Sunday, May 27, 2007

The (Byzantine) Feast of Pentecost

We're quite accustomed in the Latin rite to the liturgical colour of red being associated with the Feast of Pentecost. To that end, I thought I would share with you a variance upon this from the tradition of other rites.

Namely, the Byzantine tradition where green is actually worn on the feast of Pentecost. This will likely strike people from the Latin rite as odd, since green is considered a non-festal colour in our own liturgical tradition.

Courtesy of, here is an explanation of the difference:

"Since Pentecost was originally a feast of harvest, as was mentioned above, the Jews used to decorate their homes with the fruits of the harvest—flowers, green foliage, garlands etc.—in order to add more pomp and solemnity to their celebrations. This same custom was also adopted by the Christians. To them, however, the green branches and flowers took on a symbolical meaning—the divine life and gifts of the Holy Spirit.

(See image of Byzantine Church decorated for Pentecost)

"The festive decorations of flowers and roses, it seems, was first introduced in Italy in the middle of the fourth century from where it spread to the East. Because of the decorations, the Pentecost festivities were referred to as "Festa Rosalia" (Feast of Roses). When the Byzantines accepted the custom, they also accepted the name with it and simply transcribed it into the Greek—"Rousalia." Similarly, the Slavs in receiving Christianity accepted the custom and called the feast in their language - "Rusalya." St. John Chrysostom (d. 407) admonished the faithful of his time not to celebrate the feast superficially, only adorning their homes with garlands (flowers), but rather spiritually adorning their souls with virtues in order to be more able to receive abundant fruits of the Holy Spirit (II Homily on Pentecost).

"Another popular name for Pentecost used by our people is "Zelenyi Svjata" (Green Holydays). This stems from the custom of adorning the churches and homes with green foliage (preferably linden branches) and grass in celebration of the feast. The green color of the foliage was accepted by our people as a symbol of divine life brought to us by the Holy Spirit. For this reason also, the clergy wear green vestments for the liturgical services on Pentecost and its post-festive period."

(An image of this here)

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