feast. This is not surprising, for the feast, originally of only one day's duration, fell on a Sunday; besides it was so closely bound up with Easter that it appears to be not much more than the termination of Paschal tide. That Whitsunday belongs to the Apostolic times is stated in the seventh of the (interpolated) fragments attributed to St. Irenæus. In Tertullian (De bapt., xix) the festival appears as already well established. The Gallic pilgrim gives a detailed account of the solemn manner in which it was observed at Jerusalem ("Peregrin. Silviæ", ed. Geyer, iv). The Apostolic Constitutions (V, xx, 17) say that Pentecost lasts one week, but in the West it was not kept with an octave until at quite a late date. It appears from Berno of Reichenau (d. 1048) that it was a debatable point in his time whether Whitsunday ought to have an octave. At present it is of equal rank with Easter Sunday. During the vigil formerly the catechumens who remained from Easter were baptized, consequently the ceremonies on Saturday are similar to those on Holy Saturday.
The office of Pentecost has only one Nocturn during the entire week. At Terce the "Veni Creator" is sung instead of the usual hymn, because at the third hour the Holy Ghost descended. The Mass has a Sequence, "Veni Sancte Spiritus" the authorship of which by some is ascribed to King Robert of France. The colour of the vestments is red, symbolic of the love of the Holy Ghost or of the tongues of fire. Formerly the law courts did not sit during the entire week, and servile work was forbidden. A Council of Constance (1094) limited this prohibition to the first three days of the week. The Sabbath rest of Tuesday was abolished in 1771, and in many missionary territories also that of Monday; the latter was abrogated for the entire Church by Pius X in 1911. Still, as at Easter, the liturgical rank of Monday and Tuesday of Pentecost week is a Double of the First Class.
In Italy it was customary to scatter rose leaves from the ceiling of the churches to recall the miracle of the fiery tongues; hence in Sicily and elsewhere in Italy Whitsunday is called Pascha rosatum. The Italian name Pascha rossa comes from the red colours of the vestments used on Whitsunday. In France it was customary to blow trumpets during Divine service, to recall the sound of the mighty wind which accompanied the Descent of the Holy Ghost. In England the gentry amused themselves with horse races. The Whitsun Ales or merrymakings are almost wholly obsolete in England. At these ales the Whitsun plays were performed. At Vespers of Pentecost in the Oriental Churches the extraordinary service of genuflexion, accompanied by long poetical prayers and psalms, takes place. (Cf. Maltzew, "Fasten-und Blumen Triodion", p. 898 where the entire Greco-Russian service is given; cf. also Baumstark, "Jacobit. Fest brevier", p. 255.) On Pentecost the Russians carry flowers and green branches in their hands.
Publication information Written by F.G. Holweck. Transcribed by Wm Stuart French, Jr. Dedicated to Brenda Eileen Metcalfe French The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XV. Published 1912. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
KELNEER, Heortology (St. Louis, 1908); HAMPSON, Medii viæ kalendarium, I (London, 1841) 280 sqq.; BRAND-ELLIS, Popular Antiquities, I (London, 1813), 26 sqq.; NILLES, Kalendarium Manuale, II (Innsbruck, 1897), 370 sqq.
Pentecost (also called Trinity Day or Descent of the Holy Spirit) is one of the Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church, celebrated fifty days after Pascha (thus always falling on a Sunday).
The number fifty, as in the fiftieth day after Pascha, stands for eternal and heavenly fulfillment, seven times seven, plus one.
Besides celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit, the feast also celebrates the full revelation of the divine Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Hymns of the Church, celebrate the sign of the final act of God's self-disclosure to the world of His creation.
To Orthodox Christians, the feast of Pentecost is not just a celebration of an event in history. It is also a celebration their membership in the Church. They have lived Pentecost and received "the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit" in the sacrament of chrismation.
In many parishes the feast is celebrated starting the evening before with Great Vespers. Some parishes also serve Matins on the morning of the feast before the Divine Liturgy.
The Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom with special hymns replacing the standard Antiphons. The hymns O Heavenly King and We have seen the True Light are sung for the first time since Easter, calling the Holy Spirit to "come and abide in us," and proclaiming that "we have received the heavenly Spirit."
The Great Vespers of Pentecost (Sunday) evening features three long prayers at which the faithful kneel for the first time since Pascha. Many smaller parishes have this service immediately following the liturgy.
Even though the start of the Church year is considered to start in September, the liturgical center of the annual cycle of Orthodox worship is the feast of Pascha, preceded by Great Lent, and pre-lent, and followed by the fifty days of paschal celebration until the feast of Pentecost. Until the start of the next Great Lent, the Sundays and weeks following Pentecost, are numbered from Pentecost. Liturgical readings and hymns will be based on the "weeks after Pentecost" as listed in the Octoechos, Apostolos, and Lectionary arranged Gospel.
Kontakion (Tone 8)
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