Pentecost is universally celebrated by Christians as the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. [1] This rag-tag dispirited group was transformed into a zealous missionary cadre that changed the world.  Pentecost falls fifty days after Easter in all Christian traditions and is therefore a moveable feast.[2] Beyond these main tenets of faith, Christian tradition begins to legitimately deviate. There are several unique traditions associated with the celebration of Pentecost in the Byzantine Catholic tradition.  They can be grouped into two main categories, what I will call the secondary emphasis of the feast and its calendrical implications.


Even though the Eastern Churches traditionally calls for the use of “bright” or “dark” vestments, Slavic Byzantine churches use a more elaborate color scheme.  The liturgical color of the Pentecost season is green in the Byzantine Slavic tradition, signifying renovation and new life.  Red is the liturgical color in the Western Church, emphasizing the graces in the form of the tongues of fire poured out on the Apostles.   

The use of green at Pentecost integrates the holyday into the season of the year.  The Sunday before Easter commemorates the Entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem and is known as Palm Sunday.  It is the beginning of Holy Week, an intense penitential period leading to Good Friday and Easter.  Palms are blessed and used to decorate churches whenever available on that Sunday.  Since palms were not available in the Slavic countries of the north, another tradition arose of using pussy willows instead.  Pussy willows are among the first plants to bloom in the Spring.  The date of Easter depends on a complex calculation, but in the Western Church it can fall as early as late March.   Sometimes only pussy willows were available, and the symbolism could not be ignored.  In some sense, the Christian plan of salvation’s path to the Crucifixion and the Resurrection began on Palm Sunday and continued to unfold through Pentecost.  Fifty-seven days later (the time from Palm Sunday to Pentecost) the entire world is green as trees jump to life and flowers bloom.  Therefore, Pentecost was associated with new life, not only in nature but the new spiritual life of the Church.  Eastern Churches are often festooned with tremendous amounts of greenery on that day, to remind everyone of that new life.


Pentecost is one of the four preeminent holydays in the Byzantine tradition, with Easter, the Theophany, and the Nativity of Jesus being the other three.  The latter three all have an associated Royal Hours service.[3]  Pentecost is an exception.  Father David Petras in his annual typicons’[4] notes there is an optional Royal Hours for Pentecost prayed on the Friday before Pentecost.  This service has not achieved wide acceptance in the Eastern Church.  Royal Hours services are penitential in nature, and each commemorates a particular kenosis[5] of Jesus.  Pentecost is more closely associated with the Holy Spirit rather than Jesus. [6]

The Saturday before Pentecost is the Fifth All Soul’s Saturday. The Byzantine Catholic tradition celebrates five All Soul’s Saturdays, with the last falling on the Saturday before Pentecost. This All Soul’s Saturday recalls the descent of the Holy Spirit is the culmination of Christian soteriology.  We are reminded even those who have gone before us are part of the economy of the faith. [7]

The day of Pentecost is marked by two unique liturgical events.  The first is the singing of “Heavenly King” at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy.  This is the only prayer in the Eastern Christian liturgy addressed directly to the Holy Spirit. It is sung for any Divine Liturgy celebrated throughout the week following Pentecost.  During Vespers of Pentecost Sunday, three long and theologically beautiful prayers known as the Kneeling Prayers signal kneeling is once again allowed during services. [8]

The Monday after Pentecost, the Synaxis of Pentecost is known as Holy Spirit Monday.  In the Byzantine typikon, the day following a major holyday commemorates a saint (or in this case a person of the Trinity) associated with the major holyday.  Some commentators believe this day should receive more attention than it has previously garnered, as they characterize the Holy Spirit as the “forgotten member” of the Trinity. 

Pentecost is celebrated throughout the entire week, [9] and closes out on the following Saturday.  The week after Pentecost is All Saints Sunday.  Again, this is fitting as a celebration of the Church Triumphant, or those that have achieved their final reward. The importance of Pentecost as the beginning of the Church is such that all succeeding Sundays in the liturgical year without their own distinctive title are referred to as the “nth Sunday After Pentecost.” East or West, the celebration of Pentecost is truly a time of great rejoicing if you are a Christian.

[1] Certainly, Christian Pentecost should not be confused with the Jewish celebration of Pentecost, occurring fifty days after Passover. This commemorates the reception of the Torah by the Jewish people.  The Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 2 specifically states the Christian Pentecost occurred during the Jewish Pentecost.

[2] Sadly, since there isn’t a common Easter for all Christians, there isn’t a common Pentecost Day. The “fifty” day rule however is followed by all Christian adherents.

[3]  Royal Hours is a combined celebration of the four “Little Hours” of the Daily Office.   The “Little Hours” are the four shorter offices of the workday, normatively recited at 6 a.m., 9 a.m., noon and 3 p.m.  When Royal Hours are prescribed for a holyday, all four of these offices are recited together with specified Bible readings.  One should also note the Royal Hours associated with the Easter celebration are recited on Good Friday prior to the Vespers of Great and Holy Friday.

[4] The typicon establishes the order and composition of the daily services in the Eastern Church

[5] The Royal Hours of the Nativity of Jesus underscore the Second Person of the Trinity deigning to take mortal form. The Royal Hours of the Theophany remind us of the submission of Jesus to the Jewish Law, and finally the Royal Hours of Good Friday is prayed in anticipation of the Crucifixion later that day.

[6] This is certainly not the place to discuss the filioque the procession of the Holy Spirit.

[7] In this case, to use familiar terminology, we remember the Church Suffering.

[8] Kneeling is much less frequent in the Eastern Church compared to the Western Church.  The position of respect in the East was standing, rather than kneeling.  The Eastern Church tends to use kneeling during penitential seasons.

[9] Not so in the Western Church.  An apocryphal story claims Pope Paul VI wept when he found out that he himself had abolished the Octave of Pentecost.