Tuesday 12 May 2020

Explanation of the Mid-Pentecost Icon

On the Wednesday of the Fourth Week after Pascha we celebrate the feast of Mid-Pentecost. This feast always falls on a Wednesday because it is exactly halfway between Pascha and Pentecost. The icon of the Feast shows Christ addressing the Jewish elders in the Temple. We hear about this in the Gospel reading for Mid-Pentecost which begins:

Now when Mid-feast was come, Jesus went up into the temple, and taught. And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this Man letters, having never learned?’ Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not Mine, but His that sent Me.

The Jewish feast that is mentioned in the Gospel is the Feast of Tabernacles. The Fathers teach that Christ's teaching in the Temple on this feast prefigured the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Gospel for the Feast of Pentecost is a continuation of the account of Christ teaching in the Temple of the Feast of Tabernacles:

In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive: for the Holy Spirit was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.

Christ foretells the coming of the Holy Spirit as ‘rivers of living water’. This is why we bless Holy Water on the Feast of  Mid-Pentecost. Water is also mentioned in the Dismissal Hymn of the Feast: 

In the midst of the feast give Thou my thirsty soul to drink of the waters of piety; for Thou, O Saviour, didst cry out to all: Whosoever is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. Wherefore, O Well-spring of life, Christ our God, glory be to Thee. 

The icon of Mid-Pentecost shows Christ sitting on a semi-circular seat and teaching the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes seated either side of him.
The roll of parchment in Christ’s left hand signifies His teaching. He holds out His right hand to illustrate His words. The men are shown in a state of amazement and conferring with one another. This illustrates their words recorded in the Gospels: ‘How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?'  The semi-circular seating arrangement is also found in the Icon of Pentecost - illustrating that this feast is a prefiguring of the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Christ is portrayed without a beard as the Gospel records that He was twelve years old at the time. Icons that portray Christ as a youth are called icons of Emmanuel which means ‘God with us’. These icons teach us that Christ is the Wisdom and Word of God incarnate. He was born in Bethlehem and grew into a man in every way like us - except without sin.

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