The Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:1-13) describes the day of Pentecost as accompanied by “a sound like the rush of a violent wind.” “Divided tongues, as of fire,” appeared and rested on each of the disciples who began to speak in other languages. The crowd was bewildered, amazed, astonished, and perplexed. It sounds like a day of confusion and chaos. Some asked, “What does this mean?” Others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
The icon of Pentecost, however, shows just the opposite. The Apostles’ postures show calmness and peace. Their gestures are full of solemnity. The icon does not portray the external events of Pentecost but rather its inner reality. The icon presents a vision of the Church from the inside.
Features of the Pentecost Icon
- At the top of the icon is a semicircle with rays coming from it. The rays are pointing toward the Apostles, and the tongues of fire are seen descending upon each one of them signifying the descent of the Holy Spirit.
- The building in the background of the icon represents the upper room where the disciples of Christ gathered after the Ascension.
- The Apostles are shown seated in a semicircle which shows oneness, the unity, of the Church.
- Included in the group of the Apostles at the top right is St. Paul, who, though not present with the others on the day of Pentecost, became an Apostle of the Church. St. Peter is opposite St. Paul.
- The place at the center between St. Peter and St. Paul is reserved for Christ, the invisible but nonetheless ever-present Head of the Church.
- In the center of the icon below the Apostles, a royal figure is seen against a dark background. This is a symbolic figure, Cosmos, representing the people of the world living in darkness and sin. He is made old by the sin of Adam. His crown symbolizes that sin is king of the world. The blackness surrounding him is the darkness and shadow of death (Lk. 1:79). The white cloth in his hands contains twelve scrolls which represent the Apostles who brought light to the world by their teaching.
O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth; who art in all places, and fillest all things; Treasury of good things and giver of life: come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One. Amen.
And where is the Mother of Christ -the Mother of the Church – she cannot be excluded from the Pentecost event, surely?
Margaret, sometimes the empty place between St. Peter and St. Paul is occupied by the Mother of God, the symbol of the Church. This, however, seems to be the exception. Mary is present in the Ascension icon, for as an image of the Church, she received Christ’s blessing and promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit. However, at Pentecost the Church received the gifts in the form of tongues. Each apostle received them personally. In the Pentecost icon the Church is already represented by the gathered apostles. There is, therefore, no reason to have Mary repeat the image of the Church. This is Paul Evdokimov’s explanation in his book, The Art of the Icon: A Theology of Beauty, p. 340. I do not think it is an exclusion of Mary, just a different symbol for the Church.
Thank you. Glad you replied.
I have Paul Evdokimov’s A Theology of Beauty .
I’m glad I asked because other people might not understand why she seems absent.
I think one could also say that whereever the Church is, the Theotokos is always present….