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An Eastern Orthodox icon of Pentecost. This is the Icon of the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. At the bottom is an allegorical figure, called Kosmos, which symbolizes the world.
Observed by Most Christians
Type Christian
Significance Celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus
Celebrations Religious (church) services, Festive Dinner.
Observances Prayer
Related to Shavuot, historically and symbolically; Septuagesima, Sexagesima, Quinquagesima, Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, Lent, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday which lead up to Easter; and Ascension, Trinity Sunday, and Corpus Christi which follow it.
Liturgical year

Pentecost (Ancient Greek: πεντηκοστή [ἡμέρα], pentekostē [hēmera], "the fiftieth [day]") is one of the prominent feasts in the Christian liturgical year. The feast is also called Whitsun, Whitsunday, Whit Sunday, and Whitsuntide, especially in the United Kingdom. Pentecost is celebrated seven weeks (50 days) after Easter Sunday, hence its name.[1] Pentecost falls on the tenth day after Ascension Thursday.

Historically and symbolically related to the Jewish harvest festival of Shavuot, which commemorates God giving the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai fifty days after the Exodus, Pentecost now also commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus as described in the Book of Acts, Chapter 2 in the New Testament. For this reason, Pentecost is sometimes described as "the Church's birthday".

The Pentecostal movement of Christianity derives its name from this biblical event.

Biblical narrative

The biblical narrative of Pentecost is given in the second chapter of the Book of Acts. As recounted in Acts 2:1-4:[2]

On the day of Pentecost all the Lord’s followers were together in one place. Suddenly there was a noise from heaven like the sound of a mighty wind. It filled the house where they were meeting. Then they saw what looked like fiery tongues moving in all directions, and a tongue came and settled on each person there. The Holy Spirit took control of everyone, and they began speaking whatever languages the Spirit let them speak.

The apostles received the Holy Spirit and were miraculously enabled to go out into Jerusalem prophesying and speaking in languages that all the visitors to Jerusalem could understand as told further in Acts 2:5-6:[3]

Many religious Jews from every country in the world were living in Jerusalem ... they were hearing everything in their own languages.

The noise and activity attracted a huge crowd and the Apostle Peter preached a sermon to the crowd with great effectiveness, as Acts 2:41[4] reports: "On that day about three thousand believed his message and were baptised."

Location of the first Pentecost

It is believed that the events of the first Pentecost recorded in the New Testament Book of Acts took place at the Temple Court located south and south-west of the Temple Mount, an area excavated by Israeli archaeologist Benjamin Mazar shortly after the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967. In the Jerusalem Christian Review, Dan Mazar wrote about the archaeological discoveries made at this location by his grandfather, Prof. Mazar, which included the first century stairs of ascent, where Jesus and his disciples preached, as well as the "mikvaot" (or baptismals) used by the "three thousand" who were baptized on the day of Pentecost, according to the Book of Acts.

Literary allusions

According to legend, King Arthur always gathered all his knights at the round table for a feast and a quest on Pentecost:

So ever the king had a custom that at the feast of Pentecost in especial, afore other feasts in the year, he would not go that day to meat until he had heard or seen of a great marvel. [5]


Pentecost is part of the Moveable Cycle of the ecclesiastical year. According to Christian tradition, Pentecost is always seven weeks after Easter Sunday; that is to say, 50 days after Easter (inclusive of Easter Day). In other words, it falls on the eighth Sunday, counting Easter Day (see article on Computus for the calculation of the date of Easter). Pentecost falls in mid- to late spring in the Northern Hemisphere and mid- to late autumn in the Southern Hemisphere.

Since the date of Easter is calculated differently in the East and West (see Easter controversy), in most years the two traditions celebrate Pentecost on different days (though in some years the celebrations will coincide, as in 2010). In the West, the earliest possible date is May 10 (as in 1818 and 2285), and the latest possible date June 13 (as in 1943 and 2038). In the East, this range of possible dates presently corresponds to May 23 through June 26 on the Gregorian calendar.

Liturgical celebration

Eastern churches

St. Andrew's Cathedral, St. Petersburg, decorated for Pentecost.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Pentecost is one of the Twelve Great Feasts and is considered to be the hightest ranking Great Feast of the Lord, second in rank only to Pascha (Easter). The service is celebrated with an All-night Vigil on the eve of the feast day, and the Divine Liturgy on the day of the feast itself. Orthodox temples are often decorated with greenery and flowers on this feast day, and the celebration is intentionally similar to the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, which celebrates the giving of the Mosaic Law.

The feast itself lasts three days. The first day is known as "Trinity Sunday"; the second day is known as "Spirit Monday" (or "Monday of the Holy Spirit"); and the third day, Tuesday, is called the "Third Day of the Trinity."."[6] The Afterfeast of Pentecost lasts for one week, during which fasting is not permitted, even on Wednesday and Friday. In the Russian Orthodox traditon, the liturgical color used at Pentecost is green, and the clergy and faithful carry flowers and green branches in their hands during the services.

An extraordinary service called the Kneeling Prayer, is served on the night of Pentecost. This is a Vespers service to which are added three sets of long poetical prayers, the composition of Saint Basil the Great, during which everyone makes a full prostration, touching their foreheads to the floor (prostrations in church having been forbidden from the day of Pascha (Easter) up to this point).

All of the remaing days of the ecclesiastical year, up until the preperation for the next Great Lent are named after the day of Pentecost (for example, the 13th Tuesday After Pentecost)

The Second Monday after Pentecost is the beginning of the Apostles' Fast (which continues until the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29). Theologically, Orthodox do not consider Pentecost to be the "birthday" of the Church; they see the Church as having existed before the creation of the world (cf. The Shepherd of Hermas[7]) The Orthodox icon of the feast depicts the Twelve Apostles seated in a semi-circle (sometimes the Theotokos (Virgin Mary) is shown sitting in the center of them). At the top of the icon, the Holy Spirit, in the form of tongues of fire, is descending upon them. At the bottom is an allegorical figure, called Kosmos, which symbolizes the world. Although Kosmos is crowned with glory he sits in the darkness caused by the ignorance of God. He is holding a towel on which have been placed 12 scrolls, representing the teaching of the Twelve Apostles.

Western Churches

In the more liturgical Western Churches, the liturgical color used may be white or red, and elements are often added to the services to recount the important bibilcal events celebratd by the feast.

In Italy it was customary to scatter rose petals from the ceiling of the churches to recall the miracle of the fiery tongues; hence in Sicily and elsewhere in Italy Whitsunday is called Pasqua rosatum. The Italian name Pasqua 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 Spirit.

Public Holiday

Since Pentecost itself is on a Sunday, it is automatically a public holiday almost everywhere. Pentecost Monday is a public holiday in many European countries including Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, (The) Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain and (most parts of) Switzerland. In Sweden it is not a public holiday, since Pentecost Monday (Annandag Påsk) through a government decision 15 December 2004 was abolished as a public holiday, in favour of June 6th, the National Day of Sweden. This made the average work-year 2 hours 17 minutes longer, since Pentecost Monday was always on a Monday, while June 6th moves, so it can occur on a Saturday or Sunday. The unions were not happy, and union-talks 2007 led to guarantees that employees would be compensated for the extra hours. In Italy it is no longer a public holiday either, but they are discussing whether to re-establish it or not(Senat: Nr.940; Kammer: Nr. 1647).

See also


  1. Catholic Encyclopedia,
  2. Acts 2:1-4
  3. Acts 2:5-6
  4. Acts 2:41
  5. Le Morte d'Arthur, Thomas Malory. Book 7, chapter 1
  6. Trinity Week - 3rd Day of the Trinity
  7. Patrologia Graecae, 35:1108-9.

External links

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