The Icon for the Feast of Pentecost is titled the Descent of the Holy Spirit. We read this in Slavonic at the top of the icon. The event is recalled in Acts 2:1-4. The group had gathered to observe the Jewish Feast of Pentecost, “when there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind”. We do not see the fear, amazement or perhaps chaos that we might expect. As in other icons, we must remember that what is depicted is not solely a historical event but a deeper spiritual reality. Peace and gentleness are a few of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the presence of the Holy Spirit is seen in the overall calm of the icon. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of unity which we can see in the manner of how these disciples are seated: close together, in a semi circle, calmly, focused on the centre, which is God. At the top of the icon, the Holy Spirit emanates from the Mandorla as rays of light. The Mandorla represents the glory and majesty of heaven which is beyond that which can be physically witnessed or explained in words. It is the mystery of God bursting into the physical reality of earth. Those in the room receive these “rays of light” which illumine them, so that they may speak to others of the Good News in a way that they will be understood.
The presence of St. Paul, who at the time was still persecuting Christians as well as the evangelists Luke and Mark who were not present in the upper room remind us that the icon is showing us a deeper reality. What is depicted here is the Church. Since the Church witnesses to Christ throughout salvation history, then Paul and all the Evangelists must be present.
In the centre, the Theotokos, is seated with her hands open in prayer. As the personification of the Church, she waits with open arms and heart in faithful prayer openly receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. To her left, are, in descending order – Peter, Matthew, Luke, Simon, Bartholomew and Philip and on the right Paul, John, Mark, Andrew, James and Thomas. The evangelists hold the inspired Gospel books which they have not yet written. The Apostles hold scrolls which represent the wisdom and authority given them through their time with Jesus Christ. Unlike the Apostles, St. Paul did not have that time with Jesus, but he holds the Gospel book as he goes to the ends of the earth to preach the Good News, armed with the greatest tool; that of the Gospel of the Lord.
The figure of a King – “King Cosmos” which can be seen at the bottom of the icon, represents the world which lives in the shadows, enveloped by the darkness of sin. He holds a cloth in his hands in which there are twelve scrolls each representing the teaching of the 12. It is this teaching illumined by the Holy Spirit that will bring light to the world.
Like the icon, when the Church celebrates the Feast of Pentecost, we are not simply commemorating a past event, but celebrating a present reality; the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church. The Holy Spirit dwells among us, fills us and sends us out into the world. Our focus as the body of Christ should always reflect this presence in the unity, peace, wisdom and love.
Compiled & created by the Religious Education Department of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Edmonton: http://eeparchy.com/ Permission granted to reproduce for personal and classroom use. 2020.