Pentecost was one of the major feasts of the Jews, the Feast of Weeks, a harvest festival celebrated fifty days after Passover. Pentecost literally means “the fiftieth day.” It was a feast of joy and thanksgiving for God’s protection and His rich provisions. The whole community presented itself before the Lord as a “holy convocation” (see Lev. 23:15-22). The first fruits of the wheat harvest and loaves baked from the new wheat crop were offered to the Lord. The people worshipped God, the source of life. They thanked Him for His great acts of deliverance in history and His gift of the Promised Land.
It was on this festival of Pentecost that God gave humanity the gift of the Spirit, the pledge of a new Promised Land, God’s coming kingdom. When He had completed His mission on earth the risen Christ charged His fol- lowers to remain in Jerusalem: “Wait for the gift I told you about, the gift my Father promised….In a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit….You will be filled with power, and you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” [Acts 1:4-5,8).
Who were the followers of Jesus in these earliest days? The Book of Acts tells us that there were “about a hundred and twenty in all” (Acts 1:15). Among them were the eleven apostles (Acts 1:13); Matthias, the apostle who took the place of Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:23-26); the Virgin Mary and the other women disciples such as Mary Magdalene who are not named (Acts 1:14). Present also were the “brothers” of the Lord (Acts 1:14) such as James, who became one of the leaders of the Jerusalem Church. The Church fathers interpret Jesus’ “brothers” as half brothers, the sons of Joseph by another wife. According to Jewish custom a brother could also be a cousin or another relative. To number about a hundred and twenty there must have been many others as well, such as Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.
The Book of Acts tells us that all these believers gathered frequently in an upper room to pray as a group (Acts 1:13-14). They were waiting upon the Lord to empower them for their mission in preaching and teaching the new life in Christ. To be effective witnesses they first needed to experience fully the saving power of the Gospel they were to proclaim to others.
The Holy Spirit
In the Orthodox Church the Feast of Pentecost is one of the seven great feasts of the Lord observed during the liturgical year. It celebrates the Lord’s bestowal of the Spirit upon His Church. Pentecost is also a feast of the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – One God in Three Persons, existing eternally and working together for the salvation of the world. Finally, Pentecost celebrates the gift of the Spirit to the world, the historical revelation of the Spirit. In honour of the Spirit, the day after Pentecost has been appointed Monday of the Holy Spirit. The following hymns express the multiple themes of Pentecost:
Blessed are You, Christ our God, who have shown the fishermen to be all-wise,
sending upon them the Holy Spirit and through them drawing into the net of the Gospel all people. Loving Lord, glory to You.
Dismissal Hymn, Sunday of Pentecost
The Service of Kneeling, which is the Vespers of the Monday of the Holy Spirit, is one of the most solemn acts of worship during the whole liturgical year. During this service on the day of Pentecost we glorify God by recounting His great acts of salvation in history. We solemnly kneel before God recognizing our sinfulness and we earnestly implore Him for forgiveness.
We pray for God’s visitation, protection, and renewal through fresh outpourings of the Spirit. We sing triumphantly:
“Who is so great a God as our God? You alone are the God who does wonders!”