6. june 2017
The Festivity is celebrated annually on Sunday, on the fiftieth day after the glorious Sunday of Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. On this day, Christ's promise to the disciples was fulfilled – the promise that after his departure to heaven, the Father would give us another Saviour, the Spirit of Truth, to remain with us forever (cf. John 14:16-17).
The Apostles were living in prayer and awaiting the fulfilment of the promise. In close proximity there was the Holy Mother of God immersed in prayer as well as many other followers of Christ.
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:1-4)
It is highly difficult to depict the wind within the rules of iconography. It is easier for artists to portray fire above the apostles. The great eastern Masters of icon predominantly concentrate their attention on the essential: the birth of the Church.
The piece in front of you is the Icon of the Descent of Holy Spirit which comes from Russia and dates back to the 19th century. At the centre of the icon, the Virgin Mary is sitting on a golden throne with a pedestal under her feet which separates her from the sinful world. She is dressed in a glorious purple garment, and her hands are raised in prayer. On her sides there are the apostles and evangelists sitting on stools. On the right we see Peter, Judas Thaddeus, James, John the Evangelist, Thomas and Luke the Evangelist, on the left there are Andrew, Simon the Canaanite, Matthew the Evangelist, Philip, Bartholomew and Mark the Evangelist. Mark and Luke replaced Judas Iscariot and James, son of Alphaeus. The diverse garments of the apostles represent the plenitude/richness of all Charismas in the Church. The decoration of the room and the shape of the buildings suggest that the scene is situated in the temple because the apostles were always in the temple when it was opened (cf. Luke 24:53). At the top of the icon, above the head of the Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit is portrayed as a dove in fiery glare, and from its glow the fiery tongues above the heads of the Apostles and Our Lady spring.
The Festivity of the Descent of the Holy Spirit speaks of the completion of the process of apostolic formation. They did not become perfect people at once, but they were able to accept themselves, they lost fear. We can say that they became adults. Because to become mature means to accept one´s abilities and boundaries, but also to bear the responsibility.
The Holy Spirit is the fulfilment of the Easter promises. The Holy Spirit, this third Divine Person, has its exact role, just like the second Divine Person – Jesus Christ – does. Jesus came to redeem us; the Holy Spirit wants to sanctify us and heal us. It is mercy that Jesus began for us, but the Holy Spirit continues in it and through it He guides us to the fullness.
The Festivity of the fiftieth day is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It was not enough that Christ accepted the human nature, it was also necessary for the human nature to become Christ's body. This is what the Holy Spirit does: it grants the human nature the life of Christ as well as maintains the human nature in this life. In the Church, everything is one in Christ, for Christ is one, one is the Spirit, and one is the divine life that the creation has received. But everyone who takes part in this life through the Holy Spirit preserves his individuality, his face. The apostolic church is not a collective, but a community. Everyone has a special garment but they all are an icon of Christ.
The Festivity of the fiftieth day is perceived as the opposite of the Tower of Babylon because the Holy Spirit brings unity and makes us able to speak in one voice. The gift of the Spirit is also the gift of diversity – the fiery tongues descend upon everyone present. Indeed, the Festivity of the fiftieth day does not interfere with diversity, on the contrary it allows this diversity – that is, to be ourselves, as we are, with our peculiarities – to stop being the motive of division and separation.