Pentecost, in the Byzantine rite, is remembered under the aspects of the dogma of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit is especially honoured with his gifts enabling the humble penitent to become his temple. It is the feast of the foundation of the Church; the beginning of the Church’s mission to the world and of Christian unity within the diversity of nations, languages and cultures.
In the Orthodox Church there is no feast of the Holy Trinity as such. The Holy Trinity is celebrated primarily on the Sunday, the first day of Pentecost. It is called Trinity Day. The services of that day expound the dogmatic teaching of the Trinity and the Trinity icon is brought out for veneration. The Monday is called Spirit Day as this day is dedicated to the Holy Spirit. So the icons of the Trinity and Pentecost are linked but differ in their meaning and significance.
What We See In The Icon Of Pentecost:
There is a movement in this icon from the upper edge to the lower edge which corresponds to the divine activity on and within the church. At the top centre is a semi-circle which represents the divine realm, from this, gold rays of light emerge or twelve rays of light proceed from the divine realm over the assembled group of apostles. A number of icons depict flames resting on each of the apostles’ heads or just above them. The building in the background is often shown with vermilion cloths. The buildings represent the upper room and the church.
The apostles sit in a semi-circle. Each apostle has a different lively and calm gesture. Yet together they form a harmonious company. This shows a sense of unity, which the Holy Spirit brings, and diversity within the apostolic group. Usually the top semi-circle seat is empty. This represents Christ, the head of the Church. Sometimes this empty seat is occupied by the Mother of God.
An ancient image of Pentecost from the sixth century Raboula Gospels (Raboula, c412-435, was Bishop of Edessa and translated the New Testament from Greek to Syriac, hence it is named after him) shows the Mother of God standing amid the apostles. The Mother of God is the image of the Church. On either side of the empty seat, or Mother of God, we see Saint Peter and Saint Paul, the founders of the Church.
At the bottom centre of the icon is a dark space in which there is an image of a king, personifying the people or peoples; he has come to be named Cosmas. This figure holds a cloth on which are placed twelve scrolls to symbolise the light and joy of the Good News that each apostle will take out to the dark world.
In the Orthodox services of this feast there are hymns that honour the dogmatic teaching of the Holy Trinity and others specifically honouring the Holy Spirit.
Some Hymns Honouring Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
Come all you nations of the world. Let us adore God in three holy persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Three in One from eternity. The Father begets the Son, equal to Him in eternity and majesty, equal also to the Holy Spirit, glorified with the Son in the Father. Three persons yet One divine single Power in essence and Godhead. In deep adoration let us cry out to God:
Holy is God who made all things through the Son, with the co-operation of the Holy Spirit!
Holy the Mighty One through whom the Father was revealed to us and the Holy Spirit came into this world!
Holy the Immortal One, the Spirit, the Counsellor, who proceeds from the Father and reposes in the Son. All Holy Trinity, glory to You.
All things bow their knee before the Comforter, and the offspring of the Father and the Consubstantial Father for they acknowledge in three Persons the One Infallible, Unapproachable and Timeless Essence, for the grace of the Holy Spirit has shone forth illumination…
Some Hymns Related to the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit always was and is and will be, without beginning and without end, but always united and counted with the Father and the Son.
The Holy Spirit is life and creator of life…
The Holy Spirit is light and life, the living source of the mind; Spirit of wisdom, Spirit of understanding. Spirit of goodness and right understanding, Spirit in command, who cleanses sins; himself God and imparting divinity. Fire from fire. The Spirit who proceeds, who speaks, who works and distributes gifts, through whom were crowned all the prophets and God’s apostles together with the martyrs; amazing hearing, amazing seeing, fire which distributes itself to bestow gifts of grace.
Come near to us, You who are everywhere, even as You are with the apostles, so unite Yourself to us who yearn for You. Compassionate One: that united we may sing You, and glorify Your all Holy Spirit!
So, radiant with joy, let us who believe celebrate the feast which completes all those that come after Pentecost, the promised and appointed time of fulfilling. For this is the time the Advocate’s fire came suddenly down to earth as it were in tongues. It enlightened the disciples and gave them knowledge of heavenly mysteries… The Advocate’s light came and enlightened the world.
St Cyril of Alexandria says:
“The Spirit changes the character of those among whom he comes to dwell and transforms their life.”
The holy man Samuel, when speaking to Saul said:
“The Spirit of the Lord will come mightily upon you and you will be changed into another man.”
St Paul says:
“with unveiled faces we behold the glory of the Lord and are being changed into the same likeness from one degree of glory to another, and this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” You see, the Spirit recreates. He replaces our desire to think of earthly things and instead gaze on heavenly things; he changes cowardice into courage. We see the disciples experienced this…”
The Stichera of Pentecost Vespers states that “the grace of the Holy Spirit has shone upon us through the apostles” and “the Holy Spirit provides every gift: He inspires prophecy, perfects the priesthood, grants wisdom to the illiterate and makes simple fishermen to become wise theologians.” Strictly speaking, in the Orthodox tradition a theologian is not so much one who studies theological treatises but rather a person who has been illuminated by the light and fire of the Holy Spirit. St Symeon the New Theologian, (949-1022) was a Byzantine monastic reformer, mystic and hymnographer. He wrote a beautiful poetic hymn to the Holy Spirit. Here is part of it:
Come, O true light
Come 0 powerful one who always creates and recreates and transforms by Your will alone!
Come, 0 eternal joy!
Come You who alone go to the lonely for You see I am lonely.
Come 0 breath and life
Come 0 my joy, my glory, my endless delight.
I thank You, that You have become one spirit with me, without confusion, without mutation, without transformation. You, the God of all and that You have become everything for me.
I give You thanks that for me You have become the light that does not set, that does not decline and have nowhere to hide Yourself from anyone but we are the ones who hide from You. But where would You hide? You who have nowhere a place of repose.
One of the Byzantine hymns supplicate:
“… Make us worthy of the revelation of the spirit within us.”
And St. Seraphim of Sarov said that
“the acquisition of the Holy Spirit is the goal of our life.”
It may seem a fitting conclusion to pray one of the hymns sung or recited before each Service in the Orthodox Church:
“0 Heavenly king, Consoler, Spirit of truth, present in all places and filling all things. Treasury of blessings and giver of life; come and dwell within us, cleanse us of all stain and save ‘Our souls, 0 Good One! Amen.”