The Feast of Pentecost / Hokehkalousd; two names, but the same Feast for the Armenian Orthodox Church.
We could use our imagination to get a picture of what happened on that great day, but the sacred artists and painters of Icons in our Armenian Orthodox tradition did this for us. The story of Pentecost became the Feast of the Coming of the Holy Spirit and the earthly birthday of Christ’s Church. Presented here is a beautiful Icon in glass mosaic adorning the sanctuary of St. John Armenian Church mounted on a wall and showing that event. And, as we gaze upon its beauty and view the image, the iconography as the artisan has created helps us to remember that special day when, by heavenly power and grace of Our Lord’s Holy Spirit, the Church of Jesus Christ came into existence on earth
Jesus had promised to send His Holy Spirit to Apostles saying, Do not be troubled. Believe in God and believe in me. My Father’s house has many rooms. If that were not true, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? If I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again. Then I will bring you into my presence so that you will be where I am. [ John 14: 1-3]. Thus, as a Christian Feast, a new Pentecost was inaugurated by The Lord Jesus Himself by His Holy Spirit who came to the Apostles who with their ministry would transform the world into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Taking a step back however, we learn that the Feast of Pentecost is rooted and embedded in the Judaic Faith. It was celebrated on the fiftieth day after Passover, or the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan, which corresponds with May or June. Another name is the “Feast of Weeks” Shavuot in Hebrew; a festival for expressing thankfulness to the Lord for the blessing of the harvest. It is commanded to the Jews from the scriptures in the Book of Leviticus 23:15-16. The time frame was determined to count seven full weeks (or 49 days) beginning on the second day of the Jewish Passover, and then present offerings of new grain to the Lord as a lasting ordinance. The word Pentecost derives from the Greek word meaning “fifty.” The word in Classical Armenian identifies it appropriately as Hokehkalousd /Հոգեգալուստ or Գալուստ Հոգւոյն Սրբոյ, [The Descent/ Coming of the Holy Spirit] and the Birthday of the Christ’s Holy Church on Earth.
We read about this awesome divine encounter from the New Testament Book the Acts of the Apostle …And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:1–5)
What happened to those present and how were they changed? They were showered with Divine Grace from Heaven. Christ’s Holy Spirit indeed gave them gifts of wisdom and the ability to speak in various languages to preach the message of salvation to all the nations of the earth. In the mosaic Icon we see who was there; the Apostles and the Holy Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary all together and seated in the ‘upper room’. It was the fulfillment of Jesus’ commission to the twelve which He gave on the day of His Ascension, …go therefore and preach to all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…Likewise, after Pentecost Day, it was this same admonition spurred which Saints Thaddeus and Bartholomew, members of this sacred fellowship, to eventually come to Armenia with the gift given to them by the Holy Spirit, thus enabling them to communicate the words of the Lord and what He taught,to the people of Armenia.
A LOOK AT THREE IMPORTANT FEATURES IN THE ICONOGRAPHY.
THE VIRGIN MARY– Orthodox Christian teaching initially traces Saint Mary’s greatness to the Power of the Holy Spirit which came upon her. By that heavenly grace she continuously lived in the presence of God throughout her life. Espoused to God, by the grace of His Spirit, she is understood in our theological teachings as the image of the earthly Church because of her significant part in the Incarnation of Christ-God. Therefore, to include the Holy Mother Mary is an important aspect of this event. Placed at the center of the Apostles the Holy Mother of God presides at the heart of the assembly. Her place in their midst has many messages. But first and foremost is, that the Church of Jesus Christ includes every human being, slave and free, Jew and Greek, male and female [Galatians 3:29] who are all one in Christ’s fellowship; united by the mystical presence and power of the His Holy Spirt. All comprise the Church of Christ. It was the same Spirit who came upon her at the Annunciation when the Archangel Gabriel gave that startling announcement to her saying, the Spirit of the Lord is upon you and the power of the Most-High will overshadow you [Luke 1:35]. It was and is the unity of the powerful and mystical presence of Christ and His Holy Spirit that the Church lives today. We could even state that the Virgin Mary, in fact, portrays her profound humility and virginal love as the Spouse of God’s Holy Spirit and doorway toward salvation.
THE FLAMES- The inclusion in the overall iconography of what -as the Gospel tells us appearing to be flames resting upon the heads of each of the Apostles tells us more about the Divine energy given by the Holy Spirit.
We know that fire and their flames can destroy, but also, they can build up and bring light to where it is most needful. The Icon shows the heavenly and divine flames descending and hovering over the Apostles’ heads, representing the work that they were first charged with; to organize the Body of believers in Jesus Christ as the Church, on the new Pentecost mystically constructing, sparking, illuminating, and setting anew. It was Heavenly Fire Upon the Earth. It was a Fire from and the Spirit of God in our Christian History, which continues to come to us all, from the moment of our Baptism when we received adoption to become children of God and, from the Sacrament of Anointing with Holy Muron / Chrismation when we are marked with heavenly that flame and divine energy which has clothed us to live out our lives on this earth as Christians and to remain faithful every day. It suddenly become clear for us, what it means to be the Body of Christ, in Worship, Ministry, Acts of Charity and Witness to Our Lord. His Force remains within us as power to transform the fallen world into a heavenly one.
I remember a phrase from the well-known film, Star Wars, that was said at the end of the movie by Obi-Wan Kenobi, “May the Force be with you”. It was a phrase in the movie used to offer good will. Understanding those words in Christian context it is like a blessing; implying that that power – the Force, the Spirit of God can eternally be alive and at work upon us all for the good of God and Promise of Christ. The power of Jesus and His Spirit fueling, propelling, and igniting a flame of faith in us imbues us with the same strength and hope it gave to the Apostles.
At the Baptism of Jesus, we read from the Gospel [Matthew 3: 17] that the Holy Spirit, in the form of a Dove descended upon him. What was seen and reported at that very moment was perceived as something that looked like a dove that came down from the heavens and rested over Jesus, standing in the waters of the Jordan River. What was sighted could very well have been an intense and fluttering of light and a burning flame,as the one seen by Moses in the burning bush. It was a blinding light that this time, waved in the wind, and appearing to the eye to be like a bird with wings. It was a pure bright white light, that identified Jesus as the Saviour and the Beloved Son with who God the Father was ‘well-pleased”.
We note in the icon that the Dove appears; a universal symbol in sacred Christian art, presenting the same transforming power from heaven, the same Eternal Light from and of God’s Holy Spirit descended upon the group in the upper room. It gave them a new breath, a new insight, wisdom, and skill as the Lord’s chosen coworkers. The Holy Mother who physically bore Him into the world an, the Apostles revealed Him to all nations. Both were chosen with a purpose for and by God for transforming work.
When we became Christians, Jesus breathed upon us His Holy Spirit as He did upon the Apostles. After the manner of the Hebrew prophets, who express by the symbolic act of breathing, Christ communicates His Holy Spirit to us. He breaths upon us to continue His work to Build up the Body of Christ, to keep Holy His Church making it spotless and pure and without any wrinkle without any stain or other blemish, but holy and blameless [Ephesians 5:27] . It is the Holy Spirit who called us at our Baptism…to be born anew every day of our lives and to live in the Spirit who anointed us, to preach, teach, and be Christ in the World. And it is in the Church, the Holy Spirit warms and enlightens us to do these wonderful works of God.
On the day of the Ascension, the Apostles received the Great Commission, Yet it is the Christian Feast of Pentecost that we like them receive anew the gifts of the Spirit of Christ our God. We find ourselves imbued and filled to continue, from generation-to-generation apostolic ministry. From the day of our Baptism, we have inherited this blessing, this grace, and gifts – to go out into the world and declare the message of salvation, and without fear and always praying to the Holy Spirit.
The annual remembrance and celebration of Pentecost/ Hokehkalousd then, fulfills and renews our Lord’s Great Commission and for us The Church to be new Apostles. Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Law, and the New Covenant. It is in His mystical Body, the Church, and by His Holy Communion,the Eucharist , that He is forever, Life Hope and Resurrection.