Sunday, June 8, 2014

Byzantine: Pentecost (6/8/14)

I've taken the liberty of preparing today's readings using the Beta Version of BibleGateway. Not everything on the site (either current or beta) is kosher, but it's got a copy of the Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition, my current favorite Bible translation, and is useful when I need to put together readings that aren't exactly consecutive, as with the Gospel.

Apostolic Reading: Acts 2:1-11

Gospel: John 7:37-52, 8:12

Today is the Feast of Pentecost. You probably already know that. But, did you know that Pentecost was already a feast day before Christianity? It was actually a Jewish feast celebrating the spring harvest and the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. With that in mind, let's take a look at the readings.

Apostolic Reading

The Apostolic reading actually mentions Pentecost. It's the first story after the election of Matthias as an Apostle, which happens at an unspecified time between the Ascension and Pentecost. You probably know the story, so I won't bother recounting it. However, I will pay special attention to verses 5-11. This is where they're listing a whole lot of different places which all spoke different languages. There's something this should remind us of, which today's kontakion makes clear:
When the Most High descended and confused tongues, he scattered nations. When he distributed the tongues of fire, he called all to unity.
So, we see that Pentecost is a reversal of the Tower of Babel! Cool, huh? Years ago, God had come down and made people unable to understand each other. Now, He again comes down, and undoes that curse. God is gathering His People!

Gospel

The Gospel for Pentecost actually comes from a good bit of time before the event itself, on "the last day of the feast" of Tabernacles (John 7:37, 2), which is a different feast. Adding to the confusion, the reading begins in the middle of the chapter, and actually comes about ten chapters BEFORE last Sunday's reading, which was from John 17. So, I suppose one of the first questions we could ask is, what's going on here?

The reference in the reading to "living water" also calls to mind John 4, which contains Our Lord's conversation with the Samaritan Woman, whom tradition calls St. Photina. At the end of chapter 6, Jesus delivers the Bread of Life discourse, which you should really read at some point. Chapter 7 begins with Jesus in Galilee, being told to go work some miracles in Jerusalem at the feast of Tabernacles. Jesus kind of dismisses His hecklers, then goes to Jerusalem, but not as a big show-offy miracle worker. While in Jerusalem, Jesus starts teaching things, which makes the authorities mad. This prompts an argument about whether Jesus is the Messiah. The authorities send men to arrest Jesus. This is more or less where the Pentecost reading picks up. Then, after the first part of the reading, we skip over the Woman Caught in Adultery to find Jesus teaching again. So that's the context of the Gospel.

In the reading, Jesus speaks "about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive" (John 7:39), but at this point in the Gospel "the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified" (John 7:39). However, we just finished celebrating the glorification of Jesus "through his Passion and Resurrection" (ICSB note to John 7:39), so what Jesus spoke about in the reading as something yet to happen has on this day come to pass!

So we should rejoice on this day when God has called all to unity and on which we who have believed in Jesus Christ have received the Holy Spirit. A happy feast to all!

And, of course, my favorite part of the beginning prayers has been restored:
Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, everywhere present 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, O gracious One.

________________________
Liturgical quotations taken from The Divine Liturgies of Our Holy Fathers John Chrysostom and Basil the Great (Pittsburgh: Byzantine Seminary Press? 2006).

Scripture quotations taken from the Revised Standard Version – 2nd Catholic Edition.

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